One of the greatest joys in my life is keeping ex battery chickens.
We collect them from wherever the British Hen Welfare Trust has managed to persuade a farmer to release them, rather than send them to the abattoir, and we load them into cardboard boxes, and bring them home.
During the drive they remain totally silent and unmoving, for they are traumatised, petrified, overwhelmed.
These chickens have lived all their lives in cages with numerous others. They have eaten the same food day after day. They have never seen natural daylight, never felt the chill of wind or rain on their feathers, and never felt the warmth of the sun.
They have never had the opportunity to do natural chickeny things, to stroll about through the grass, to scratch for seeds in the soil, to run about and jump onto tree stumps or branches, just for the fun of it, and to enjoy their lives.
So for the first couple of days after they arrive home with us, the chickens creep silently and fearfully about, afraid of their own shadows. They have to be lifted into their secure bed time coop, and shown where the ‘have an egg’ boxes are.
They have no idea that lettuce, sunflower seeds, and meal worms are edible and yummy, and they don’t realise that they can simply wander in and out of their shed as they please.
In short, they are living and breathing, but little else.
Until, that is, they realise that they have retired to chicken heaven, and explode into natural chicken activity!
Within a week the little lost souls blossom into bright, active, nosey bundles of feathers, spending their time digging deep holes, foraging, running about, and eating.
They are a joy to watch.
The chickens usually change their feathers once they have settled in to their new lives, and thereby become even more beautiful.
We named one very small chicken ‘Scraggy’, because although she grew her new feathers everywhere else, her neck remained bald. That particular part of her looked as though it should have been in a freezer in Tesco.
But she made up for this lack of plumage by developing into one of the biggest characters in the flock. She spent the greater part of each day running around, darting here and there, usually from one food source to another, and eating as if the food itself was going out of fashion.
Whenever I went into their enclosure she would follow me about, watching what I was doing, wondering if I was the bearer of anything edible, and she would always accompany me into the small shed when I cleaned it out. She would take the opportunity to help herself to as much food from the dish by the door in there as she could cram in, eating so fast that her beak tap tapped on the side of the dish.
Considering how much she ate every day it is something of a miracle that she remained so small.
Not many months ago Tod came back in after giving the chickens their breakfast, and opening up the sheds to let them out.
He told me that one of them had died overnight. I was devastated. We usually manage to get any sick chicken to the Vet’s in time, but they are secretive about illness, and I had obviously missed this one. Although we are very fond of each and every chicken in our care, we do have our favourites, and when Tod told me that it was Scraggy who had died, I was really upset. I would miss her and her funny little ways. She was a huge character.
Late afternoon the same day I went out to the chicken enclosure to clean the sheds. I went straight into the small one, and started to open the boxes and clean up, my back to the door.
My mind was far away from what I was doing. I was wondering what shopping I needed, and if I would have time to get it later.
It was probably because, over the months, I had grown so used to that particular sound accompanying my efforts to clean out the boxes, that it didn’t immediately register with me. Although the quick tap tapping on the dish by the door had been going on for at least a couple of minutes, it was only then that I realised I shouldn’t have been hearing it.
I whipped round and stared at the food dish.
‘Scraggy’ was standing in it, eating for England.
Oh wow! I thought. I can see her perfectly clearly! That’s amazing!
I was stunned at just how sharp and clear Scraggy’s image was. It didn’t waver, and it wasn’t obscured by mist or movement across it. I wondered if my mediumistic ability had taken a turn for the better!
I was mesmerised by this crystal clear vision, and slowly stepped closer, and dropped to my knees to see it better.
‘Scraggy’ paid me no attention, but continued to do what she had always done in life; eat!
Curious, I wondered if I would be able to touch her, to feel her feathers, and so slowly and carefully, holding my breath, I reached out towards her.
My fingertips brushed her wing. She stopped eating and raised her head. There was a moment of absolute stillness, of awe and wonder, and then she turned and pecked my hand hard.
Hummm, I thought, somewhat miffed, this is probably not a Spirit Scraggy! That could well account for the clarity of the vision, and the red mark on my hand.
Sure enough, Tod had muddled Scraggy with another little chicken, but one which had rather more feathers on her neck.
Scraggy remains here to this day, and can of course be found cramming her beak with food at every possible opportunity.
“For the soul of every living thing is in the hand of God.”