Hello, my name is Irena and I live on the tiny island of Malta, roughly between Sicily and the northern coast of Africa.
I always wanted to be a scientist – a computational linguist, to be exact, but I think I understand at last why such an opportunity never presented itself after my graduation – maybe it was so that I would have a chance to meet chickens, fall in love with them, realize their plight and start helping them and fighting for them. In fact, I had already become a vegetarian thanks to a chicken many moons ago, but it is for the past 3 years that I’ve really had a chance to live with them and find out how absolutely amazing they are. Until recently employed as a customer service agent and translator with a large international company, now a new stay at home mommy, my heart is shared between my human family and that of our feathered (and also furry) sweethearts.
We have over fifty chickens which may sound like an enormous number but I’ve had to learn to care not for just one pet like I used to, but to try and look into the eyes of each and every member of our big family to make sure every individual is feeling well and nothing is bothering them. We have a few pure bred chickens who we take to shows occasionally, but the majority of our family are mixed. We also take in ex-battery hennies when we have such opportunities and our oldest so far was Zita who passed away at 7 years of age. We also occasionally take in other people’s unwanted chickens and have rescued some from the streets too. My dream is to open an official poultry sanctuary some day because God knows there is a need for one!
Most of our chickens have names (how else!) and quite a few of them know them very well, too (and run to us when called). Actually a lot of consideration goes into naming them – apart from a few names given for fun (such as our big old Aseel rooster who we named Eagle, or the little naked neck boy named Magician, or a hen named Cookie because she looked like a cinnamon cookie when she was born). But most of them somehow get human names because they are so like little people.
Quality time with our chickens is first and foremost about distribution of treats (which we, and our veggie vendors, and my colleagues at the office and just about everyone else around us now calls “chicken yummies” – any leftover veggies or bread that they can eat) – that keeps them busy and out of trouble (straying away, overmating etc). We have a tradition too to celebrate my Birthday with a grand Chicken Party where we buy several kilograms of watermelon, tomatoes and lettuce for them. Whenever I can, I will give individual attention to those who are happy to accept it – such as taking them in my lap, cuddling them, giving them a “back and shoulder massage” and just talking with them. Sometimes one will come for a ride in the car with us, or I will take, for example, our disabled hennie Polly and put her in the basket of the pram to come for a ride when I go outside with my baby.
I also participate with our chickens in various animal related events, fundraisers for animal charities, open days at sanctuaries and such, and the response of the public has been amazing – I remember one time when I took my hennie Greta with me for a “bring your pet day” at a local garden centre and a family who stopped just to look at her, ended up staying with us for 40 minutes and thanked us for enriching their lives in such an unexpected way. I admit I had tears in my eyes!
What has surprised me most about chickens is how much they are like dogs (because I was primarily a “dog person” for more than 20 years before getting to know chickens). They are so trainable, so food-oriented to learn tricks, they easily learn their names, they appreciate a routine and don’t have to be pushed into their carriers at bed time because after a few times of repetition they will just walk into them by themselves… They absolutely love to be petted, cuddled, massaged, hugged and tucked into your shirt or under your shawl in winter… They will close their eyes in your lap and gladly watch a movie with you.
Some will get so attached that they will literally follow you everywhere just to be close. Some will gently put their head on your shoulder when you hold them. I never knew that birds can express so much emotion – you can read so much in the eyes of the chickens. Their will to live, too, is astonishing – they are such fighters when it comes to diseases and injuries, they don’t give up that easily (but when they do, you know the end is near). They sure taught me that while there is life, there is hope and I’ve seen some miraculous recoveries in them that made me think the same can be true for people too.
I’d like to tell other people out there that chickens are shockingly intelligent, very emotional, spontaneous and funny, clean, warm and cuddly, they make friends and form couples with each other, they know how to share, they are crazy dedicated as mommies… And for us, humans, it is very possible to form a truly deep bond with a chicken – no lesser than with a dog! They say sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart and I can attest to that – still missing my hen Tilly who barely weighed 400 grams but had a huge heart of gold with a beautiful soul beating inside her.
Our chickens recognize us first of all by acting calm and interested and not calling out alarm signals when they see us (contrary to when a stranger enters); they will also talk to us about how their day was, demand yummies, or just sweetly acknowledge in a low tiny voice when we come. Some of our roosters are hilarious in answering back to us, e.g. when I yell “Ronald!” out into the yard, I will get a bold and hearty response immediately.
In my still very limited experience, in order for chickens to thrive, each one needs to be first and foremost seen as an individual. It’s impossible to just fill their feeder and drinker as if for a “flock” and leave for the day – you have to make sure that every one of them is doing well and feeling happy and not disturbed by anything or anyone.
If I could say one thing on behalf of chickens, it would be – please, leave them off of your plates! Bake yummy egg-less (and just downright vegan) pastry which will melt in your mouth, and a nice, hot bowl of chicken-less soup will nurture you very nicely.
Chickens, when you get to know them, are nothing short of amazing, and we certainly don’t need ANY of their flesh, eggs or sufferings in our lives. Admire them and marvel at them, talk to them and cuddle them if you have such a chance, laugh with them and cry over their misfortunes, but leave them to enjoy life like every living being was meant to.
Some of my babies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MV_vzCGn-mA