Hi my name is Jessica. By day (and often by night) I am a video editor. That’s how the bills get paid. But that’s not who I am. I am an animal lover. All shapes and all sizes. I started volunteering at a shelter a few years ago and then began studying companion animal behaviour shortly after that. I’m hoping to both improve the welfare of animals in shelters and help the owners prevent the behaviours that inevitably land them there.
Where in the world are you?
Glen Austin A.H., Midrand, South Africa
Chickens & Names
I have five hens: Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Coriander and Parsley.
How do you spend quality time with your chickens?
I adopted my ex-bats from Chicken Rescue & Rehabilitation on 26 September 2014, so at this point I’ve only had them for a week! But every day I sit and hand feed them to allow them the chance to associate positive things with my presence. Slowly I’ve begun stroking them, Rosemary and Thyme like it, the others are still a bit skittish.
What has surprised you most about your chickens?
Basically everything has been a big wonderful surprise with these girls! I can say that my favourite thing about them is how quickly they’ve bounced back from a life of hell. My girls have two houses: an adapted dog kennel and a beautiful coop built as part of a skills development program run by Owl Rescue Centre South Africa (a great organisation – support them if you can!). I feared that they may not have the muscle or skill to walk up the ladder and roost or lay eggs in the coop so we were going to start them off in the kennel. But on the first night Rosemary was attempting the stairs so my husband and I helped them all up. The second night we watched three girls make their own way and helped the other two. By the third night all five were already in sleeping cozily in their coop before we even arrived to tuck them in! I have to admit, I was insanely proud of my clever, clever girls.
What do you want to tell people out there (who don’t know chickens as a species) about chickens?
Since I’m a total newbie at caring for chickens I don’t hand out much advice, although I am taking in as much as I can get!
How do you know that your chickens recognise you over and above
other people in their lives?
Well, they don’t. Not yet anyway. BUT! They could barely walk when their feet first touched the ground, now they come running when they see me! (I know it’s because I come bearing yummies, but that’s ok.) It’s both adorable and hysterical – they still have a feather shortage so they look a little ridiculous when running! It makes me love them all the more.
In your experience of keeping chickens as pets, what 10 non-negotiable factors do you believe need to be in place to give chickens a life that is physically, emotionally and mentally healthy?
I’m not sure yet, I think time will tell. All animals have an innate set of instincts. Cats hunt, rabbits burrow, dogs chew. For an animal to be content it needs an outlet for the fundamental behaviours that define her. So I think most importantly it would be to let them be themselves in as close to a natural habitat as possible. Sunshine, dust, good quality food, a place to roost, to lay, a shady spot, protection from the wind, rain and predators. As a behaviourist, mental stimulation is always at the top of my list so, once my girls are settled, you can bet I’ll be training them just like Little Miss Sunshine! (https://vimeo.com/89058823)
If you could say one thing, on behalf of chickens in the world, to the decision makers in your country, what would that one thing be?
If I were a chicken I would say, “Please respect me.”
Working in welfare keeps you realistic while remaining hopeful. Not many years ago, animal shelters were a place of horror. Slowly but surely, the adoption process is becoming more strict, home checks are mandatory and pet care education is on the rise. The same can be true for farming. I think it is naïve to believe that factory farming will ever entirely cease to exist but there is absolutely no reason for any animal to be tortured. There are ways to ensure welfare of animals and still turn a profit. If the animal must die, it should at least have had the chance to live.