Hello, my name is Kate.
I live on a plot near Fourways in Joburg, South Africa. I fell in love with our little piece of land because it was everything a retired township donkey could wish for- and that was the plan- to offer a little herd of ex-working donkeys a safe place to enjoy their lives. I currently have 6 donkeys, 1 cat, 7 dogs and as of Friday- 21 chickens.
How many chickens do you have?
At the moment I am still getting to know them, they moved in almost a week ago and are still in dreadful condition. I will name them as I get to know them each individually. I really like the name Henrietta for a chicken.
How do you spend quality time with your chickens?
At the moment the chickens are in a fenced off area around their house while they get stronger and settle in. Their wooden wendy house is under a tree and the enclosure has 2 little benches inside it. Since they arrived I have spent many many hours sitting on the bench or on the ground with them, watching them get used to their feet, watching them dust bath for the first time, enjoying watching the politics play out- they are fascinating! I have also been sprinkling food close to me when I sit on the ground and I have so enjoyed watching the ones who were initially quite nervous, come closer every day and now almost the whole flock scratches around and joins in the fun without hesitation or worry.
What has surprised you most about your chickens?
I am surprised by how quickly they have learnt the routine. Their first night we had to catch them all and put them in their house, the second night there were already a couple chickens already inside and a few chatting away at the bottom of the ramp- they clearly knew where they were supposed to go from the night before. From the third night onwards everyone makes their own way up their little ramp and into their house, there are just two who seem to be slow learners.
What do you want to tell people out there (who don’t know chickens as a species) about chickens?
I did not realize how much fun chickens are- as in as a flock not as pets necessarily. They play, they zoom around, some of them RUN from one place to the next. Yesterday one of them found something that was clearly delicious (I have no idea what is was), the look on her face and the sound of delight had every single chicken zap their heads up to see what was ‘THAT cool’. She realized her mistake and dashed off at full speed to protect her prize. The entire flock was in hot pursuit and a chase began. As she tired another chicken would manage to catch up and snatch this thing out of her beak. It was like a relay race and the ‘baton holder’ changed many times. The game went on for about 20 minutes, eventually someone managed to get far enough ahead to find 0.3 seconds to eat the prize.
How do you know that your chickens recognize you over and above other people in their lives?
I don’t yet, they get excited about anyone coming to the gate at the moment because right now all people mean replenished food bowls! There are 4 of us taking turns on checking on them while we all settle into a routine so they haven’t decided on any favourite people yet.
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?
SUN! I can’t believe how much they seem to love lying around and preening in the sun- something they never get to experience when in a battery/ intensive farming environment.
Space to run around. What busy creatures, I don’t think they stop for a second other than to bask and clean in the sun.
Lovely clean earth. The dust baths go on for ages and they seem to love their time kicking up soil and rolling around. I would say dust baths are essential to a chicken’s happiness.
A variety of foods. They get so excited about food and whatever is the most recent bowl to go down receives a huge amount of interest. They seem to enjoy food variety as much as we do.
I have one chicken who fancies herself quite the flier. She goes half way up the ramp and leaps off flapping all the way down- she is getting quite good. The option to be able to spread her wings and flap them is crucial to her happiness.
I can’t believe how much chickens drink! They are certainly at the water bowl much more frequently than any of the donkeys or my cats or dogs. Fresh clean water is obviously essential to everyone but the chickens seem to be almost obsessed with it- maybe it is because of how dehydrated they were when they arrived?
Somewhere safe to go at night. They get quite panicked if the sun goes down and the entire flock isn’t safely together in their house. They certainly worry about the remaining flock members still outside and the hens on the ‘patio area’ of their house chatter away and once the final chicken arrives they all go in to their house together calmly.
I am sure in time I will be able to list 100 points but for now this is it.
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?
It is hard not to go on a vegetarian/ vegan rant here. Obviously the message that all farmed animals would want to send out would be to beg for the end of their suffering. These animals are too intelligent, feel too much and think too much to be subjected to the lives we lock them into. Even if the message went out from all animals to every single person on this earth via main-stream media- still nothing would change, by the time you are an adult, locked into you habits and your beliefs you will choose ‘convenience’ and the ‘easy, lazy route’ every time. Children need to connect with animals from a young age, they need to be taught to be empathetic and they need to keep hold of the belief that ‘animals are just like us’ and not lose it as they grow up. So maybe animals- being more conscious than human’s are- would want to send out the message that every single child needs to have a pet and learn to love an animal with their whole, unbiased, childhood heart.