Hello, my name is Candy and I started and run Chickens as pets not food – Chicken Rescue and Rehabilitation South Africa.
I live with my long suffering husband of 20 years (no, not long suffering because he is married to me – I am actually very nice) but long suffering because of the multitude of animals that pass through our home weekly, leaving a trail of joy, tears, heightened emotion, depleted finances and poo!
I have two daughters age 10 and 11, 3 dogs and a flock of chickens.
I became vegan 6 ½ years ago when I was confronted by the horror of factory farming and slaughter, and no longer wanted to be an enabler of this commercial torture and slaughter.
Rescue, rehab and activism is in my blood. My paternal grandmother was escorted out of the circus in the UK in the 1940’s when she produced a banner from her bag saying ‘ban the circus’. My maternal grandmother worked in a laboratory that kept guinea pigs for testing, and throughout my childhood she would arrive at my home with a guinea pig or two under her jersey with the unspoken intention that they were to be liberated and I would be fundamental to their sustained liberation going forward.
My sister worked, and still works, in wildlife rescue and rehab. She has carved a name for herself in the annals of South African wildlife care and rehabilitation through her passion, compassion, skill and dedication to all creatures great and small.
My mother and father were serial rescuers of lost or injured dogs, cats or other strays. We were the family that was frequently late for social arrangements because we had been chasing a lost and frightened dog around Johannesburg roads and that activity took precedent over everything else.
My father loved, and loves nature and would take me out into the South African veld early in the morning and show me the beauty inherent in the fauna and flora around me. My dad always said ‘it takes a strong person to be kind, and a weak person to be cruel’.
It was my parents that came home from the Rand Easter Show in the late 70’s with my first chickens. 2 tiny chicks that grew into a large white leghorn rooster called Sunshine, and a cute little hen called Henny Penny. Sunshine was a feisty rooster who frequently chased our neighbors up their own driveway with intent to do harm. At age 6 years I was the only person who could manage our large aggressive rooster, and I would be urgently summoned to rescue our shrieking neighbors. It was my first real love affair!
Where in the world are you?
Johannesburg, South Africa
How many chickens do you have?
At present we have 9 chickens living with us, but our flock increases and decreases depending on rescues and re – homing’s.
There have been so many. Our current 9 are Li Li, Maya, Chicken Claire, Irma Rosenstein, Ivy, Buttercup Rose, Ruby, Abby and baby Georgie.
How do you spend quality time with your chicken/ chickens?
I love spending time with my chickens. They are an integral part of my family. I spend time sitting on the lawn with them, observing their behavior, cuddling those that want cuddles, communicating across our language barriers. Sometimes I massage our large white broilers (genetically modified meat chickens) to relieve and ease their growing pains, giving butterfly kisses on soft chicken eyelids, and pressing my nose into their feathery necks and inhaling the most gorgeous specifically chicken smell that is the familiar and safe backdrop to my life from childhood to now.
What has surprised you most about your chicken/ chickens?
I had this amazing hen called Mac. Mac had one leg and I rescued her when she was a chick. Mac knew her name, understood ‘up’ and would spring into your arms, came for cuddles whenever there was an opportunity, clearly displayed jealousy when I held one of my other hens, communicated very clearly around her different needs (her cluck for jealousy was different to needing water, different to needing food, was different to wanting to be picked up or put down). Mac taught me ‘chicken’ and raised my levels of awareness to start looking more carefully for clear communication signs in other chickens.
The more time I spend with chickens, the more surprised I am, at how given the opportunity for a more sophisticated lifestyle, they grow into that potential very quickly.
What do you want to tell people out there (who don’t know chickens as a species) about chickens?
It’s a travesty to eat them, cage them or crowd them! We are going to look back on our treatment of chickens with horror when the world wakes up to the levels of consciousness, intelligence and sensitivity that I (and others) have come to recognize in chickens. Our great grandchildren will hopefully look back at the treatment of chickens in production in the same way we look back at slavery, the holocaust and other atrocities that have been committed through history.
How do you know that your chickens recognize you over and above other people in their lives?
My chickens come when I call them, and it is not always food motivated. Some of them even respond to their individual names. Our rooster lets me pick him up, sometimes he lets my daughters hold him, but will run away from anyone else. Our rooster does not mind closed shoes, but dislikes sandals, especially if they are black or white in color. Our flock’s ability to distinguish certain people from others, certain colors from others and certain shapes from others is clear in their choices and behavior.
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?
- The basics – good quality food, fresh drinking water and shelter from the elements
- A chicken companion or more than 1. Chickens are highly social birds and need to company of other chickens.
- Space to roam free. Given the opportunity, chickens can cover 2 to 3 Kms a day whilst roaming around foraging.
- A sunny spot with some good soft sand for a dust bath.
- Access to good veterinary care, should they need it.
- A clean environment, an environment that is free from parasitic mites and goggas.
- A compost heap or rotting ground leaves to dig and scratch in.
- A safe comfy place to lay their eggs, and to die when their time comes.
- A carer that is sensitive to their chickens needs, and acknowledges their chickens for the noble birds they are.
- A human being that is going to fight hard for their basic rights, because they really need 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?
In the absence of fully understanding exactly what chickens feel, think and desire, can we really take the chance and treat them as commodities? The cruel treatment of animals has been linked strongly to an inevitable extension into the cruel treatment of other humans. If we adopt a stance of ‘no violence’ that extends across all species, it can only benefit the world wide treatment of human beings. As leaders, you have the power to make some real changes, (this extends to us all) what are you going to do with those choices? What legacy are you going to leave behind? A legacy that contributes to the civilization of humankind, or one that holds us back in our current hell?