When Chew brought home the 25 meat chickens that September, he warned us not to get attached.
These Gargantuan Godzillas were freaks of nature. Bred for one purpose, and one purpose only, they SERVED that purpose WELL. By the time they were a month old, they had grown too big to support their own weight. They lay around their feed dishes like white-feathered Sumo wrestlers on vacation, moving only their heads, as they ate their way into a gluttonous stupor… except for one.
One tiny hen refused to grow.
She darted about the pen, seemingly oblivious to her siblings…much less, to the fact she was roughly a quarter of their size.
She was friendly, lively, and inquisitive. Chew adored her, and named her “Queen Latifah,” breaking the cardinal rule of farming…”Thou shalt not nameth thy supper.”
No one was surprised when, on slaughter day, Chew decided that Latifah was “far too small for butchering,” and decided to keep her.
Latifah didn’t seem to mind having the big meat pen to herself, once her penmates were gone. We, however, had a bit of a dilemna. We NEEDED that pen, for an incoming flock of show Bantams which Chew had agreed to tend to, for a coworker. The laying hens would surely trample little Latifah (if they didn’t peck her to death, as the books warned us they might), and the head honcho-rooster of our Sebright Bantams had become downright VICIOUS after a migrating Marsh Hawk slaughtered our other two Bantam roosters. In fact, he had turned on our feather-footed little Cochon so violently that we feared for her life.
Chew had put FluffyFeet in an isolation pen, for her own protection, and she was not faring well. Already traumatized by the death of her mate, the further peckings and harassment had taken their toll.
Chew did the obvious thing. He put Latifah in the pen with FluffyFeet.
I TOLD him it was a bad idea.
I TOLD him it would never work.
I TOLD him it was a BIG MISTAKE.
I was wrong.
FluffyFeet adopted the undersized meat hen, as her own chick. She fed Latifah, taught her to scratch, tucked her beneath her wing (as best as she could) at night… all the things a Mama hen would do for her own baby chick. Latifah responded in turn, and the two became inseperable.
With new purpose, FluffyFeet began to thrive. Her comb turned bright red again, and she carried herself with a renewed confidence and strength we never would have imagined.
Latifah thrived, as well, in her new Mother’s care…and began to grow… and grow… and GROW.
Soon, Latifah was four times the size of her adoptive mother. She’d try to climb under FluffyFeet’s wing, at night, and poor FluffyFeet would be thrown from the roost by the effort. Latifah would try to scratch, and poor FluffyFeet would be literally buried beneath the shower of bedding her “daughter” had thrown. The real test came when we released the pair into the yard, the following spring. When the aggressive Sebright charged towards her, FluffyFeet stood her ground. With her signature half prance-half hop footsteps, she marched right up to her assaulter… and pecked him square on the head.
Latifah, incidentally, was right behind her mama…perfectly mimicking the characteristic hopping steps of the feather-laden feet of her adopted mother…even though HER feet are UNfeathred, and her legs are perfectly capable of taking steps twice the stride.
The pair moved themselves into the pen with the Sebright (and his two hens) that very night. The five did very well together, mingling with the layers by day, and returning peacefully to their own pen each night…
A few months later, when I heard an ungodly screaming/cackling from out back. The Chewable came into the bedroom, fear on her face.
Something was wrong, with the chickens!
As I slipped on my shoes, I heard it again…this time, from farther away… Far into the wheat field.
My daughter and I raced out the backdoor, flashlights in hand, and nearly stepped on the Sebright rooster who was sitting in the middle of the back porch.
That’s when I realized…WE HADN’T LOCKED UP THE PEN!
When I reached the pen, with the quivering rooster in my arms, my fears were confirmed. FluffyFeet and one of the Sebright hens were cowering together on the roost. The other Sebright hen and Latifah were gone.
Frantically, we began searching everywhere we could think of, for the missing hens. We found the other Sebright hen, cowering at the edge of the wheat field. She was in shock, and ran, clucking wildly, when we approached her. We had an AWFUL time catching her, but managed (finally) to return her to the pen.
Turning back to the yard, we began to search again for our beloved Latifah. Just when we were about to give up, I saw something white, in the grass.
A few feet away, another feather.
Like Hansel and Grethel, we followed a trail of Latifah’s feathers through the darkness, until I came upon the very thing I had feared.
A PILE of feathers.
Right at the edge of the field.
With tears burning our eyes, we continued our search…but could find no trace of the little meat hen who had grown up to be a Bantam.
Finally, we woke up Chew. As my words began to register, and his eyes focused in on the two handfuls of snow white feathers I was clutching, his face broke into an expression I never dreamed I’d see on a man so accustomed to the hard facts of life on the farm.
He jumped to his feet, pulled on his shorts and shoes, and grabbed up his animal call.
Until 2:30 in the morning, the two of us roamed the field, searching for the predator who had snagged our little hen. At last, we surrendered. With heavy hearts, we returned to the trailer. It was a lesson, hard-learned, and ill-received…as most of the biggest lessons in life are.
The next morning, Chew went out to examine the “scene of the crime” once more. As he approached the pen, something unexpected met his eye.
She was waiting by the pen, like a teenager who stayed out past curfew and forgot to take her key.
Inside the pen, a lone clue to her abductor…an owl feather.
Apparently, an owl had darted in through the open door, grabbing the white hen, and lost its grip on her somewhere over the wheat field. The wheat had succeeded in hiding Latifah from her would-be predator, and she had made her way back to her home once the coast was clear. She was missing some plumage, but was otherwise just as lively and sociable as ever.
The next spring, several of our hens decided that they wanted to hatch out eggs. Several times, we thought we had a new batch, coming. No such luck. What a surprise we received, one Sunday evening, after coming home from a race.
We heard a peeping.It came from the egg box.
Surprised, Chew lifted the lid, and found a single tiny chick… with its mother, Latifah.
We determined that she had hidden one egg, in the bedding, and… despite all we had heard about meat chickens being poor mothers… she had hatched out this tiny rooster.
We named him Peeps.
Latifah was an incredible mother. Peeps grew up big and strong… an excellent rooster.
Then, the miracles ran out.
Following a derecho, we were without electricity for a lengthy amount of time. To top it off, there was a massive heat wave. We had no way to keep the coop fans running, so we did our best to put up extra shade covers, keep cool water on hand, etc.
We were unsuccessful. While most of the flock did survive, we did incur several casualties. Among them were Latifah, Peeps, and FluffyFeet.
As with any of our lost birds, we were heartbroken.
Sitting on a shelf, we have a single white feather.
It was one of the feathers that the owl had plucked, from Latifah’s tail section.
It’s a reminder, that miracles DO happen. It IS possible to overcome unbelievable odds. You CAN make a difference.
Even if you are “just” a chicken.