Meet the Chickens
Eastern Shore Sanctuary
Below you will find the biographies of just a few of the birds who live or have lived at the Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary. We will be adding new biographies regularly, so if you like these stories, be sure to sign up for our online newsletter so that you will be notified of our web site updates.
A note about terminology: We put the term "broiler" in quotes, because we don't like it but don't have another word to denote the birds who are bred and killed for meat by the poultry industry. We talk about the chickens' names but, of course, these are just the names that we humans call them. We don't know what they call themselves or each other.
Here are the life stories of are just a few of more than 150 birds currently in residence at the Sanctuary.
Everybody's favorite hen Fanny died on 29 June 2005. Please join us in remembering Fanny by reading Funeral for a Hen.
Grace is the oldest of the "broiler" hens. Because she cannot balance on her legs, she spends her days in the nursery/infirmary area, where she serves as surrogate mother to all of the young and injured birds.
Grace came from a "broiler breeder" facility where she and other hens were subjected to partial starvation and constant attentions from overly heavy roosters who were themselves half-mad from hunger. "Broiler" chickens go to the slaughter factory at six weeks of age. Because of the genetic manipulations that lead them to grow so quickly, those who are allowed to live to maturity become very large and their skin is stretched very tightly over their body. When an adult "broiler" rooster mounts an adult "broiler" hen, injury to the hen often is the result. To minimize such injuries and to reduce costs, corporate "broiler breeder" facilities strictly limit the food given to the birds. When Grace and her companions arrived at our sanctuary, they could hardly believe they had free access to food. It was many months before they learned to trust that food would always be available and that they don't have to mob the food bowls to be sure of getting enough.
Like many "breeder" hens, Grace is permanently disabled from the experience. but has improved her ability to get around now that she is safe and well fed. Before she couldn't walk at all but now she can walk backward, although without very much control over direction. She practices every day and we have no doubt that she will continue to improve.
All the young birds love Grace, even though she doesn't fuss over them. She radiates a placid energy that seems to soothe the young ones. It's very touching to see her with young "broiler" birds who have just fallen from slaughter trucks. They have been deprived of their mothers and she has been deprived of who-knows-how-many of her children. Together, these survivors of family tragedy find a little happiness with each other.
Sanctuary co-founder Miriam Jones often finds birds by the roadside on her way to work. Often these bruised and battered birds do not survive. Whenever a bird is very badly injured, we do our best to care for him or her while also steeling our hearts for the likely loss. One day, Miriam came home with such a bird. He had a broken leg, a badly broken beak, bruised eyes, and various bloody abrasions. Such injuries are common, because chicken catchers grab the birds any way they can as they load them into the trucks headed for slaughter. Very many birds die of painful injuries before reaching the slaughter plant.
This little bird surprised us by surviving the first night and the next and the next. We nursed his injuried and fed him by hand. When we were sure he was stable enough to be moved, we took him to the vet, who said that his leg was healing on its own and should be left alone. We had to continue feeding him liquid food with a syringe because of his broken beak.
Weeks went by. Slowly but surely the leg and the beak healed until one day the little bird was able to eat and walk on his own. That's when we decided to call him "Chumbawumba" -- because he gets knocked down but he gets up again as in the well-know song by the UK band called Chumbawumba.
Finally came the day when little Chumbawumba was ready to be moved out of the infirmary and into the hen yard (which also houses juveniles and slightly infirm roosters). He was sad to leave his friends and did not make new friends quickly. It was sad to see him walking around alone, with his slight limp. But then came salvation in the form of ducks. We took in eight ducks desperately in need of a new home and moved them into the hen area. Chumbawumba took to them right away and they seemed to like him too. (In general, they are very curious about and friendly toward young "broilers.") It's quite a sight to see the ducks walking around the yard with little Chumbawumba limping along behind them. Even more adorable are the rare instances when we catch the ducks all curled up together for a nap with little Chumbawumba right in the middle of them!
Every chicken is different, with his or her own way of thinking, feeling and acting. Some are smart while others are slow. Some are sociable while others are loners. Some are outgoing while others are shy. Some are curious and courageous while others are meek and retiring.
Just as with people, both biology (nature) and environment (nurture) play a role in shaping the personality of of the individual chicken. In general, the tedious and traumatizing environment of the factory farm blunts the natural development of the "broiler" chicken. The young birds spend all their time in a barren environment with only birds of the same age and sex for company. Some end up smart, lively, outgoing, and cheerful despite the cognitive and emotional impact of that early sensory and social deprivation. Others are never what they could have been with a healthy upbringing.
Every once in a while, we get to see what happens when a "broiler" chick grows up in a cognitively stimulating and emotionally satisfying environment. Alfalfa came to us as a chick, having escaped from a truck leaving the hatchery rather than a truck heading for the slaughter factory. Growing up at the sanctuary, she got healthy food, a stimulating natural environment, and lots of contact with a community of adult hens, adult roosters, and surrogate siblings of all ages.
Because Alfalfa's innate capacities have been stimulated to fully develop, she has ended up a remarkably intelligent, affectionate, and independent bird. She's curious without being incautious and persistant without being stubborn. She has good problem-solving skills and a verve for new experiences. Not surprisingly, she's the favorite of many of our visitors. Alfalfa is included in our photo gallery.
Malcolm and Sonya
Rescued from a farm store as chicks and having lived as family companions rather than commodities, Malcolm and Sonya remind us of the health and high spirits that most of our sanctuary residents will never know. Because they are not "broiler" birds bred to be unnaturally large, they have none of the health problems that plague the birds who come to us from the factory farms. Because they were never confined in an egg factory or chicken shed, they have none of the traumatic injuries or anxieties of the birds who have endured such tortures. Malcolm and Sonya were always closer to one another than the humans with whom they previously lived. So, when they came to live at the sanctuary because their human caretaker had become too old to care for them properly, they made the adjustment more smoothly than their companion Mickey (a rescued "broiler" rooster), who was depressed and angry for several weeks. Malcolm is somewhat arrogant and can be obnoxious towards other birds, but he is so devoted and doting towards Sonya that it is hard not to like him. Sonya keeps her feelings to herself for the most part, but shows by her behavior that Malcolm's affection is returned. Malcolm is included in our photo gallery.
The Buckeye Gals
In late 2000, the Buckeye egg factory in Ohio was hit by a twister. Hundreds of thousands of birds were left to die by the factory owner, who simply stopped feeding the birds in the collapsed buildings. Then, the owner started getting rid of some of the birds by burying them alive. Alerted to the situation, the good people at the OohMahNee sanctuary in Pennsylvania organized a rescue effort, helped out by people from places like Farm Sanctuary and the national Humane Society. Together, they convinced the factory owner to release to rescuers as many birds as they could carry away during a set period of time. The call went out for sanctuaries to take in as many birds as possible. Because we are small, we could only take 30, although we hope to be able to take in a few more soon.
The birds from Buckeye are small hens called White Leghorns by people. Of all of our sanctuary residents, these hens are the most like wild birds. They don't have much to do with humans, preferring their own company or the company of other chickens. Some like to spend all of their time with each other, others like the company of roosters too. (Romeo's girlfriends are all from this group.) Since they don't interact with us very much, we don't get to know many of them as individuals. But, some stand out from the crowd. Flora, for example, is exceptionally intrepid, loving to climb high into a tree and then glide down to the ground. Crazy Legs is the night owl of the group and is also extremely curious. Whenever we are in the yard, she is right there intently watching what we are doing.
Because these hens were very young and had not been at the factory long when the twister destroyed it, we have hopes that they will not have the health problems that plague the older egg factory hens who have been been through the terrible procedure called forced molting. We have high hopes that these birds can live long, happy, independent lives here at the sanctuary.
The Anarchists are a group of former egg factory inmates who now know no boundaries. They fly out of the coop and over the fence each morning and are often found scratching in the garden or sunbathing in the neighbor's front yard. Of all the birds here at the sanctuary, these intrepid and free-spirited hens may be the healthiest and happiest of all.
The Bad Boyz
The Bad Boyz flew in from a defunct sanctuary elsewhere and turned our quiet sanctuary inside out. When they arrived, the hens were shocked, having never seen such colorful feathers on such fancy roosters. They stood stock still, just staring, for many minutes. Now, Rocco, DeWayne, and One-Eyed Jack (to name a few) hang out together at the back of the yard. Except in the most inclement weather, they fly up into the trees to sleep at night. They never aggress anyone but won't tolerate disrespect from other roosters. While we call them the Bad Boyz, some of them are rather elderly by chicken standards. The vigor, agility, and zest for life of these older roosters is truly amazing. Like many older people, they refuse to change their habits just because they have gotten older.
Flora and Fauna
Flora is the the most quick and clever of The Anarchists. Fauna was a misfit among the Bad Boyz until he found Flora and her fine tail feathers. Together, they break out of the chicken yard and spend each day strolling around our front yard. They do everything together, including dustbathing.
Red Rover was rescued when a live poultry market in Boston was shut down for health violations. After many weeks of medicines and health tests, she and her confederates were finally cleared for interstate travel. Along with several other sanctuaries, we offered homes to as many as possible. Red Rover settled in well but then injured her leg and had to spend some time in the infirmary yard. Soon after her recovery, she began breaking out of the "broiler" hen yard to roam in our front yard along with The Anarchists. Unlike many hens, who very much appreciate rooster companionship, Red Rover does not like roosters at all. She's very determined about this, as she is about everything else.
Phillipe was confiscated from an illegal cockfighting operation and sent to a humane society which then sent him to us. He arrived looking healthy, except for the fact that all of the feathers on his chest and legs had been shaved off, to make him look more fierce in the ring. This makes it hard for him to stay warm when the weather is chilly or wet and sometimes we have to keep him inside for his own safety.
When he first arrived, Felipe was so aggressive towards other birds, that he would instantly fly at any rooster he saw and even hurt himself trying to break through his carrier in order to fight. Even if the other bird was running away, he would give chase in order to try to attack. This was because of the training he had endured, which perverts the natural instincts of the rooster into unnatural aggression. During human-engineered cockfights, the birds fight until one is dead. Normally, roosters will fight so fiercely only against a predator or other serious threat to themselves or the flock. Roosters will sometimes fight among themselves to establish or maintain the pecking order but they always stop the fight as soon as one bird concedes. These fights are more symbolic than serious. Fights that cause serious injury simply don't make evolutionary sense and do not occur except in unnatural circumstance.
Knowing that roosters mostly fight when they are afraid and also that Felipe had probably been rewarded for fighting, we first worked to make him feel safe around the other birds and then set about rewarding him for not fighting. The process we used is too complicated to explain here but will be written up after we have used it successfully with several other former fighters. Gradually, he was able to spend longer and longer periods of time with the other birds before starting a fight. Eventually, he didn't start any fights at all.
Now, Felipe lives peacefully with the other hens and roosters in our largest coop and its adjacent foraging yards. He sometimes spends time with some of the hens who were rescued from the Cypress Farms egg factory in Florida and is somewhat friendly with a young "broiler" rooster named Herbie but most of the time he keeps to himself. Often, he looks lonely, standing alone while all of the other birds are in pairs or small groups. But, Felipe has taken to sleeping alongside another lonely rooster, Fabio (who has lovely long blonde feathers and is extremely shy). They each go their separate ways during the day but seem to take some comfort from each other's company at night. We hope that, over time, Felipe will be more able to enjoy the company of other birds. Felipe is included in our photo gallery.
Named for the concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl was the true founder of the Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary. He fell or leapt from a truck heading for the slaughterhouse and ended up in a ditch near our house. We brought him home, made a place for him in the garage, and fenced off a part of the yard for him. He adapted very well to his new surroundings but was obviously lonely. He would run out to greet us whenever we stepped into the yard and would sometimes clamber up onto the back steps just to wait for us. Only later, when other chickens were living with him, was he fully able to live a normal chicken life.
When we brought home Violet and Chickweed from the local humane society, Viktor was overwhelmed. Having lived his first two months in a shed with 20,000 other birds of the same sex and age and the next two months alone with us, he had not been socialized as he would have been with his mother and a normal flock. Now an adult, he wasn't sure what to do with these youngsters. Should he an elder or a peer to the young rooster? Should he court or parent the young hen? For a couple of days, he tried to do everything at once before settling in as their surrogate single parent. He became intensely devoted to them very quickly and defended them whenever he felt they were threatened. When they had to come inside for a few days due to illness, he stopped eating and spent all his time hanging around where he had last seen them.
As the sanctuary grew, so did Viktor. He took his responsibilities as oldest rooster very seriously, constantly bustling around the yard and the coop making sure that everyone was okay. One day, when a couple of young chicks failed to take cover from a couple of hawks, Viktor stood in front of them rather than take cover himself. Viktor had a rich emotional life. He fell in love with Rosa and mourned when she died. For a long time after that, he showed no romantic or sexual interest in any hen. But, when Ellie Mae moved in many months later, he began courting again, spending all his extra time near her.
Viktor died of a sudden heart attack on a spring day when the temperature soared and he became overheated. He was only about a year and a half old. Such heart attacks are common among birds like Viktor, because their muscles are too heavy for their organs. We will always miss Viktor and consider the sanctuary to be his legacy. We still feel his spirit hovering over the chicken yard, making sure that everyone is okay.
Violet and Chickweed
The brother and sister duo of Violet and Chickweed were the second and third chickens in residence at what would become the Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary. Like Viktor, they had leapt or fallen from a truck headed for the factory. Found on the roadside by a nice lady, they rode to the local Humane Society cuddled up with a dog on the backseat of her car. Then they came to live with us.
Violet and Chickweed were still peeping like little chicks when they arrived. They were extremely devoted to one another and would take turns protecting one another from perceived dangers. We will never forget the spring that they spent with us. Watching them grow among the wildflowers and weeds, we came to truly appreciate the horror of the poultry industry, which deprives young birds of everything natural and then kills them before they even reach maturity.
As they grew, Violet and Chickweed's individual personalities began to emerge. Chickweed was a sunny and outgoing young bird, while Violet was more quiet and shy. They remained close as they grew, rarely straying more than a few feet from one another. Then they reached the bird equivalent of puberty. Chickweed started trying to crow, his little voice cracking and changing pitch until he got it right. Stomping around on his suddenly very large feet, Chickweed started paying a lot of attention to the other hens who had come to live at the sanctuary. For her part, Violet also sought a wider social circle, spending more and more time socializing with other hens her age. But, Violet and Chickweed checked in with one another frequently in the course of each day and always slept cuddled up together at night.
Then, tragedy struck. Violet got a cut that, because of its location, we didn't see until it became infected. We washed and treated the wound and brought her inside. The next morning, she was dead. Because this was summer and heat-related heart attacks are common among these birds, we don't know for sure whether complications from the the injury or a heart attack killed her.
Chickweed was devastated. He watched us bury Violet and, for the next several weeks, would return to stand silently at the place from which he had last seen her. Like many people do when they are mourning, he became very angry and would rage around the yard every day. At night, he would stand in the coop alone, drooping with sadness.
Chickweed never recovered his sunny personality. While he became less angry over time, he was never the same as he had been before Violet died. That is not to say that he didn't have happy times. He became close to several roosters slightly younger than himself and also remained close to the sanctuary coordinator, with whom he spent time almost every day.
Chickweed lived with us for just over a year. Over the winter, he developed a respiratory infection that eventually stopped responding to treatment. The shelter coordinator spent a lot of time with him towards the end, and he seemed to take comfort from that. He would lean against her, just resting, after she gave him medicine or fed him a special treat.
When we buried Chickweed, we felt compelled to include a few special objects in his grave. We imagined future archeologists digging up our property. We wanted them to know that this chicken wasn't anybody's dinner: this chicken was somebody's brother, this chicken was somebody's friend.
Chickweed was never the same after Violet died. Having loved and lost them both, now we are the ones who will never be the same.
Charlie Parker and Billy Strayhorn
Charlie Parker fled to the woods when the chicken catchers came to capture him and the 20,000 other birds in the shed in which he spent his first few weeks of life. He almost escaped his rescuers too, not knowing that they meant to take him to sanctuary. As soon as he was safe, however, he began singing like a bird (hence, his name).
Charlie had a hard time in the chicken yard at first, because some of the older roosters expected him to defer to them and, having been raised in an artificial social setting, he didn't know how to give the proper signals. He was still so young that he started treating the sanctuary coordinator like his mother, running between her legs for protection, perching on her lap to preen himself, and running frantically after her whenever she would leave the yard. Since he really needed to learn to be with chickens, Charlie was placed in the infirmary area with the now departed Che Guevera and Rosa Luxemborg. Che, who had lost the use of his legs because he was so big, was very strong and gentle. He would lift his wing and little Charlie would snuggle under and calm right down. When Che died of a sudden heart attack, little Charlie was very upset and confused. But by then he had a friend his own age, Little Sister, who had also loved Che. Together, they made the jump into the main chicken yard, clinging together for comfort and mutual aid. They remained close until they reached maturity and drifted apart.
Some time later Charlie Parker, who had himself become very large, developed the leg problems that are so common among these birds. He went to live in the infirmary/nursery area permanently. And then he became the one who lifted his wing to comfort and protect the young ones. Since this is not something that many "broiler" roosters do, we imagine that Charlie learned about being an adult rooster from Che. In turn, he passed that legacy along to the young roosters he nurtured.
One of those young roosters was Billy Strayhorn, who came to the sanctuary with a broken leg and a broken wing but survived and thrived against all odds. Billy was found on the side of the road by a woman who was on her way home from a job interview with Perdue! (She took this as a sign and did not accept the job when it was offered to her.) Billy was strong and stubborn. Even when in terrible pain, he would not be still and kept trying to walk. The vet put a pin in his leg, which helped for a while, but then the pin worked its way out and the leg became infected. Billy went back to the vet and spent a week there before being released. Many of the staff members at the vet's office commented on how sociable he was. They were surprised when he would respond when they talked to him. They had never realized that you could have a relationship with a chicken.
On the first day back home at the sanctuary, Billy stood up and walked. But, as he got bigger, walking became more difficult. He was friends with Frances, who was blind and also somewhat lame. Like many chickens, Billy liked music. He listened to the radio when he was at the vet and recovering indoors at the sanctuary. He perked right up one day when he was in the car going to the vet and "Take the A Train" came on the radio. Hence, he was named after the composer of that tune.
Like most "broiler" roosters, Charlie Parker and Billy Strayhorn died young. Luckily, they each passed peacefully, letting go of the pains they had endured in life. And, they each left behind a legacy of love. Our photo gallery includes a picture of Charlie Parker with one of the many chicks he took under his wing.
Romeo spent some time as the leader of the "broiler" roosters but but was not as bossy as others have been in this role. He looked out for everyone but didn't boss anyone around. That's wasn't surprising, because he was always a quiet and somewhat retiring bird. Romeo came to the shelter along with four other young roosters who had mysteriously appeared in someone's yard. They were all about six or eight weeks old, which is when these birds are slaughtered, so they must have escaped the chicken catchers somehow. We called the group of them The Pips because they moved in unison. Romeo got his name because he was a shy pretty-boy. We were very surprised when the name turned out to be accurate. Upon reaching adulthood, Romeo became extremely popular with the hens and always had five or seven regular girlfriends. They would spend almost all of their time with him, dust bathing together during the day and cuddling together at night. Several other hens spend time with him occasionally. We noted with interest that the more brash and aggressive roosters are never as popular with the hens as was Romeo, who was always very gentle and generous with them.
Romeo was not happy when, due to age, it became his turn to be "alpha rooster." On the morning he assumed the role, he was very nervous and went above and beyond the call of duty patroling the yards for problems and scanning the skies for predators. It was clear that he was uncomfortable but felt honor bound to do his duty. When, some weeks later, some older roosters moved in, Romeo relinquished his role with almost palpable relief and went back to spending his days with his girlfriends.
Romeo lived a very long time for a "broiler" rooster, becoming visibly elderly. As chickens do when they die naturally, he gradually started sleeping more and moving around less. One day, we just knew that he was going to die in his sleep that night. This was the day that we welcomed Red Rover and her companions from the live poultry market. Having lived only indoors in cages, they were very frightened by their new surroundings. They huddled together afraid to take a step in any direction. At the same time, Pattrice was bringing Romeo into the yard, to let him have a last look at the place where he had so many happy days. As he rested in her arms, looking around placidly, the new hens were drawn to him. Slowly, very slowly, one and then three and then seven new hens came closer and closer to the strange site of a person sitting on the ground cuddling a chicken. Then they became less afraid. Romeo fell asleep right there and never woke up. We consider welcoming the new hens to be his last act.
Godiva arrived almost completely naked, defeathered and disoriented after a year and a half in a battery cage in an egg factory. With her badly debeaked visage and the stumps of former feathers sticking out from her skin, she looked more like a monster than a bird as she took her first tentative steps onto the grass of the Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary.
Soon and very soon, Godiva and the others who had come with her to the sanctuary learned to revel in the new rhythm of their lives: up and out with the sunrise, big breakfast, dust bath or puddle wading (depending upon the weather), egg laying in tree stumps or nests in the brush, light lunch, siesta with the roosters in the sun in the winter or the shade in the summertime, some kind of late afternoon treat, final foraging before bedtime, then making their own way inside at sunset to cuddle up with their chosen companions on the perches and platforms in the coop. The people watched and learned something about both the fragility and resiliancy of Gaia, our ecosystem, who is us.
Soon and very soon, those who arrived with Godiva grew back their feathers but, six months later, Godiva was still half naked. Special treats with extra nutrients finally allowed her to regain her full complement of feathers by the time of her one year anniversary at the sanctuary. And, what feathers they were! Red with white centers, Godiva's feathers were easily the most delicately beautiful in the yard.
Godiva was a regular gal who, apart from the issue of her feathers, wouldn't have stuck out from the crowd. Her best friends were Fanny and Scout. She rarely went anywhere without her pals and generally let them take the lead in any endeavor.
That's why it was troubling when Godiva starting standing around by herself in the woods. The people at the sanctuary noticed and brought her into the infirmary yard that shares a fence with the main yard, so that she could still have contact with her friends. She didn't like it, but needed to be there so she could get some medicine and would not have to jostle with other birds at the food and water bowls. She was very light. The antibiotics didn't do any good but a steady diet of her favorite treats did perk her up somewhat. She ate well but didn't gain weight. She missed her friends but did find some companionship with Wonder (a blind rooster) and some of the other birds in the infirmary. Some days she ate eagerly and seemed to enjoy life, other days she stayed inside and had to be coaxed into eating. This went on for weeks.
One night, Godiva ate hard-boiled eggs eagerly before taking herself to bed. The next morning she was so weak she could barely stand. One of the people held her close and sang to her as she gripped a finger with her toes. Some birds can let go of life while being held; others will hang on until they are left alone. Godiva needed peace to let go. Placed in a favorite spot, where she could see and hear the other birds but still have her privacy, Godiva quietly slipped away.
Here is what one of the people wrote on the day Godiva died:
I'd like to say "go diva, go... you're free now" but all I can think about are the cages and tortures that robbed her of a normal lifespan. I feel the sun on my skin and think about how she couldn't get enough -- did not live to get enough -- sun on her feathers. Fanny keeps coming up to me and I don't know what to say. The birds who just arrived from Florida are happy, so happy, today. Will they, can any of us, get enough animal happiness to repair the damage? And Gaia? Will she survive or will she go like Godiva? I don't know. But, one thing the birds have taught me is that hope really is the thing with feathers. Guess I'll have to follow their lead.
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