As time wore on and my experience
grew, pragmatism meant that my
subsequent choice of ex-battery hens
tended to focus on stronger, healthier
animals, but occasionally sentiment
would result in liberation for some
apparently hopeless cases.
So it was with the bird that couldn’t
walk. She had a featherless backside
and was lying on her side in a cull
crate. The floors of the battery cages
were sloped, with letterbox-shaped
slots for the eggs. Rather gruesomely,
birds would sometimes become stuck
in these slots, and if they weren’t
extracted quickly, the blood
circulation to their legs could be cut
off, and they would then be unable to
stand. So it was with this animal.
With innocent, childish callousness I
took the bird back to my chicken
hovel and wondered if it would survive
the night. I shudder now at the
recollection of putting it straight in with
the others, who didn’t know it, and
from whom it couldn’t escape.
In the morning it was very much alive,
lying on its straw bed in an orange
box, with my hens apparently keen to
peck the top of its head. Mercifully
they quickly lost interest, and it proved
to have a good appetite when a
bowl of food was put within pecking
It stayed where it was for about a
week, then I noticed that it was
clutching and un-clutching one of its
feet. A few days after that I found it
standing on one foot and hopping
unsteadily about the run. Time
passed, it began exercising the other
foot and in due course became
completely mobile and integrated
into the rest of the flock.
A prolific layer, it grew a fine set of
feathers, except round its bum,
which remained draftily plumage-
free, but when I bade my aunt,
uncle and flock goodbye, this was
one of the hens I sold on.
Now my wife and I usually keep
heavy breeds of chicken in our
Kentish garden, mostly for reasons of
aesthetics, a few bantams, because
my dad gave us some eggs, and a
motley flock of Indian Runner ducks.
We’ve had endless dramas, some
hilarious, some not, but these
animals are pets. They give us
pleasure and sometimes eggs, and
we give them a home for as long as
they’re healthy and happy.
Forty years on, that’s something
which hasn’t changed.