We have a special needs chicken. It is Steve. I am not joking, nor am I making fun of anything related to special needs. Many of you know me to have a wryly biting wit (meaning a “G” rated smart***), which, occasionally, turns snotty (when I’m tired or cranky or under pressure). I’m not always proud of what I say out loud (because my words are rude, sometimes) and wish back some of my worst moments. All that to say, this ‘special needs’ phrase I use with love. Not sarcasm or ‘wry wit’.
Steve has a crooked beak. We have a picture of him. He is looking straight at the camera, and you can see his beak dives right, while his comb slopes left. I noticed this a week or two ago, and have studied him since then. He does a GREAT job of eating, and won’t have any problems getting nutrition into himself to make all those eggs.
But as I sit, on the bench, or on tuft of grass outside the cage, or even when I perch inside the gate on the frame of their coop, I get this rush of love for little old Steve. He doesn’t fuss about having a crooked beak. As a matter of fact, he is usually the first to investigate what we have in our hands, or what we throw down for them to scratch around with. He leads the girls into their sleeping box (the farthest on the right).
This rush of love, though:
It’s not pity. It’s not sympathy. It’s not empathy. I’m just so proud of him (her) when he’s doin’ his little chicken thing. All those songs? About triumph in the face of adversity? “Nobody’s gonna break my stride… Nobody’s gonna slow me down…”. “We shall overcome…”. (Many of you know of MY popular musical illiteracy, so I am sure there are a TON more songs that fit)
The other four girls accept and love Steve without reservation. They happily follow him around the coop – pecking at apple cores, or destroying the little piles of feed (strategically placed there for my viewing pleasure), or scratching hay. I used the pitchfork to remove the old hay and sawdust mix – threw that on the garden, and put new prairie hay down for them. It smells fresh – and it is really fun to watch them in new bedding. They’ll scritch – once with each claw – then hop back one step and peer intently at what they’ve uncovered. You can just tell that this species has been doing this same move for centuries. It works for them.
We are still thinking about letting them out of the coop and into the whole of our backyard. My chicken magazine says they will leave our garden plants and flowers alone, and mostly pursue bugs. Me? I’m skeptical, but I guess all of life is full of risk. Plus the upside is huge. We get to sit and pretend not to follow every move they make as long as they are scritching and hopping. THAT day is gonna be awesome.