I’ve worked the horse/mule/cow area at events before, so this time when they asked us for our preferences, I went with chickens. I have gotten to know a lot of the chickens in my weekly volunteering, but what I found with the cows is that I learned their names and stories so much better by working their area during a big event.
So this time it was the chickens and turkeys (and guineas and the peacock).
victor, elliot and gobbles
When I first started volunteering at the sanctuary, I couldn’t read the chickens at all. I didn’t understand them, and I was a little freaked out at the thought of holding them. Of course I wouldn’t have admitted that, so the first time Dave said “do you want to hold one?” and put someone in my arms, I went along with it.
And I learned.
Chickens are curious and intelligent. They are filled to the brim with personality, and they go mad for corn and grapes and bread. The roosters will show their girls where the food tidbits are, and they’ll often pick up pieces and drop them on the ground again so that their girls can see it.
I think that my experience is very common. When we don’t have a lot of exposure to birds in a way that lets us observe their personality, they seem alien. Their expressions are inscrutable.
And I think that is why a lot of people will give up eating cows and pigs, but continue to eat chickens. Those big brown eyes of the cows and pigs make their intelligence and personality obvious to anyone who has been around dogs, but chickens remain more of a mystery.
The big events at the sanctuary are never my favorite days at the sanctuary. There are a lot of people, 800-1000 expected today, and usually when we’re at the sanctuary it is around 8 of us. When there are so many people there, we have to limit where they can go, and we have to keep an eye on the people as well as the animals. We answer a lot of questions, many of them the same ones over and over.
What I saw today, though, is that we were able to give many people their first exposure to these birds. Some of them like being held, and those got so much attention all day that they’ll be spoiled for weeks to come. I could see that people were touched by these wonderful personalities, that they could see their individuality.
Some of this I saw in the few pictures I snapped while I was there. Some of it I was able to see during the event.
There were the kids who gathered around when three of the chickens ignored the fence (as they sometimes do) to come out where the people were. They listened to me, sat down instead of accidentally chasing the chickens (people will follow them, and other animals, not really understanding that following them is a slow-speed chase), and were almost beside themselves when one of the chickens let herself be held. They couldn’t get enough.
That was a pretty common scenario, though the chickens did mostly stay inside the fencing.
Towards the end of the day, the chickens and turkeys all decided that it was time for bed, so they went inside to their night perches and hung out. The crowd of people had mostly dispersed by then, but there were a few stragglers.
One was a FARM employee, Adam, who I had thought looked vaguely familiar. He’s the AV guy we always see running around at the AR conference, so he looked vaguely familiar for a good reason. I’d earlier met Jen, who I’d also recognized as being someone running around with equipment hanging off her while looking stressed. It was good to see them both looking more relaxed.
Adam sponsors one of the Japanese silkies, so I went into the barn and brought him outside for Adam and his friend Robin to meet. Cornelius seemed happy enough being held, so I handed him over for them to hold. There was such a look of joy on both their faces.
He’d been talking about how important he thought it was for people to make personal connections with the animals, so they can understand who is being impacted by their everyday decisions. And I can’t disagree – this is clearly important, and we can only hope that days like the open house will influence people.
It was clear, watching Adam and Robin with Cornelius that there is a special joy that comes from interacting with these rescued animals. I could see it shining from them, and though I didn’t get a picture of them, I recognized that same joy in other people in some of the pictures I did get.
It was an amazing day, really. I got to know more of the chickens’ names, and I had the chance to feel some hope as I witnessed joy. And maybe some of the people there fell in love with the chickens, as I’ve been doing ever since I first started to really see them.