— by Susan Eirich, PhD —
Jean came to the door with a soft concern in his brown eyes, tenderly holding what looked like an unmoving mound of cream colored feathers. It was Banty, a tough little rooster brought to his knees by the – 20 degree cold. A long-term resident, Banty had been raised by Esmerelda, a motherly turkey hen who was never able to hatch any of her own chicks. She was a splendid, ever-patient mother to him, and for her whole life he was the apple of her eye who could do no wrong. She was partial towards him even when he was a grown chicken. He was her only son.
Jean had found Banty huddled on the ground in his coop, weak and unable to stand. His neck was twisted 180 degrees so he was looking directly up at the ceiling, unable to straighten it or balance himself; unable to feed himself or drink. Perhaps a stroke? A nervous system virus brought on by cold stress? We had seen a similar twisted neck with another fine rooster, Strider’s Brother, who is now on his ninth life and 13 years old, so we didn’t despair. Where there is life there is hope.
Life is life and is precious, so in he came, into the warmth of our cabin. It required a bit of arranging as it is only two small rooms and already home to two humans; Boychuk the German Shepherd and Assistant Animal Trainer; Talkeetna the pampered malamute princess; several fragile orchids and a daily required morning visit by Cucumber the wolf (required by Cucumber) who was NOT about to be displaced by a chicken. She had entirely other ideas of what to do with him. She also had other ideas of what to do with the extremely ugly (in her opinion) Talkeenta who now slept in the cabin as SHE used to Banty after falling over do (see Cucumber’s stories). Actually all female dogs and wolves were extremely ugly in her personal opinion. So the logistics and feelings involved were delicate.
Jean holding Banty to eat | Photo by Earthfire
Jean finely ground up chicken food in our coffee grinder and made it into a liquid mash that he could feed through a syringe; then picking him up, gently straightened Banty’s neck so he could swallow and fed him little by little in the back of his throat. For a couple of days it was touch and go, and he struggled against the unfamiliarity of being held and having his beak opened. But by day two at about 4 in the morning we were rudely awakened by a very very loud announcement of his existence and decision to live. It was clear he had no intention of being discounted. Chicken lives are very serious to chickens. Unfortunately this became a regular morning occurrence.
Banty healing himself | Photo by Earthfire
Gradually he began to be eager for food. Jean would hold him in his arms for a while after each feeding, sending healing energy and supporting his neck in the normalJean Holding Banty to Eat position so he could begin to relearn the sensation of straight posture. After about a week it seemed as if his neck was slightly less askew and Jean started to place him on the floor, supporting him as he tried to find his balance. Sometimes he would flop over and just lie there on his back on the warm floor, seemingly content, as he didn’t struggle to get up again. Then a big day arrived. Jean offered him food in a cup and he was coordinated enough to make a clumsy peck at it – he was on his way to feeding himself!
Continuing his physical therapy, Jean would hold the cup in such a way that he had to work a bit to get it, exercising his coordination. Then was he was eating himself and hardly flopping over at all, his head now at only right angles to the ceiling. As he became more mobile and needed his exercise we would open the door to his crate (lined of course with fragrant hay) and release him in the living room which he soon claimed as his own. He would flat-foot his way over to Jean working at the computer and stand next to him making gentle little noises of companionship. Jean would reach down and stroke him. Quite a change from the shy untamed rooster he had been. There was a bond of amazing sweetness developing between man and chicken. . .
Banty fully recovered | Photo by Earthfire
He still required attention several times a day and we had to go away for a rare trip overnight. Who would give him the care he needed? Dondy our office manger offered. Eagerly. She had two excellent hens of her own. When we came back we had a hard time wresting him from her control. Her girls (and she) had fallen in love and apparently it was mutual. So, feeling it was best for him, Jean let him go. Last we heard (actually based on daily reports), Banty was in full form and crow, followed by two adoring hens as every rooster should be, living in a 128 year old vintage barn with south facing windows opening into a big wooded parcel. But Jean made it clear that no matter where he lived, Banty would always be his rooster. . .
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.