The Handicapped Hen

Enjoy stories from our readers about handicapped hens, the nostalgia of dirt, memories from newspaper delivery boy, and tales of an old cookstove.

Photo by Arlene Jenness

The Handicapped Hen

My husband and I have been raising chickens since the early years of our marriage, and we’ll soon celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. We raised our first batch of Rhode Island Reds from chicks. They’d just reached egg-laying age when some neighborhood dogs broke into their pen and killed them. It was a sad day, but we weren't discouraged. We simply started again, this time with some sex link hybrid hens from a neighbor, and we later got our first broody hen.

When the kids got older, I went to work, and we no longer had farm animals. In 2012, we moved into an old farmhouse in the mountains in north Georgia. One of the first things my husband did was build a chicken coop. Soon, we had a menagerie of chicken breeds. Eventually, all but Tyrone, a Cochin, and Oz, a banty, died, so we added another six hens.

One day while we were at work and unaware that the pen door was unlatched, the birds got out and were attacked by a hawk. Only Oz and a pullet named Auntie Em survived. Auntie Em had a lot of severe injuries, but we treated her wounds daily, and kept her safe while she healed. Oz sure was lonely outside by himself, heartbroken by the loss of his hens. But he and Auntie Em would talk to each other across the yard. After about three weeks, Auntie Em was well enough to go back in the coop, and soon we added more chickens to their family. As a fearless, 5-year-old rooster, Oz was a great guardian of the flock.

Photo by Arlene Jenness

One morning, I found Oz lying on the floor of the chicken coop, rolling his head around. It wasn’t until the sun came up that he snapped out of it and began acting normal. This went on for about a week. I decided to give him a sauna bath, thinking maybe his equilibrium was off. We were elated that the sauna bath helped him overcome whatever illness he was experiencing. A couple of years later, though, the strange sickness with Oz began again. Unfortunately, he didn’t recover. He wasn’t a friendly rooster, but on the day he died, I held his head to my chest.

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