When I was expecting my first son, I read The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan. One of the characters in the story learns that her name translates from Chinese to mean “long-cherished wish.” This resonated deeply with me, as I contemplated the arrival of my own “long-cherished wish.”
I remember when the “nesting instinct” overtook me. As I arranged nursery decorations and read up on how to use a nasal aspirator, I thought of many things. I did not, however, think of chickens. How strange that our language expresses the knowledge that a bird can be a caring mother and yet society so often disregards this truth!
There is the omnipresent belief that chickens aren’t bright or brave. Our language expresses that, too, their species name being synonymous with human notions of cowardliness. Is that their fault? Is it based on science? Not at all. It stems from the story of Chicken Little – a work of fiction.
I would like to introduce you to a hen who has demonstrated the bravery and motherly devotion any human would be proud to claim. Although she is not unique among chickens in her love for her brood, the circumstances surrounding her little family are — and could possibly dispel those “chicken-little” fallacies.
Shirley, a feather-footed bantam chicken escaped a sad fate and went to live at Lewis Oliver Farm. She hobnobbed with the other hens and roosters. They scratched, and sunbathed and dust-bathed to their hearts’ content. It seemed an idyllic life, but Shirley wished for something more. She wanted a family of her own. She was broody.
Shirley noticed that well-meaning volunteers would collect eggs immediately after they were laid. She had to find a place to lay her eggs where they would be safe from human hands. She looked down, around, side to side, then….UP! Yes, up! Up in the goat barn were the most delightful rafters that set Shirley’s motherly heart beating with joy.
A mother hen does not merely lay eggs. She must keep them warm and protect the growing chick from adhering to the sides of the egg which could cause injuries and deformities. This requires her to turn the eggs, sometimes as often as thirty times a day. She chirps and sings to her chicks while they are developing in their eggs, and they communicate with her in return. She must patiently listen, tend, and wait….until she hears the declarative peep that announces a chick’s readiness to hatch… to peck a perfect circle around the circumference of the egg and push it open with head and feet. Then, there is the joyous meeting of mother and child; of hen and chick.
Shirley not only did all these things, but did them under veil of secrecy, hiding in the rafters of the goat barn, bravely caring for her unborn flock, ensuring they would, in fact, be born.
Some of the kindly volunteers heard something not often heard in a goat barn.
They climbed up to where Shirley and her beloved chicks were hiding. Shirley stood guard until she saw the volunteers meant no harm and then allowed them to transfer her and the sweet little brood to a safe new home.
Shirley continues to dote over her chicks, teaching them how to scratch and peck for food, and generously giving them the choicest morsels of cracked corn, rather than enjoying them herself. At night, she snuggles with her chicks tucked under her wings, singing a peaceful lullaby to them. Her long-cherished wish has come true.
This is not a fictional tale, but a true story. Will it reach far and wide and create a new synonymous stature for chickens, one of daring, caring, maternal love?
Perhaps…. if you would be kind enough to share it.
Jackie Demeri Costello,VLCE, is the author of Animooves: Yoga & Creativity Inspired by Animals and has over 25 years experience teaching children, families, adults and seniors. Her work is inspired by a love for people and animals, along with a passion for making yoga, creativity, and a vegan lifestyle accessible to all in a fun and empowering way. Jackie holds several Yoga Alliance accredited teaching certifications, a Diploma with Distinction from the London Montessori Centre, a BA Magna Cum Laude from St. John’s University, and is certified in holistic coaching from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and as a Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator through Victoria Moran’s Main Street Vegan Academy. She is certified to lead journaling and creative writing workshops and is board certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Visit her at www.Animooves.com for free yoga and creativity exercises!