An article about caring for my crippled chicken. Published in Backyard Poultry Magazine.
THE CARE AND FEEDING OF BETSY
by Gena Husman
C'mon Betsy, ready to go for a walk?" The little Barred Rock hen pokes her head out from under a bush in the middle of the chicken yard and hops on one leg to the open gate where we wait. In spite of her slightly twisted body and her useless left leg which curls up alongside her wing, she moves pretty fast. Afternoon "walk" is a daily thing—except in the very worst of weather—and means we walk and one of us carries Betsy. The daily treks are a change of scenery for her since she can't go as far from the chicken yard as her sisters. From the chicken yard we head out on the path through the field. A five minute hike brings us to the "fallen logs"—the first stop on our journey. We set Betsy down and she hops over to stand in front of one of the logs. From countless other walks she has learned that Robin will roll the log over and help her find the plump, pink earthworms that live underneath. This is Betsy's first favorite stopping place. We sit on one of the fallen logs and watch while Betsy gobbles up every worm in sight and then pokes around in the tall field grass. Satisfied, she hops over to let us know she is ready to move on, and in a few more minutes we reach her other favorite place: a patch of yellow wild flowers where she settles down to wait for bugs, her black and white head barely visible in the middle of the blossoms. We sit on the ground and wait for her. After ten or fifteen minutes, we scoop her up and pick our way along the back path through the bushes. This is where we get into the serious hunting: the bushes are full of bugs and spiders and snails. Betsy's head swivels from side to side, her sharp eyes searching for the prize as she cranes her neck to look up under the leaves. Suddenly, her small body quivers with excitement and she lunges forward in Robin's arms, neatly picking a fleeing Daddy-Long-Legs off the leaf. On a good day Betsy may catch five or six tasty morsels. We reach the end of the path and come out back at the chicken yard. Robin sets Betsy on the ground outside the gate. Sometimes she'll hop in to get a drink of water, thirsty from her "walk"; and sometimes she'll just hop on over to the dust bath to relax after a hard afternoon of "hunting."
We're not REAL chicken farmers—if we were, Betsy probably would have been culled long ago and we would have been robbed of the pleasure of her company. She came to us along with twenty other day-old Barred Rock chicks nearly two years ago. At first, she looked like all the other chicks as they scurried around under the warmth of the brooder lights. But then one day, a couple of weeks after their arrival, we noticed the leg of one of the chicks seemed to be turning out and she was walking on her hock. We hovered over her like anxious parents. Our first concern was that she might have some horrible disease that could be passed on to the other chicks. But everything we read said that probably was not the case. Then we were worried that the others might gang up on her—but that wasn't happening either. She was eating and drinking, and none of the other chicks was picking on her, so we let her stay in the flock. Day by day, her leg became more twisted and eventually curled up alongside her wing. The other leg was perfectly normal and she hopped to all the same places the other chicks walked to. She seemed content and she was thriving. We named her "Little Betsy".
We spent hours in and around the coop watching the chicks grow and playing with them. They seemed to enjoy the diversion as much as we did. We learned a lot about chicken behavior and how they interact with each other as well as with their human family. From the beginning, Betsy wanted to do everything the other chicks did. Her handicap only increased her determination—and sometimes, her frustration. When they no longer needed the brooder lamp and started roosting on the stepladder at night she would fight and flap angrily around trying to get up on the first rung. Finally, Robin fixed a platform for her next to the ladder so she could at least sleep on the same level as the others. That seemed to satisfy her. But when the other chickens got older and began sleeping on roosting poles at night, she accepted the fact that she couldn't get up there with them, so she slept in a box we fixed up for her in the corner of the chicken coop.
As they grew, we watched special friendships develop. For instance, we noticed Betsy and another young hen hanging out together as if they were two little girlfriends. Betsy would hop along and the other little chick would walk slowly beside her as they made their way out to sit side by side in the sun in the chicken yard on warm, summer afternoons. For a few months they were inseparable—except at night when Betsy slept in her box and the other chick slept up on the roosting poles. Now that they are a little older, Betsy's little friend has left her to mingle with the rest of the flock and we frequently see Betsy sitting off by herself. Sometimes it's by choice, since she gets along fine with most of the other chickens, although it is an effort for her to keep up with them as they graze along. Her latest best friend is a bald, blue-headed pearl guinea named "Keetie". She doesn't seem to mind that he is bald and has a blue head with a point on it; and he doesn't seem to mind that she only has one good leg. They frequently graze together and nobody bothers her when he is close by. Now he tags along with us on the daily walks and it's quite a parade: Robin leads the way carrying Betsy, Keetie runs along behind them, and I bring up the rear.
Except for the limitation on where and how far she can go, Betsy is as productive as any other hen. Every couple of days we find a perfectly formed beige egg behind her bed. She hops outside everyday the weather is decent and forages for food along with the other chickens. The little extra time and effort we put into the care and feeding of Betsy have given us the opportunity to get to know and appreciate the individual personalities that make up the whole flock. It's a little like "stopping to smell the roses along the way."