Many people have asked us if our chickens are for eggs or meat or both. Ah, the dilemma that has plagued us is not easy to put into a simple, “Yes or No.” You see, we have an injured Doodle. 3 weeks ago, during my morning trip to the coop, I opened the nesting box and found one hunkered inside. No you don’t. No getting broody here. I picked her up and placed her forward, inside the coop. She limped, staggered and sat down. Uh oh. I went around to the side door and gently picked her up and brought her outside, placing her on the ground as carefully as I could. She wouldn’t walk on her right leg. Shit.

I tucked her under my arm and with that, it was fully obvious something was wrong as NONE of our chickens let me pick them up let alone carry them around. I brought her inside and Keith and I proceeded to feel her leg, thigh, foot, etc., as if we knew what we were doing, but we couldn’t feel that anything was wrong with it. Keith helped me find the big storage bin he had outfitted for the chickens when they were still in the house under heat lamps as chicks. With her tucked under my arm the entire time and talking to her like she completely understood me, I filled it with wood shavings, got the little waterer and food dish from her chickhood (like, baby’s first silver spoon and cup, yet, not) and set her up in her recovery unit. He and I both hit the internet on our respective computers and came up with very different diagnoses. Keith discovered she probably had a sprained leg and would recover in a few weeks of R&R. My research yielded that she had either parasites that were affecting her nerves and would kill her OR a chicken disease that was affecting her brain and was soon going to kill her and my entire flock within a few days. The chicken equivalent of the black plague. I insisted we go to Agway right away and purchase every medicine and vitamin listed on the internet. Despite Keith’s protests that she just sprained her leg and the reassurance from the Agway clerk that, she probably just sprained her leg, I purchased $45 worth of deworming meds. (They didn’t have a smaller package! This was basically enough to take care of the entire Purdue flock of chickens…we only have 9.)

By then I had imagined all the doomsday scenes involving either hoards of worms oozing from every chicken orifice in the entire flock, or all the Doodles getting paralyzed, then being unable to walk and we would have to kill them all and bury them in a shallow grave. I would put a sign up for future generations to visit the site of the black chicken plague of 2013. Keith was still adamant she just sprained her leg.

When I was a kid, I had this little toy plastic picnic basket that came with plastic forks, knives, spoons and plates. It was red and yellow. I would break a low-hanging branch off a tree in our yard, one that had a “nest” of tent caterpillars. I thought they were cute and fuzzy. So, I would take the branch, use sticks and break open the “tent,” and leave it and a bunch of leaves in my picnic basket, intent on keeping my new, fuzzy pets in their makeshift home. Then, I would get called in for lunch, forget about them and read a book or play with my doll house. The next day, I would go back outside and, seeing my picnic basket, remember my “pets.” Does anyone want to guess what I found? Just a guess? You’re right, they were all dead. I had pretty much baked them in the little picnic box oven in the New Jersey Summer sun. So, I would go do it again, dumping out the picnic basket of dead, dried caterpillars and heading to the trees to rip off another branch. This time, I’d give them water too. Yeah, that’ll keep them alive. Rinse and repeat.

Don’t think this childhood memory didn’t come ROARING back, the irony NOT lost on me as I set up my Doodle in her plastic bin with a dish of water and a tray of food complete with some spinach leaves and raisins for snacking. Well, let me fast forward 3 weeks. Good news! I didn’t kill her. She is still in the box upstairs in the sunshine. The whole box, Doodle intact, gets put outside on nice days, carefully put in a shady area so that we don’t accidentally cook the little thing in my Chicken Buddy Burner (5 points if you were a Girl Scout and had to make your own Buddy Burner.). More good news! The whole flock didn’t die of a neurological brain disease or worm infestation! It is pretty obvious that she had broken or sprained her leg.

I have been keeping her bin clean, her water fresh. She gets treats, and lots of them – grapes, blueberries, raisins, cheese, some beef. We both talk to her when we walk past her bin. She hears us coming and just says, “Br Br Br” and so we talk back. I pick her up and she sits in my lap while Keith makes dinner. She seems to like getting her feathers stroked. I’m starting to like having her inside. Her dish will be within reach, but she seems to prefer to eat out of my hand. Not good. She is now my pet.

2 days ago, I brought her outside to walk in the grass. You know, a little chicken P.T.? I wanted to see how she did with more room to walk. The other chickens immediately tried to attack her. What!?! Keith saw the whole thing. I pushed them away and they kept coming after her. She couldn’t run to get away. My little Doodle! Keith went inside and I scooped her up and brought her back in. He got in the house before me and so when I walked in, he was waiting, holding a very big cleaver. I know he was joking, we both laughed, but…part of us knew he had a point.

It has been 3 weeks with really not much sign of improvement. She is obviously in pain when she tries to walk and can’t fare for herself. She certainly couldn’t run from a predator. So we are faced with a choice. Do we keep trying to rehabilitate her or do we stop prolonging what feels to be inevitable? The longer we wait to kill her, the more attached I will be. I named her Pinchy, after Homer Simpson’s pet lobster he accidentally boiled when he went to give Pinchy a hot bath. In between cries of anguish for poor Pinchy, Homer was cracking Pinchy’s claws and dipping them in butter, going ‘Mmmmm” “Waaah, Pinchy. Mmmmm.” We think we’ll have the same outcome.

We always did talk about these birds eventually becoming meat birds, but I knew I would name them and be unable to do it (not to mention the fact that I can’t even squish a bug with my shoe, I don’t want to feel or hear the crunch so I have to take a big rock or log to do it). I can’t imagine me being involved in killing and then de-feathering. I supposed I would do it if I had to. Gosh, I hope I don’t have to. She is so pretty and sweet. I think I’ll keep trying to heal her up in the house. Fingers crossed!


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