Poor Millie had a double handicap. Firstly, he was hatched with a lame foot. And then secondly, everyone thought that he was a hen, well, a baby pullet, that is, and so he was blessed with a girl’s name. Unfortunately on our property, we have a “non-renaming policy” in effect. You get what you get and you don’t get upset!
At first he struggled and we often hand-fed him. Then for a while it didn’t seem to bother him, he was quite mobile. But recently as he got heavier, it took its toll again. He was dragging his lame foot more and more and was much less agile than before. But he was a feisty cockerel and fought for his bit of the food too, even though the others ran rough shot over him when the treats become scarce or special. However, his handicap brought out some amazing behaviour amongst the flock.
On Sundays they get some of Patricia’s healthy pancakes as a treat. (No, not left-overs, she actually bakes a few extra.) One Sunday, I tried to throw some pieces especially in front of Millie, but most of it got nabbed rudely by the eager bunch (especially the Scot Grey hens; they’re fast and ruthless). Millie only got a few little pecks in and eventually retired to lie in the bushes. It didn’t help to throw more in front of him, as the other chooks just ran over him and he got hurt. Now, it may have been my imagination, but I’m sure big Barry took a big piece to him and put it down in front of him (which would have made more sense if Millie was a hen…) Markus, who often feeds “his” chooks, also reported situations where Barry took food to Millie. Quite the gentleman big bashful Barry is, despite his massive size and his general air of bravado.
It has been pretty hot lately, so they’ve been sleeping on the roosts outside the sleeping quarters. Before I added an additional roost, they all tried to squash in on the two little roosts above the swings. That is, all except Millie, who slept on the floor. However when I went to turn on the irrigation before sunrise after one of the cooler nights, I saw one of the Wyandotte hens had snuggled up next to Millie. I don’t know if it was a roost space issue at the time or an act of caring, but it was heart-warming to see.
Often over the heat of the day when they were resting under the shade of the fruit trees, the other chooks would go and hang out with Millie. Even Fluffball and Sunny, the two big Sussex roosters, too. A while ago they gave him the odd vicious peck or two, but after being told off for doing it, they seemed much more caring towards Millie. The last two weeks we had him sleep with the Buff and Light Sussex pullets, because the access to their coop is much flatter. There is also much less competition for prime space and food. However, whenever the big chickens went into the babies’ coop in search for food during the day, they treated Millie quite friendly – almost like a long lost friend.
As they started free-ranging more and more, things got tougher for Millie. We obviously gave him special attention – helping him in and out of the coop, putting him near the food (where he always did his famous circle-flap dance before eating) and putting special treats down in front of him. But he obviously couldn’t move around with the different groups and was often left alone to lie in the shade. The last few days he was looking a bit more weak and bedraggled and we were thinking of taking him to the vet to discuss what options he had.
Millie’s last day was a scorching 39⁰C – a really harsh dry hot day. Despite the shade under the trees and some water sprayed on the mulch around them and on the leaves above them to cool them down, when Patricia went out to give them cold watermelon in the afternoon, Millie had already succumbed to the heat.
I’ve read this somewhere else, but it really was as if the other chooks came and paid their respect to him. A lot of them came and looked at him, making little crooning noises, hung around for a while (despite the heat) and then moved off again. Really interesting behaviour.
Millie had a respectable funeral, including a procession by the other chooks, little notes of love from the family, and a few heavy bricks on her coffin (a repurposed box) so that the dogs and other animals don’t dig it up. The kids were really sad – we all loved Millie. You know the discussion – circle of life – all that stuff.
Rest in peace, you poor old gutsy chicken.