Meet Marta. She is the lone Buff Orpington that survived out of the six babies I ordered just over a year ago. Her companions succumbed to a variety of mishaps–disease, predators, drowning and more disease. It was a rough year. Marta alone has survived.
And not happily.
The Black Sexlinks we ordered in with her inexplicably turned on her earlier this year, venting all of their cooped up anxieties upon her. The pecking order is real, folks.
The back of Marta’s head and neck were bald from abuse, and the flock eventually drew blood. My son had been telling me how brutal the sexlinks had become. I kind of blew him off, telling him that nature revolves around survival of the fittest and that Marta would be okay as long as she stayed out of their way. Generally, the hens that are lowest in the pecking order eat last, drink last and basically need to give the powers that be a wide berth to avoid conflict. Things don’t usually get that bad with hens of the same age.
While on the riding mower, I witnessed the exceptional brutality of this particular flock. As Marta exited the coop to get a drink, the flock of five black-and-white birds raced up from the other end of the run and charged at her, piling on while Marta hunkered down and took their abuse. The flock went at her, pecking until her comb was partially detached from her scalp. I got to her as quickly as I could and scooped her up, resisting the urge to bully the bullies. I pulled Marta out of the chicken run and released her into the yard. She stumbled in slow circles for a time before eventually kind of flopping down onto a pile of cut grass. She looked completely beaten.
I told the kids we would just leave Marta out during the day and put her in the coop each evening after the others had gone to roost for the night. Chickens are practically comatose in sleep, so I was sure she would be safe as long as we put her in late and got her out early. We did that for two nights before Marta wandered off onto the back part of our property.
She did not come home that night.
I do not usually get emotionally invested in my chickens. Their purpose is to feed us–either directly or indirectly. I have little room for sentimental attachments to my food. The problem with Marta was that she reminded me of someone. In the hopelessness of her situation, I was reminded of the ugliness of humanity. How many times have I seen vulnerable, broken people all but destroyed by their peers?
Far too many.
Why do we do that to one another? Why do we single out the one who is alone, who is different, who is already wounded and peck, peck, peck at them until they seemingly give up on ever getting something better? We steal the hope from their hearts and the light from their eyes all in the name of…what? Power? Boredom? Insecurity? Fun?
Two days passed and one afternoon our puppies started barking like crazy. I looked out, and there was Marta, strolling into the yard from the back pasture. I thought she must need water or food or something, so I took some out to her. But, no. She was just checking in. She looked happy (for a chicken). Healthy. The time away had done her some good.
I was ready to tuck her back into the coop again during the night, but she disappeared again at dusk. I honestly have no idea where she went, and considering that we’ve trapped 11 raccoons in our barn in the past few weeks, I was not optimistic that she would continue to survive in the wilderness. But, at least she wasn’t being terrorized by her own, right?
That was two days ago, and Marta made an appearance in the yard again today. She came up to say “hello” and to peck up a few tasty bugs here and there. When I looked out an hour so later, she was again nowhere to be found.
I am well aware of how ridiculous it sounds for someone like me to wax poetic about a hen-pecked hen…but I cannot help but feel that surely there is a lesson to be learned from Marta.
Surely qualities like compassion, forgiveness and mercy are not for the birds.