I am a chef. I am magical. I can make food out of anything. Even chicken droppings—or so Medina thinks. Every time I get a paper towel to pick up her latest gift, she races over and pecks energetically at the towel and its contents. She turns her head and looks at me expectantly.
“It’s your poop, Medina! It is not food! Now scoot back!” Slowly she’s catching on that I don’t always have food running out of my fingertips. I am not as prolific in my core competency as she is in hers.
About a month after Lorraine departed my abode, in came Medina. They are about as different as two hens can be. Lorraine was a svelte racy supermodel. Medina is her ungainly, plodding, food-obsessed second-cousin. It’s like Cinderella left, and I got one of the step-sisters.
Whereas Lorraine came from lean-and-mean fighting stock, quick, fierce, and indurate, Medina comes from “broiler” blood, bred to grow quickly and poorly proportioned, fueling the factory-farm profit machine. At approximately 12 weeks of age, she’s doubled her anticipated lifespan.
But Medina is an even more special case. She was rescued on the streets of Brooklyn, where she was one of thousands of chickens brought in for the Kapparot ritual, on a semi trailer loaded with crates, each crate too shallow to allow a chicken to stand. Each crate contained ten to twelve chickens, none of them fed or watered or cared for during the entire festival. Sickly and weak, they were destined to atone for humans’ sins through their participation in ritual and slaughter. They hadn’t volunteered for this, of course.
A combined group from Catskill and Woodstock farm animal sanctuaries convened in the Crown Heights neighborhood to do what we could. Abbie and I were there, and we drove back to Saugerties with 10 chickens in my Subaru. Over 90 others were making their way north in the horse trailer brought by the Woodstock crew.
The 20 that landed at CAS are thriving. Seeing green grass, running in an open yard, having room to breathe—these are among the simple things that they had never experienced until they arrived at the sanctuary.
They are an exuberant bunch, bordering on rowdy, as their gusto for life tries to keep pace with their rapidly-growing but imbalanced bodies. Somewhere in the mix, Medina broke her left wing. Its inability to heal properly led to an amputation, and that landed her in my kitchen, the preferred pad for convalescing chickens.
As I wrote to a friend:
“I have a new chicken in the kitchen! She was one of the chickens that we rescued in Brooklyn. She injured her wing in such a way that it had to be amputated. (Yow!) She’s up here convalescing for a few days, but certainly won’t be taking up permanent residency. Whereas Loraine was elegant and personable, this hen is a giant, plodding, genetically-modified eating machine. Holy cow, she is obsessed with eating! Having the ability to focus on one thing and one thing only is usually a good trait. Kind of Zen. She’s anything but Zen. She is a maniac! I opened the fridge this morning and she rushed right in, pecking crazily at the jars of grain I had stored in there. I don’t mean she went up to the fridge, I mean she really got up into it, barreling her way onto a shelf. It was pretty comical.
“She keeps looking for a place to perch, and for some reason she’s mesmerized by the big stainless steel sink. I keep telling her ‘no,’ and stepping between her and it. But this evening, I didn’t get over there in time, and she went for it. The only problem is that she can’t really fly with one wing and one stump. I heard an energetic flutter of feathers followed by an energy-absorbing thud on the floor. Poor bird!”
Without exaggeration, that’s how the first day went. Since then, she’s become more at ease, adapting well to the new space. She’s not as talkative as Lorraine, but shares the same keen interest in whatever I might be doing. She’s extremely fast on those big feet, and the moment I reach for something or approach her water dish, she’s across the room like lightning. When it’s feeding time, I have to work really fast—I might lose a finger in all her frenzy.
Just as she has adapted, so have I. After the initial bombast of her introduction to the kitchen, I noticed her agility and discernment. I’ve noted that she really is kind of Zen, and she even sits still for periods of time. What I first considered to be her ungainliness was just her learning to cope with such a full figure. She didn’t ask to be born so well endowed, but she manages it with as much grace as is possible.
I continue to learn from her, finding little lessons hiding in her feathers each time I pick her up. Her attentiveness, her ability to shake off her injury, and her quick but mesmerizing eyes are signs of an intelligent mind.
Having brought her to the sanctuary, there is a uniquely satisfying depth to bringing her into my home to heal. It’s like reaffirming to her that I’m glad she’s safe and alive.
However, it will soon be time to send her back down to the farm, where she can mingle with her fellow Brooklynites. I’ll visit her there to see how she’s progressing, of course. But first, I will thoroughly mop my kitchen.