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How Backyard Chickens Blur The Lines Between Farm Animal And Pet

How Backyard Chickens Blur The Lines Between Farm Animal And Pet

For years, Ms. V wanted chickens in the backyard of her Philadelphia home. Her husband said no, and they never discussed it again.

Three years ago, when he passed away, Ms. V was not in a good place.

“I was very depressed, didn’t want to leave my house, didn’t talk with anyone.”

Six months later, a chicken escaped from her neighbor’s yard and came into hers. She gave the chicken back, but the chicken flew over a 7-foot fence and returned the next day. Her neighbor said he would either have to give the chicken away, or give it to her.

“It never, ever once dawned on me to say, give her away. I said, `I’ll keep her.’ And I named her Helen. So she was my first girl,” Ms. V said. “She gave me a reason to get up out of the bed every day.”

Ms. V had to learn how to take care of Helen: getting up in the morning to let Helen out of the coop, giving her fresh water and nutritious food. She also found the Philadelphia Backyard Chickens Facebook group, which has more than 2,000 chicken owners and enthusiasts.

She learned that chickens are social animals, so she got another one, named Sylvia.

“They were just like two little old ladies … one following the other. And then they just waddle and you will watch them walk across the yard. And it was just …  awesome,” Ms. V said. “They’re my girls. They’re not just chickens. They’re my babies … they give me purpose to get up every morning and go outside.”

Chickens at Ms. V’s hard at work cleaning her yard in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Ten months after Ms. V got Helen, a hawk attacked, and Ms. V found Helen in a corner with her eyes closed and the comb on her head wilted and pale. Ms. V didn’t see any wounds, but Helen was clearly not herself. She brought Helen inside to recover. Helen drank some water, her comb looked better, but she died the next morning.

Other backyard chicken owners advised Ms. V not to bury Helen as she would with another pet, because a raccoon or scavenger might dig up the body. Ms. V put Helen in a securely taped box in the freezer until the trash truck arrived.

“I couldn’t just put her in the trash can,” Ms. V said. “I got the box and put it in there in the truck myself.”

“Someone had asked me, well, why didn’t you eat the chicken? I have a hard time eating my pet,” Ms. V said.  “If … your cat or dog dies, would you consider making a meal out of it?”

She still has Sylvia and three other chickens, Gladys, Rosebud, and Bella. They live in her yard, where Ms. V has a sturdy chicken coop, a holly tree, and a greenhouse that she says belongs to the chickens, though Ms. V will eat the greens she grows in there as well. The chickens do not seem at all afraid of humans, and they eat out of Ms. V’s hand.

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