Secret Life of Poultry: Our Old Place Farm
Owner of a rescue for disabled poultry offers tips on helping birds through.
Last summer I had a rooster lose a leg while defending the flock from a predator. In one brief, fateful event, my standpoint on disabled chickens was changed forever. Captain was our head honcho rooster, and he was already a favorite among friends and family. Miraculously, he survived the attack, though his left leg didn’t. We mourned together.
I tended to him and nursed him back to health, but it became clear that he wouldn’t be able to live an ordinary life any longer. He lost his position in the flock largely due to politics. He could no longer fight or settle arguments, so we moved him into a different pen with a few very mellow hens as companions.
Adjusting to life with Captain meant shifting my perception of disabilities within livestock. I began searching for prosthetic leg plans, taking measurements, and creating prototypes. Surprisingly, there isn’t as much information about disabilities in poultry as I’d imagined there’d be. It was while browsing the interwebs, searching for other similar stories as mine, where I encountered Lisa Johnson.
Lisa, the owner of Our Old Place Farm, operates a rescue for disabled poultry. She is active on her Facebook page, as well as on several Facebook groups where she can be found spreading awareness and offering words of advice to owners of disabled birds. I contacted Lisa and asked if she could share some stories of her birds and she was happy to oblige.
Missy was Lisa’s first disabled chicken. Shortly after purchasing her from a co-op country store, she noticed one of her chicks had a grey spot on her eye. This was before there was a lot of available information on disabilities, and no one Lisa asked had seen anything like the spot on Missy’s eye. Soon it became clear that she was going blind. Missy was a Buff Orpington who was among the first batch of chicks Lisa had ever gotten. She wasn’t sure how to care for a chicken in general, let alone a blind one.
Lisa didn’t have much support when it came to learning about how to care for a blind chick. She reminisced about the common comments she received, mainly of the “Why would you want to keep a blind chicken?” type. Experienced chicken owners counseled her to cull Missy, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Even blind chickens deserved a chance, she reasoned. Lisa set out to make sure she gave Missy the best chance she could for a happy life.
With the help of her mother, Lisa built a personal pen for Missy. With training, Missy learned where her food and water were. She began to thrive, even laying eggs and trying to crow for fun. Lisa ended up rescuing three more blind chickens, Stevie, Betty, and Bok-Bok. Missy lived a happy and full life but passed away at the age of eight. Stevie passed away at age six, Betty is now eight, and Bok-Bok is now six, both alive and well.
Lisa’s next story is about Cassidy, a spunky hen with severe leg problems. Lisa and her husband helped rescue a flock of chickens from atrocious, filthy living conditions. They caught the feral flock at dusk, then transported them in crates to a nearby farm to live out their lives. Two weeks later, however, the farmer who took in the birds called Lisa and asked her if she had a place for a limping chicken. Generally, this farmer culled at the first sign of a problem, so Lisa picked up the hen that same night.
Cassidy was still nearly feral and spent her time in a crate in Lisa’s kitchen, eyeing her suspiciously. Lisa was the number one enemy according to the little feisty hen, and she was not about to let anyone forget about it. Cassidy had a laceration on her leg that was covered in a thick scab-like scar formation, and every day Lisa would soak the leg and treated it with different creams amidst offended squawking.
Soon, Cassidy learned to trust Lisa. It may have been the warm baths, the time by the fireplace, or the copious amounts of treats, but Cassidy was bought with kindness and came to enjoy sitting on Lisa and her husband’s laps. The scar sloughed off to reveal a severe underlying infection. Lisa made an appointment at her local veterinarian, who ended up amputating Cassidy’s leg in a risky attempt to control the infection.
Cassidy came through the surgery well and recovered back in her kennel in Lisa’s kitchen. She kept her lively spirit through it all, loudly adding her opinion to anything she could see. Unfortunately, after several weeks of progress, Cassidy’s body couldn’t handle the treatment or the infection any longer and she passed away. Lisa rescued six more chickens with similar problems over the years in honor of Cassidy’s fighting attitude.
One of the hens that Lisa rescued in honor of Cassidy was Poppy. Poppy is a charismatic Barred Rock hen who came to them unable to stand on her own. After looking into the problem, they discovered that Poppy was having seizures, and shortly thereafter she developed wry neck. Lisa undertook an intensive therapy regime as well as a vitamin schedule for months. She said, “There were many days when I would check on her and wonder if she was suffering … If I was doing the right thing.”
Poppy couldn’t drink water or eat regular chicken food. She was restricted to a soft diet and always had a dirty face full of her mushy food. She couldn’t scratch or peck or take care of herself for nine long months, but Lisa adhered to her care plan. She believed in Poppy and gave her a fighting chance because “Her attitude was always bright and playful.” Despite her circumstances, Poppy looked forward to each day and got better little by little. Then, one joyous day, Poppy was fully recovered and able to join Lisa’s flock of rescues. Looking at Poppy now it’s impossible to tell that she was once unable to walk or eat.
Caring for a disabled bird can be a daunting task. I can certainly attest to that as I looked at Captain and wondered what we were going to do with a one-legged, sassy rooster. He never did take to any of the prosthetic legs. I made him one out of wood, and another out of metal wire and cloth, yet with both, he would sit and loudly protest until I removed them. Although I have Captain, Lisa can certainly top every one of my rescue stories and layout some amazing advice while she’s at it.
If you happen to come across a disabled, sick, or injured bird, don’t hesitate to reach out to the poultry community. There are so many people who are willing to help with cures and tips, including Lisa. She is an incredible chicken lady, and passionate about raising awareness about disabled birds. She is approachable and kind and can be reached through her farm page, Our Old Place Farm on Facebook. I highly recommend her as a resource for anyone looking to care for a disabled or injured bird.
Do you have any amazing stories of survivability or overcoming disability in your birds? Let us know!
Originally published in the October/November 2019 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.