We met her, have seen her flock and her beautiful eggs. We’ve laughed at her slap-stick predicament. We’ve read about her alternative lifestyle love-life. We’ve even seen her recent embarrassing condition. Now, today, we have the torment of Whitey. Only this time, I’m not kidding. But before I go any further, let me reassure everyone now: Whitey is fine. I can see her through the yurt window as I type this. She is scratching and pecking, just like always.
So when we get to the bad part, breathe.
Okay, so a couple of days ago, the kids and I got home from galavanting around town. We’d been gone for a couple of hours and it was getting late so I gathered the milker up and headed out to the barn for the evening milking. Only to find this: poor Whitey was caught in the electric fence. I dropped the milker, screamed for Paul, and ran for the fence cut-off. She was sitting, beak open, grunting as each hit went through her, another charge every six seconds. It took me about twenty seconds, three hits, to cross the space to the plug and I was crying and shouting by the time I rammed the cord out of the socket. It was terrible.
She had clearly struggled at first as the netting had cut into her sides in two places, but she was shut down at this point, not moving. We got her untangled and she staggered into the chicken house and managed to get onto the lowest stoop where she leaned her head against the wall and shut her eyes. She wouldn’t drink anything. I thought for sure she was going to die. I kept going out to check on her, taking her water and raisins, but I don’t think she recognized me. I don’t think she recognized food.
There isn’t a whole lot to a chicken, but there is a sense of someone looking back at you—a chicken person, to be sure, but a person all the same. The next day, Whitey was gone. Blank. A friend of mine described to me a relative of hers coming home, fifty years ago, from electric shock treatments. Her short term memory was gone, her long term memory shaky at best. Passive, forgetting to eat, blank. Describes Whitey perfectly.
For two days she just clutched the stoop and wouldn’t come out.
But then she started coming back. She drank some water. She got to the top stoop in the chicken house. Even better, she came out of the chicken house and started scratching a bit in the dirt. Like it was a habit she couldn’t recall the purpose of, but hey, what the heck. And then I saw her go for a worm I had draped out for her and I just CHEERED. Yeah, Whitey! She’s found her will to live! She’s been getting stronger every day since. I can not believe it.
One time—I am such an idiot—I picked up a solar fencer (that’s the box that provides the charge to an electric fence) without checking to see if it was off, and yep, it was on. It was heavy and so I braced it against my chest, ready to carry it over to where Paul was installing it, and it did what any good solar (re: it doesn’t have to be plugged in to work) fencer does: it gave me a shock. WHAM. Strongest sensation I’ve ever had, including childbirth. For a second there was nothing, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t move. Then the pulse passed (these fences send out pulses, not a continuous charge, thank god) and I screamed and threw the fencer fifteen feet away from me in this instinctual shove. And then I threw up.
That was the weakest fencer we’ve used. It was not strong enough to keep Fancy the Goat in. She would just run it and go through. So we borrowed a fencer from a friend who said, “It’ll make their balls drop off.” Yikes. (Of course, our goats are girls, but we got the idea.) Nope, Fancy just ran through that one, too. So we got the mondo fencer we now have. Fancy laughed at our pathetic efforts and ran it.
How? How could she stand it? She weighs half what I weigh! Are human nervous systems that different from goatie ones? When we first put that fencer on, I was standing next to Fancy once when she got shocked, I was maybe a foot away from her, and all the hair on my body lifted with static electricity as the charge passed through her body and into the ground. Freaked me out. Of course, this was a stupid way to put in a fence, because Fancy was basically just leveling up each time. “I’ll take another level in b-a-a-a-d ass, thank you.” That’s when we got the netting (instead of the simple wires) and finally we had a fence that would contain her. (Also, she got more mellow and stopped wanting to get out. Having babies does that to you.) You better believe I kept/keep my children away from that fence! They’ll probably have to have therapy to get over this weird fear of fences I have instilled in them.
But this mondo fencer is the one Whitey got caught in. This little chicken could have been there for an hour. She could have taken hundreds of hits. A thousand. How could her tiny body possibly survive this?
Maybe Whitey, like my friend’s relative, has no memory of the fence. Maybe the last few days are just as gone for her as she has been to us. I hope so, anyway.
But there she is, acting like a chicken, pecking and scratching through the compost. Clucking. Doing her chicken thang. As if nothing has happened. Chicken of steel.
I’m so glad she is pulling through! It seems crazy to care so much about the fate of a chicken, but I find that I do. On the other hand, I feel very grateful that the biggest trauma in my life is about one of my chickens. Some people have bombs falling on their houses, or their children are starving, or they have some horrible form of cancer. I’m lucky, right?
Maybe Whitey is, too. I mean, she got hand fed raisins and worms, got petted and loved on for her recovery. Sophie sang her songs. It could have been worse.
(Whitey might not agree.)