New Lessons from an Old Year

>>  Sunday, January 6, 2013

It's only appropriate that this first post of the new year would be late in coming as what I've written below has been in my drafts folder for over a year...

As I mentioned last year, January 1st for me not only marks a new year... But it's also my vegan-versary. And a year ago it was also the day that Peggy's chicks were hatched:

I've put off writing about Peggy because of the possibility of criticism... But I've mulled over  worst-case-scenarios enough to stick my neck out, and hope that the hatchet doesn't fall without at least telling our story first...

Here's what I wrote almost a year ago:

Peggy has been the most brooding hen I've ever known. She would sit on her nest with her one egg for endless days. Many times not leaving to eat or even to roost with the rest of the flock... When I did remove her into the grass and sunshine - She'd scream and squawk in desperation - not wanting to leave her egg. Her precious egg that never had the benefit of a rooster's charms.  This went on for many months - She'd always fret. I'd always feel badly for her frustrated mothering desires.

Well, a few weeks before Christmas I went to my flea market for some veggies and a Sunday browse. As usual I'd stopped to see my nursery-man Ralph who sold the best plants... And who I've been somewhat successful in nudging towards a (healthier) plant based diet. Well, Ralph also has chicken as "pets" (and for eggs) as well.  I told him about Peggy's issues and he suggested to let her hatch some chicks. I didn't quite get how this would work without a rooster but he said if she really wanted to sit on some eggs... Any eggs would do - Like the eggs from his hen-friends that mingled and romanced with the roosters.  Ah! Now I understood!

The next day Ralph gave me 15 assorted eggs - probably all fertilized. I placed them in a nest box - and Peggy laid claim to them immediately.  For 3 weeks straight she only left those eggs for water and food... Not all the play, digging, or sun bathing by her friends could get her to abandon her mission.  Peggy was in her element! She dutifully rotated those eggs, keeping each at just the right temperature - Cooing a mantra in her task of motherhood. 

Then on New Year's eve nature's alarm clock struck... Her first chick hatched at about 8 pm - During the night 4 more peeps were under her warm feathers... Throughout the next day about every 3 hours another little being reached the official welcome-mat of life.  I tried to imagine what each new sibling thought of the next: 

Hey - I'm me! peep-peep Who are you? cheep-cheep Where'd you come from?  peep Are there more of us? cheep Isn't Mommy the best place to be? peep - peep... cheep - cheep. 
Peg left several unhatched eggs - Apparently birds know when they aren't viable because there is no conversation taking place. The shells that were vacated though were stacked one into the next --- Accordian style - Like a collapsed tower... This was her way of "counting" and making room for the other lives yet to come.  Quite a bit of a perfect "miracle".  Yeah - I cried... 
After about 24 hours Peggy left the nest with her little babies following her. She didn't go far... Maybe 2 feet. But the chicks ventured further.  Then she'd fluff all her feathers to make herself huge.  She'd flap her wings and let out a deafening screech.  Each of chicks made a rapid retreat back under her.  These were their first lessons to return to safety at her urging.  
For the first month they all slept in Mother's down - Tucked in every space available.  
Under and inside of her inviting wings... I don't know that anything was ever more serene to witness.

In the month and a half since they've had daily teachings about where and how to scratch for bugs... How to dust bathe... And eventually how to perch at night. Peep - Cheep - Peep.

From the beginning I also had my own "maternal" goals in mind... There is my beautiful Cleo 


who is separated from the rest of the flock due to a neurological issue that makes it difficult to walk. Cleo has had the company of some peeps in the past when I came by chicks from a woman who "changed her mind" about keeping them.  But they've grown and left her terribly alone.  My hope, realized through Peggy's chicks, is that now Cleo has all the companionship she could want via a "secret passage" that only the little ones can enter:

The chicks have climbed on her... Cooed and gently accepted her as a surrogate mom... At first Peggy wasn't so generous to "share" her chicks - But as they've gotten older I think she's grateful for the break away from her duties.

And as you can see in this video - There was a particular bond with one chick named Miss. Miss for "misfit" as Peggy totally rejected her. Ran her away from the rest of the brood with a vengeance. Why? I have no idea but she and Cleo were inseparable.

Fast forward a year to now Doris, Martha, Twiggy, Miss and Linda have also grown... Leaving Cleo as alone as before :( Peggy still broods on the nest (incessantly). Nothing has really changed except that I had to find forever homes for the boys that I couldn't keep. And it's only in hindsight that I can clearly see the dilemma that I created.  Even under the best intentions - When man begins manipulating and tweaking others - More problems arise than what are solved...

In today's industrialized world of mechanized chickens, it's not often a Peggy gets to be a mother hen. It's not often chicks know the genuine comfort of a nurturing parent. It's not often a rooster gets to protect a flock... For better or for worse - I wanted these things to happen. I had a hand in it all.  And for all the negatives that were a concern (and I've whipped myself enough over them) - They pale in what I thought was the right thing to do at the time. So... For right or wrong - Happy Birthday Doris, Martha, Twiggy, Miss and Linda! You may have gotten here under some very strained and orchestrated circumstances... But I'm glad you did!

So much for ringing in the new year with old news... But it was something that's been tugging at me to tell as a course of learned lessons and owning up to a lapse in judgment. I was never perfect as an omnivore - And certainly still am not perfect as a vegan. Maybe the next five years of more carefully thought out decisions will get me closer though. (?) ~Happy New Year


veganelder January 7, 2013 at 2:36 AM  

Now you've got me worrying about Cleo.

Peggy...wanting more babies in a world of humans so mean to chickens...well...she's full of it. :-)

Happy Birthday to Doris, Martha, Twiggy, Miss and Linda from me too!

What a great post...thank you Bea!

If you were "wrong"...well...I'll take a population of Beas and her "wrongs" over what we have now any old day of the week. :-)

Take care of you...and say hi to Cleo for me. :-)

veganelder January 7, 2013 at 2:38 AM  

Oops...I's a real "wrong"...your link sender who thinks going vegan is "too extreme"...there's an example of a powerful and horrid "wrong".

Anonymous January 7, 2013 at 10:02 AM  

Hey Bea, Happy New Year and happy vegan-versary! :)

As for criticism - why? You did what you felt was right for Peggy, WAS right for Peggy, and I'm sure Doris, Martha, Twiggy, Miss and Linda feel it was right too. And that, I think, may be a danger of veganism - applying absolute principles when sometimes it's more appropriate to make case by case decisions. So rightly or wrongly, I'm glad you made the decisions you did, because Peggy got to be who she was meant to be, and you got to enjoy the process. :)

Bea Elliott January 9, 2013 at 6:40 AM  

Hi veganelder - I wouldn't worry too much over Cleo. She gets a lot of special attention that makes up for immobility and isolation. Truth be told though... There's an obvious jealousy that stirs among the other girls. You must know with bunnies and other creatures that it's hard to care for everyone "equally". Someone always feels left out or slighted. I found treats for all to be the best distraction and equalizer.

There was even jealousy when Peggy laid claim to the eggs... Diana just *knew* she was supposed to be their mother. It's tough finding balance.:/

I appreciate you going lightly on my "animal rights activist" faux pas. Your support always means so much to me --- You're a good friend veganelder - Thank you. <3

Now - I must, must post some updated photos of Peggy's daughters - You won't believe how stunning they are! Life is good! ;)

Bea Elliott January 9, 2013 at 6:53 AM  

Hello HGV! Thank you & Happy New Year to you too!

As far as the criticism goes in an egg-shell... I did something that in the AR world view I'm telling others *not* to do - Not to chickens, rabbits, cats, dogs etc. Isn't the message always that there are so many living beings that need homes already?

I agree that in the whole scheme of things at least this wasn't an instance of a "class hatching" which fulfills no one's desires except human ones. This was a case that I tried to put Peggy's needs and Cleo's desires above the outcome of consequence.

You are right though - Sometimes being "too strict" or "police-ish" is the very thing that can make vegan virtues impossible to live by in the RW.

HGV - You have a talent of looking at the whole and gleaning the best possible nugget out of it. I'm grateful you've confirmed the other side of a "wrong" sometimes does exist. Your perspective always improves the situation - Thanks for that! xox