On a family farm some animals become icons just by virtue of their personality. On our farm one such animal is Bertha. Bertha is an old Black Jersey Giant hen who was not very notable in her early life. She lived with the other chickens, laid her eggs, and went about her daily chicken duties. But when Bertha was five or six years old I found her one day near death. She was egg bound – she was trying to lay a very large egg and it was stuck. Not only can this cause great distress but it can actually kill a hen by blocking their digestive tract, cutting off circulation, and leaving them vulnerable to maggots.
I took Bertha in the house to perform an operation to remove the egg. Not much to it really – just breaking the egg and removing it. But you have to remember what part of the chicken is being worked on – and it is stinky! And gross. But I got the task done with minimal gagging and kept Bertha in the bathroom until she felt better.
When Bertha returned to the outside world she was a changed hen. She decided she wanted to live near the house and hang around people. She started just “hanging out” with us when we sat on the porch or had a BBQ. She will take any food offered of course but even when there is no food you can look behind your chair and there is Bertha.
Bertha also decided to sleep in the breezeway so I provided her with a straw lined nest. She has gotten rather lazy and does not get up before 9 am. Anytime before that you will still find Bertha in her nest even if other “early to rise” hens are there trying to push her out so they can lay! Maybe she needs her coffee.
When Bertha finally gets up she makes the trek from our house to the hay barn where she forages for fallen grain. She also visits the pig barn to see if any of the fermented grain has been scattered. She loves the hog grain. At the end of the day – just before dark – at a time when all other chickens have been secure in their roosts for at least a half hour Bertha saunters back to the house and does a last minute check for food on the porch. Then she heads to bed.
Bertha is not particularly tame. She does not jump in my arms like Margarita and she could care less about being petted. But she has definitely decided to be part of the family.