While the majority of all the residents have a story of their own, the Ballad of Willow, Brook, and Penn is so intertwined the story must be told together.
Willow and Brook were the first two “true” residents of Willowbrook Farms Animal Sanctuary – hence the name sake. WFAS received our exemption status from the IRS on April 3rd, 2018. On April 7th, we decided to take our first true leap and bring home a couple little chicks from a local farm supply store. We all know these chickens are not the healthiest and are treated like nothing more than a “thing” – something you force to have lay eggs or even worse … become a “meatie” (reference taken from many internet forums for basic chicken care).
It was estimated they were hatched on April 1st – so at almost a week old, these tiny fuzz balls won our hearts. They were so small – especially Willow. She could walk and hold her head up, but she was so much smaller than Brook. Her tiny head would wobble and when she’d get up to eat, she inevitably would fall backwards due to lack of balance.
We purchased a large aquarium with metal lid so they could live safely inside (on the dining room table – HA!).
There were a couple moments where we rushed to save Willow. She would become extremely weak and fall over. These moments were terrifying. As a sanctuary – what if she didn’t make it? What kind of caretakers would we be if the worst of the worst happened? But each time, she would come back stronger and stronger. After a week – we thought we were good to go.
And then it happened.
Brook passed away.
She would get chronic pasty butt (another chicken forum term … this time its when a chick’s poo generally pastes over the rear and then they can’t poop right). I would take a cotton swab dipped in warm water and wipe the poo away, clearing the path for future. But … after one of the more deeper cleanings, she struggled for air and genuinely passed away in about 30 seconds.
We were mortified – we had no idea what happened. And even knowing the fact that 25% of the chicks sold in farm supply stores do not make it … it just didn’t help. We did our best and it wasn’t enough.
But poor Willow. We let her see the body of her deceased friend … but that was not enough. Willow began to mourn. The chirps she was making were much different than anything we had heard before. It was clear she missed her friend. Her only friend.
After a couple hours of crying (us and Willow), I stood up and said “we need to find her a friend.” … and we did.
Enter Henny Penny.
We found another farm supply store that had only a few left (all the other farm supply stores had no chicks left … “the season” was over). We walked in and we knew that it had to be a bantam (that’s what Willow is) and it had to be the smallest they had. We needed them to be roughly the same age. And while we all agreed Henny Penny was a week or two older than Willow, she would do.
Home went Henny Penny (named by my youngest daughter … 16 at the time) and into the aquarium with Willow. It didn’t satisfy Willow’s loss, nor should it. Chickens, like all animals, form bonds with their friends – and losing a friend is horrible and you cannot just buy friendship.
It took a day or two and Willow finally warmed up to Penny. They stayed together like 2 peas in a pod – probably even more so than Willow and Brook did. And the best is that the cry of sadness slowly went away and was replaced back with her happier chirps.
But then the day happened…. Matt (my husband and the Secretary of WFAS) was up early to head to work … and Penny strutted out from underneath the electric mama (a heating plate we bought for Willow and Brook to stay warm) and he let out his best version of a cock-a-doodle-doo.
And from that day forward, he became Penn (like Penn and Teller … the magician who
fooled us all).
We talk about Penn a lot and how his story is a little different.
For those who don’t know, male chicks in the egg industry are ground up alive almost immediately after hatching. If its known they are male, they are killed. And yes, I said “ground up” … they are thrown into a large machine that pulverizes them to ground meat.
On top of that, even if he wasn’t born from the mega egg industry – farmers do not appreciate roosters. When they want egg layers, they don’t want fertile eggs laid. Roosters are generally killed the moment they show themselves as roosters.
For Penn – he is appreciated (even though some mornings are extra-bitey) for who he is. He is allowed to live his life with his best mate, Willow. They spend all daytime hours wandering around and having little chicken adventures. They head off to the wood pile (shown below… even though we tell them not to), to the patches of wooded areas, and sometimes they adventure into the house. They always keep us guessing what is next for them … and whatever comes – I know they are happy.
I had never really been around chickens before, outside of my Uncle’s farm. I have spent a lot of time just watching and listening to these guys. They definitely communicate and think. They have a true relationship with each other. They love one another.
To think of eating another chicken sickens me – because now I know who they are and what they are capable of – and that translates to beyond Willow, Brook, and Penn.
All chickens are individuals regardless of where they are born. They all have the same basic needs and I’m doing my best to do my part to bring awareness to others so that they can see them as individuals too.
Now, if you don’t mind – I need to step away from the keyboard and let the chickens out of their coop. It’s another day of exploration for them.
Crystal, President and Co-Founder
Willowbrook Farms Animal Sanctuary