“What Wings Are For” - The Story of Ruby and Ivy
By Kay Evans
Photo by: Jim Robertson
Ruby was a buff Orpington hen whom we’d had since she was a chick. She lived among our main flock with her hen friends and a rooster. When Ruby was three years old, she molted her feathers early, during the summer, and she seemed a little slower than usual, so we placed her in one of our “special needs” areas for a few days.
The next day I drove past a Perdue chicken shed on the way to visit my mother. These sheds were near the highway, and the doors were open. When I looked closer, I discovered two small chickens, abandoned among the manure and decomposing chickens left behind in one of the sheds by the chicken catchers.
I brought the two chickens out of the shed and drove on to my mother’s. It was a nice, sunny day, so I put the carrier in the backyard and opened the door. Being used to the “broiler” chickens being slow and handicapped, I was surprised when one chick came out right away and headed for the woods, straight into the poison ivy, and it wasn’t easy for me to catch her.
My mother suggested Poison Ivy as a name, so I named the other one Oak. Unfortunately, Oak was never able to run from anybody. When she stood still, her right leg stuck out at a 45-degree angle, with her foot in the air. She had sores from scrambling around to survive inside the shed. She spent two days with us before being euthanized. I don’t believe they were happy days for her, but I try to tell myself that at least they were peaceful. She had food and water and fresh air and sunshine, but every movement seemed to cause her pain. Releasing her from this world seemed the kindest thing we could do for her.
However, this left Ivy alone, which made for more sadness, so we moved her in with Ruby and watched them closely. Seeing they shared food and water and seemed fine with each other, we hoped they’d become friends and keep each other company. A day or two later when Jim went to check on them, he discovered Ruby sheltering Ivy under her wing, and went back inside for the camera.
Ruby and Ivy soon moved in with the small, every-changing flock of rescued Perdue chickens, and continued on as mother and chick. Sometimes the two of them would spend the day in my flower garden. They would dig in the grass and dirt, Ruby calling to Ivy when she found a tasty bug or seed, and the two of them coming to rest as in the photo. As Ivy grew bigger, she would still try to tuck herself under Ruby’s wing, even though she was soon larger than Ruby. Finally, only her head fit under Ruby’s wing. Even so, they both appeared very happy resting together like this.
Ivy died of heart failure within a year, but she and Ruby remained friends her whole life, even after Ruby stopped mothering her. After Ivy’s death, Ruby remained with the Perdue flock until she died about three years later.
Ivy came from a Perdue shed in one of the poorest counties of North Carolina. I’m amazed and happy that, through the efforts of United Poultry Concerns, Ivy and Ruby have touched so many people, and even had their image appear on Times Square this past May. Though they have both been physically gone for several years, they continue to live on in this way and within my own heart. – Kay Evans
Kay Evans and Jim Robertson are members of United Poultry Concerns. In 1996, they founded the Chocowinity Chicken Sanctuary and Education Center at their home, after years of rescuing and rehabilitating “spent” laying hens and baby “broiler” chickens in their area.
When Jim went to check on them, he discovered Ruby sheltering Ivy under her wing, and went back inside for the camera. As Ivy grew bigger, she would still try to tuck herself under Ruby’s wing, even though she was soon larger than Ruby. I’m happy that, through the efforts of United Poultry Concerns, Ivy and Ruby have touched so many people and even had their image appear on Times Square.
Why Chickens and Turkeys Bred for Meat Production are Lame and in Pain
“Genetic selection of broiler chickens for rapid growth and gross hypertrophy of the breast muscle has created problems of ‘leg weakness’ in the heavy, fastest-growing strains. ‘Leg weakness’ is a euphemism used to describe a long and depressing list of pathological conditions of bones, joints, tendons, and skin [ulcerated skin caused by the ammonia-soaked bedding the birds are forced to sit in]. Similar problems are seen in the heavy strains of turkeys.” – Dr. John Webster, A Cool Eye Towards Eden, p. 156
According to Dr. John Webster, a professor of animal husbandry at the University of Bristol School of Veterinary Science, while the causes of painful leg disorders in broiler chickens and turkeys are complex, “most of the conditions can be attributed, in simple terms, to birds that have grown too heavy for their limbs and/or become so distorted in shape as to impose unnatural stresses on their joints.” A study published in 2008 notes that in the past 50 years, the growth rate of chickens has increased “by over 300 percent,” resulting in “impaired locomotion and poor leg health.” Most chickens raised for meat are slaughtered as 6 to 7 week old babies, even though a chicken’s skeleton is not fully developed even by 10 weeks of age. At 6 weeks old, only 85 percent of the chicken’s skeletal frame has been formed, yet that frame is forced to support many times the amount of weight of a normal chicken, as noted in Bell & Weaver, Commercial Chicken Meat and Egg Production, pp. 630, 996.