He sits on my shoulder, trots alongside me when I go for walks and even rides on my head as I push bike around the farm. He loves scratches under the chin as he drops both his eyelids and his guard, and melts off into blissful oblivion. With equal measure, he loves going for rides in the car as he does pecking at the keyboard as I type away on the computer. He loves inspecting my ears and holds great aspirations of becoming a toothpick and he is my new best friend. His name is Red Baron, and he is a tiny rooster chick.
I can only imagine the terror, confusion and bewilderment that embraces male chicks shortly after their sex has been determined and they are tossed aside, only to be killed, an inconvenient truth of the egg producing industry. They must honestly feel like they haven’t a friend in the world. Gassed, frozen and then sold off as snake food, Biggles and Red Baron somehow managed to navigate the blizzard of cruelty. They were surrendered into our care at just two days old, sadly little Biggles proved not long for this world, the ravages of his ordeal proving just too great. Quickly showing himself to be endearing, trusting and vulnerable, Red Baron was in desperate need of a friend. With no mother’s wing to seek refuge under, an upturned teddy, heat lamp, hot water bottle and a ticking clock proved a poor second.
Despite his great difference in form to that of our own we can already see logic in his behaviours. When it is cold Red Baron snuggles under my hair for warmth and security as he cheekily peeps his little head out to announce “I am here” – seeking reassurance he is not alone in much the same way a young child does. When he comes for walks with me around the farm and realises I have moved on, he makes haste, chirps madly and catches up. He takes great pride in his appearance as his fluffy down gives way to quilled feathers, pecking at their itchiness. In short, he feels.
Far from being simply bird brained, chickens have been shown to have their brains wired in a similar way to ours despite an evolutionary fork millions of years ago. With the capacity for high-level cognition and complex social reasoning, along with the ability to take into account prior experience and knowledge surrounding a situation to make decisions, we now know a lot more is going on behind their feathered form than many would like to accept.
He is joyful and happy when he is with me, and protests when I have to return him to his cage. And few things make me feel more special than his excitedness when I lift him from his cage, I swear he is saying “thank you Miss, this is the most special thing that has ever happened to me”. There can be no doubt that animals such as he are harbingers that remind us we share this planet with significant and sentient others who want their place in the sun, and that is why I tell Red Baron every day, “you’ve got a friend in me”.