A few weeks ago I learned about a blind chick in need of a new home. After a few email exchanges, I discovered that the chick’s caretaker lived only about five minutes from me. So I stopped by to take a look.
The caretaker explained that he had separated the blind chick from the others and placed her in a small aquarium. He was feeding her and giving her water in a dropper since she could not find the food or water trays on her own. But then he introduced another, slightly older chick in the aquarium and, much to his surprise, this older chick began helping her find food and water. When I arrived at the house, I found the blind chick and her “guardian” chick huddled close together in a corner, sleeping.
The caretaker and I brought the aquarium out into the room so we could take a closer look at the chicks. The blind chick was following her new friend around closely. In fact, they were often physically touching on one side. It was clear to me that the blind chick was not only comforted by the other, but also dependent on him to find food and water. We watched as her “guardian” led her to the food and water and then back to the opposite corner where they slept. He was patient and committed to her. While I was not surprised to see this level of empathy and altruism in chickens, I was quite struck by observing this in chicks only a week or two old!
And then I thought of the countless discussions I’ve had with people who range from quick-to-deny to highly skeptical that other animals possess morality. Anyone who witnessed what I saw here could plainly see what can only be described as empathy. Indeed, if it were human subjects instead of chicks displaying this same behavior, we would be quick to praise them for their empathy.
It was yet another experience that reminded me just how miserably inaccurate are our perceptions of chickens, and how this has led to the appalling scale of use and abuse. I’m deeply humbled by this experience, and I hope it has the same effect on you. If you want to keep chickens as companions, please adopt from shelters and sanctuaries and never buy from the hatcheries.