I have frequently been surprised by our farmed animals' caring behavior, but no animal has impressed me more than a hen named Katie.
Katie was awaiting slaughter in a live meat market when she was purchased by a young couple who wanted a hen for a pet. But their landlord wouldn't allow them to keep her, so they brought her to us at Safe Haven Farm Sanctuary.
Katie and Cleo
We put Katie in our aviary with a bantam rooster, another hen, and a partridge. The first thing that struck me about Katie was her relationship with our partridge, who we had named Cleo. Cleo had found her way to our farm after escaping a nearby hunting club. Katie often stood beside Cleo, as if Katie were standing guard over the smaller bird. And whenever Cleo was frightened, she ran over to Katie and buried her head in Katie’s feathers.
One evening I was careless when I opened the aviary's door and Cleo walked out. I was happy to see her explore the yard, but then I couldn't get her back in. Night was falling, and I was worried about leaving her outdoors with predators about. Then, while I was holding the door open, Katie walked out of the aviary, stood a moment in front of Cleo, and walked back into the aviary. Cleo then followed Katie back in.
Scientists warn against reading too much into animals' behavior, but it struck me that Katie acted like a mother, getting the little one back home.
Katie and Burdock
It is sometimes claimed that only humans selflessly try to help others. But I think Katie provides a clear example of caring behavior toward a completely different species, our Bantam rooster Burdock.
One day we had to give Katie and Burdock some medicine. Katie accepted it without too much difficulty, but Burdock wouldn’t let us get near him. He squawked and flew about. Finally he flew into a corner, and it appeared that he run out of escape routes. But just as we were about to pick him up, Katie ran over and put her body in front of Burdock's, so we couldn't get to him. We finally managed to get around Katie and give Burdock the medicine, but we were deeply impressed by how Katie tried to defend her friend.
Over time, more partridges came into our aviary, and Katie spent longer hours wandering about the farm. She seemed happy. Then, after three years with us, she began to weaken. One afternoon she just sat quietly, with her eyes closed. During her last two hours all the other birds in the aviary stayed near her. Burdock was the closest of all, and when Katie died, Burdock rose tall and sent out a piercing rooster's crow.
Children React to Katie on Video
I made a short video about Katie, titled “Katie, the Hen.” Young children seem to be especially moved by it. Our 5-year-old grandchild called to tell me how sorry she was that Katie died. She choked a bit with tears as she said, "I'm sorry . . . I'm sorry . . . about Katie. But I'm happy her friends were around her."
Another grandparent wrote, “My 4-year-old granddaughter watched it five times. She cried a little each time she watched it, said nothing, and then asked to see it again. I think that she wanted to understand death. She asked if she could go to the farm, and I told her that we would take her when she's five. Thank you for reminding/teaching us about the wonder of these 'common' farm animals.”