Freckles: the other chickie who changed everything
Two years after Beatrice, another chicken came along who changed our lives irrevocably. Freckles hatched with a condition called "crossbeak" (also known as "scissorbeak"), meaning that her top and bottom beak did not align. At first, she was able to sustain herself with wet mash, but as time went on it became clear that she needed to be hand-fed.
Caring for a chicken who is 100% nutritionally dependent is a significant undertaking and lifestyle adjustment, but Freckles reciprocated tenfold in pure joy. I have loved every one of my animals so deeply, but with Freckles, it went even deeper. It took some time to learn to care for her and her special needs, but once we did, there was nothing Freckles couldn't do. I'd read numerous forums that advised "culling" (killing) crossbeak chicks, claiming they'd never know a life beyond suffering. But with a little help and nutrition, Freckles didn't just survive--she lived her best life.
She was tiny and she was disabled, and she needed no one's pity. She was sassy and prideful and she was my soulmate. I tried time and again to convince her to sleep inside on cold nights, mostly so I wouldn't have to wake up worrying about her. Every time, she immediately flew from her perch and stomped angrily to the door, insulted at the invitation. When I adopted another special needs chicken after her, I assumed Freckles would be a compassionate roommate. I assumed wrong. She puffed out her chest and rudely booped any newcomers, no matter their size, as if to say "this is MY mama!"
On the other hand, Freckles loved and trusted every person she met. When you talked to her, she chirped back. She snuggled into my shoulder for hours and purred after every meal. She attended graduate school with me, quietly (or not so quietly) attending Zoom class. Freckles went on road trips--to a local middle school, to the horse ranch where I worked at the time, and to my own wedding, where she was the ring bearer. I sang “You Are My Sunshine” to her every morning and night, improvising new lyrics every time. She hatched on Mother’s Day.
Freckles passed away very suddenly in late January of 2022. Her necropsy revealed that she had been laying internally over the winter (when chickens normally take a break) and developed an internal infection (salpingitis). Her death had nothing to do with her "deformity." I'll never understand how she hid the infection so well and acted so normally right up until the day we lost her, although I find peace in the fact that there was little that could have been done. I don't think she suffered. I miss her every single day, more than I know how to describe. She lit up my world and changed my life. She was my sunshine and my angel and My Baby Girl.
Because of Freckles, I have hope for every disabled animal I meet. She taught me that every life deserves a chance. She taught me how to care for the numerous crossbeaks we have taken in after her, and will continue to take in. She led me to the real focus of this organization: to care for the animals that other people can't or won't.
Part of our mission is spreading awareness of the crossbeak condition and helping crossbeak birds and bird owners get the help and support they need. If you would like to know more, please visit our Crossbeak Corner page (coming soon) and the invaluable Facebook group "Crossbeak Poultry in Motion," where you will find amazing support and credible expertise.