Personality Profile #2 – Anego
In Hen Pecked, Gary Steel discusses every conceivable aspect of sharing his life with a flock of hens. The second in the series is an appreciation for Anego, who really did look like the creature that time forgot.
SHE WAS THE Keith Richards of the chicken world. Or perhaps she was closer to The Simpsons’ Mr Burns. She was certainly more rock and roll than Mr Burns – so much so that I felt like she was going to defy all expectations and survive the World War III, the collapse of civilization as we know it and global warming. Like Keith Richards and his coconut, she was a risk taker, and because of that, a little accident-prone. But like Mr Burns, she was the boss and a hard taskmaster and when push came to shove, she could be brutal.
We came to be her guardians late in 2010. Several of the five rescued chooks we had taken on earlier that year had developed mystery diseases and died, and there were no more rescued chooks available at the time from our previous source, so I replied to an ad on some chicken rescue forum. It turned out that a teenage girl was running an unofficial animal sanctuary from her parents’ lifestyle block in West Auckland. She had a veritable menagerie of different birds, 50 or 60 of them chickens. She wanted to get rid of “some of the old chooks”, and that was okay for us, as we wanted hens to give them a good life, not give us eggs.
We took away three hens. One of them was gorgeous with her lovely golden hues, while another was blind in one eye, emaciated and literally on her last legs. We found that out when she dropped dead the day after we got her home. The last of the three was really ugly, and she turned out to be as mean as she was dinosaurian. She was considerably bigger than any hen we’ve had to date, and already looked ancient. All the red skin around her eyes was lined and wrinkled, unlike our other chooks.
She settled in by immediately beating up everyone who got in her way, and claiming the territory as her own. Nothing fazed her. She was savage. There was no doubt in her mind that she was queen of the castle, and that was that. Any murmurs of dissent were quickly quelled under the autocratic rule of Queen Anego.
Unfortunately, and unforgivably, we knew so little about keeping chickens that it didn’t occur to us that the new recruits might bring new diseases, and the coop was soon invaded by mites. I could now write a book about the horrid diseases that nature inflicts on chickens, but I won’t go into that here. Suffice to say, if you’re introducing new girls to the flock, get them treated for any diseases, and keep them apart for up to a week. [We subsequently sent away for a load of chicken instruction books, most of which were next to useless for people like us looking after former battery hens in a backyard situation. Anyway.]
We don’t know how old Anego was, but she looked like the hen version of an old lady – that is, a veritable “old chook!” There were signs of agedness in her behaviour. For instance, she generally slept in when the others all got up at sparrow’s fart, and she often went to bed first. She would occasionally have a “spell” where she seemed to lose her bearings and as she was accident prone, there were instances where she went a bit strange after an incident. She simply took risks that the others didn’t. There was the time she became wedged in behind some stuff in the carport and was missing for a couple of days before I found her – that seemed to really knock her. And her eyes weren’t so good. While the others would go hunting for quite miniscule bugs and be capable of dealing with tiny worms and slugs, she couldn’t even see them. Every now and then, she would inexplicably have trouble finding the feeding tray.
Despite this, she was amazing. Where the weaker specimens from battery farms would turn down various morsels for no apparent reason, Anego was into everything. If we hung up some leafy stuff, she would pogo and lunge to get a bite. When she saw a snail, she was unique amongst our flock in her ability to whack it against the concrete until its shell crumbled. She was lucky to have been raised as an outdoors hen, so her beak hadn’t been mutilated, but she was also clever enough to know to take the snail to a hard surface.
Anego’s most unusual feeding trait, and one that generally served her well, was to grab the tastiest looking morsel from the feeding tray, run off with it and find a hiding nook in which to eat it. She would then return and if there was still something tasty on offer, she would repeat the process. Occasionally, her tactic would work against her, as the other hens just kept busily eating everything that was in front of them, but it was an effective tactic when there was only one or two tasty treats.
While her eyes let her down in the hunting of lizards and mice, she would happily claim any edible prize that the others hadn’t yet disposed of. When our cat Kurochan – who was terrified of rampaging hens – caught a mouse or a sparrow (both of which happened frequently), she would boldly march up to him and grab the bounty for herself. If the carcass was beyond her ability to swallow in a few gulps, she would spend hours, in necessary, slowly picking it apart.
Chickens are pretty assertive creatures, but Anego was the boldest of the bold. In fact, in the absence of a rooster on the property, she would take on rooster-type characteristics like jumping onto the highest possible pedestal and crowing in the morning. She was also the one who would raise the alarm if she thought there was some kind of threat. She had an extremely loud and distinctive cry that she would use when she mistakenly thought that a passing seagull was a marauding hawk.
Although she was never pretty, with her lined face, craggy legs and misshapen toes (she actually had one more toe on each foot than the other chooks), her standoffishness decreased over time, and she grew to trust us. For the first year, she wouldn’t let us touch her at all, and wouldn’t come within arm’s reach. Over time however, my daily routine of turning over bits of wood and pot plants to reveal fat juicy slugs meant that she would happily brush against my legs, or affectionately peck my hands or feet.
Her most endearing characteristic was her run, or peculiar lope. Hens look funny when running anyway, with their clumsy use of wings that can’t quite get them airborne; and from the back, seeing their fluffy bottoms trotting along his hilarious. But Anego had a kind of running defect that we never quite figured out that looked something between a moving pogo and a bunny hop. The second most endearing characteristic was her snore. Unlike the other hens, she literally whistled when she was asleep, whether she was sunning herself or in bed in the coop.
She was a leader of chooks, and always the first to lead by example. She’d be into the sand or a nice dusty patch of soil to wriggle around bathing before anyone else. If there was room, the others would join, but they would never try and grab her special spot.
Of all the hens, Anego was also the most difficult to photograph. Her head seemed to be always moving – a perpetual problem with birds – and lunging just outside the frame.
Amazingly, and against everything those so-called experts in the chicken books say, Anego would periodically become fertile, and lay eggs. She was going through one of these phases when she had some kind of accident a few days ago. Before we even knew there was a problem, the wound had become flyblown, and she had become infested with maggots. We tried washing and sanitizing, but the infestation had clearly infected her system, and she succumbed.
RIP Anego, 200? – 1 Feb 2016.
* Looking after rescued chickens – or any chickens, for that matter – is an endless learning curve, especially for a former city dweller. In Hen Pecked, Gary Steel discusses every conceivable aspect of sharing his life with a flock of hens.