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How helping bald chickens can also help troubled kids

October 10, 2009 |  8:18 pm

Most rescue farms save big animals, like horses, goats, or pigs, from destruction or abandonment. But this Ontario shelter gives equal importance to a less-recognized farm animal: the bald chicken.

According to an article from thestar.com, the 43 "bald" rescue chickens that arrived at Cobble Hills Farm Sanctuary bear plenty of scars from their former employment as egg-producers in an industrial hatchery somewhere in southern Ontario: they are featherless, off-balance, and afraid of everything.

The caretakers at the Cobble Hills Farm Sanctuary bear scars as well -- the chickens are used as therapy animals for four boys living in a nearby group home. The boys, aged 8 to 12, visit the chickens once a week. Since the boys are in a lot of peril, they cannot be identified in any way, lest their own families figure out where they are, says thestar.com.

The owner of Cobble Hills, Christen Shepherd, thought caring for the hatchery hens would teach the boys empathy.

"But they were already so gentle with them, right from the start," she says. "They worry if the chickens are afraid or if a sweater is too tight."

The bald chickens are more than a year old but have spent their lives in cages the size of a microwave oven -- with a half-dozen chickens in each. When they arrived at Cobble Hills, they had never walked, roosted, or flapped their wings. Shepherd had to agree not to ask questions of the middleman who saved them. The lucky 43 now at Cobble Hills were chosen because they lived in the middle tier of stacked cages and their anonymous savior didn’t have to reach up or down to grab them, she was told.

They are recovering well at Cobble Hills, regrowing feathers that were rubbed raw by cages. Shepherd and her family get to watch the chickens walk around and peck at the grass -- for the first time ever.

"When you see a chicken in the sunshine…stretching its wings out," says Shepherd, "it's hard to deny a chicken that."

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-- Kelsey Ramos

Video: thestar.com

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