“Look Mummy, it’s so sweet – it falls asleep in my hands” is what my youngest daughter Emily said as she cradled a very deformed looking tiny black chick in her 8 year old gentle cupped hands. I was fetching her from her friend’s house and they had a number of hens of various shapes and colours in their back garden. The 2 little girls spent the whole afternoon in the pen with these hens and their chicks – it was Emily’s favourite place to visit.
We lived on the beautiful tiny island of Cyprus for 3 years as we are an army family and live wherever we are sent. We were in our final year of living there and many changes had happened in our family unit. Emily was very close to her sister Sarah and for the first time, the 2 siblings would be separated as Sarah had turned 11 and she was due to leave the freedom and heady days on this little island to head for boarding school in the UK to allow for some continuity in her education. It would be Sarah’s 5th school she would be going to in 4 different countries and although she was so excited about the prospect, Emily was devastated at the prospect of losing her sister!
“All right I replied, let’s take the little chick back with us” (knowing that it would not survive more than a day, but it offered some distraction to Emily with her sister leaving soon, and being a vet Mum, we had fostered and hand-reared so many different animals).
“I’ll only let you take it if you take another healthy chick too” was the very sensible advice of my friend Louise – a down-to-earth military wife, who was used to loss and family support at stressful times. I agreed and all 4 of us entered the pen full of various hens and chicks and we managed to catch another small black chick who had just missed running under the protective wings of one of the mother hens.
The deformed chick only lasted the afternoon and little did we know that the tiny black healthy chicken we called Coco was to have such a profound effect on all our lives!
She proved to be the perfect distraction for Emily as she spent almost every waking hour after school building various enclosures for Coco as she grew, and handling this tiny happy chick as much as she could. Their bond was extraordinary.
At 20 weeks, we noticed that Coco’s feathers were beginning to change and that she was different to other hens as she had whiskers – long pointed fluffy whiskers that stuck out from either side of her head. Her black downy feathers were being replaced by grey shiny feathers and a red plume grew above her beak.
The most exciting morning was when she laid her very first egg as it turned out to be a beautiful pale blue! With these clues, we Googled what our once ugly little chick could possibly be and we realised that Coco was no ordinary hen, she was in fact an Ameraucana (or at least had some Ameraucana in her genes) – a breed of hen popular in Cyprus who adapted well to warm conditions and was bred for their charming character.
Emily was happy and as a family unit, we all fell in love with our chicken.
Our eldest son Andrew had chosen to do the opposite to his sister Sarah as he had chosen to leave the confines of boarding school in the UK where he had been for 5 years; to complete his education and sixth form on the tiny island of Cyprus. I was delighted to have him ‘home’. He went from wearing a blazer and uniform and following strict rules to suddenly having the freedom of sixth form where the only restriction was wearing a polo neck t-shirt with his shorts instead of an open-necked t-shirt.
With this freedom, he began to find his way as a teenager, teaching himself the bass guitar so that he could play in various bands. One of my favourite days on the island was when he played in one of his bands at a festival attended by 5000 people and we were able to hug between the acts on stage as I sang in the Military Wives Choir straight after him. Music makes memories and we both loved our time filled with music and warmth!
The love we all felt for our chicken also gave Andrew the freedom as a teenager to make food choices. From normally choosing to buy and eat (on his own) 20 chicken nuggets from the local McDonalds during any night out with his friends, he one day announced that he was going to turn vegetarian. I fully supported him, and admired him and this decision was closely followed by Emily turning vegetarian a year later.
Coco provided us with her daily blue egg and had free run of our dry little patch of garden during the day and slowly our family unit increased. Ruff came into our lives. He was handed into the dog unit as a puppy found wandering the streets of the local town fending for himself. The dog unit had a regular influx of strays being handed in and when I happened to be visiting my husband, fluffy tiny Ruff happened to be in the office of the reception area. I picked him up and after a mad few minutes of him trying to find some food in my pockets (as he learnt very quickly that all the dog handlers had some form of treat in their uniform pockets), he enjoyed the fuss and cuddles and he fell asleep on my lap.
We just couldn’t leave him and he came home with us. On his first night living with us, we opened the door to let him out in our dark garden, and all he did was curl up on a spikey Aloe Vera plant to go to bed for the night as that is what he had been used to!
Like the rest of us, he adored Coco and together they would grow up foraging for grubs and seeds in the garden and he would protect her from all harm. We forgot that this bond between a dog and a chicken is exceptional, and when I invited a friend round (and yes all army families had dogs and they would all visit together), we carelessly left the dogs to play in the garden forgetting that free-range Coco was outside too.
That was the day we came so close to losing her as my friend’s little stray dog Maple used her natural dog instincts to pounce on a very trusting chicken, leaving Coco alive but very shocked. This incident was to cement our decision to keep Coco with us no matter where we were to move to next – she was part of our family and would stay with us!
Follow the next chapter below on how Coco becomes the most well – travelled chicken in the world…..