Chicken Activist One-Eyed Sal: Exclusive Interview April 20, 2017

Chicken Activist Sally Bird—or as she is affectionately known, “One-Eyed Sal”—is a Barred Plymouth Rock and an activist for change within chicken-kind, an outspoken critic of the pecking order as it now stands, and an influential member of her flock.  She granted us an exclusive interview from her coop and run on a lovely spring day in North Carolina.

Here is a transcript of our conversation:

 

Thanks so much for your time today, Sally.  Do you mind if I call you that?

No problem.  That’s my “given” name anyway, right?  “One-Eyed Sal” is a nickname.  You can call me either.

 

Thanks.  So before we get started, do you mind telling us the story of how you came to be known as “One-Eyed Sal”?

Sure.  Everybody seems to want to know that story!  The short answer is, when I was a young chick I had a neurological problem that caused me to lose sight in one of my eyes, but fortunately, I was able to overcome that.

One-Eyed Sal, Chicken Activist

We’re so glad you did!  Does that history play a part in your activism today?

Of course—yes—it does.  I think I wouldn’t be as sensitive to the needs of members of the flock that are disabled if I, too, didn’t have my own struggles I deal with every day.  Also, and this is important, if it weren’t for my early chickhood experiences, I wouldn’t be such an advocate for better healthcare for chickens everywhere.

Here’s the thing: when I was struggling as a chick, my flock caregivers didn’t know exactly what to do.  They weren’t trained vets and couldn’t find one to treat me, so they did what they thought was right: they set me away from the rest of the flock.  Isolating a chicken with a communicable disease is usually the best course, but sometimes chickens don’t recover, especially without veterinary treatment. I’m lucky that I survived.

Thankfully, my caregivers were checking on me regularly—they really did want to help if they could—and when they saw that I somehow recovered, only losing my vision in one eye in the process, they put me back in with the rest of my flock. As they say, the rest is history!

 

So based on your experience, what changes would you like to see in the healthcare system?

Because of my experience and the suffering I’ve seen in my flock, I’ve realized that we need chicken healthcare reform.  First, there just isn’t enough access to good, qualified vet services.  There are vets on every corner for dogs and cats, but in places you can go miles and miles and never find a vet that specializes in Avian Medicine.  This needs to change.

Also, even if my caregivers had found a good vet, they couldn’t have afforded the prices to get me good care.  It’s unfortunate that access to a doctor does not mean true access to healthcare; too many chickens are excluded from good, basic veterinary care because our system drives costs up and drives accessibility down.  I’ve been working hard so that average chickens can get the care they need at an affordable price.

 

Those are huge, difficult reforms.  Have you seen any progress?

Yes. These reforms are very difficult, and it can be exhausting trying to fix “the system” day after day, but if I help just one chicken, it’s worth it!

And progress HAS been made.  One of the best examples is the accessibility to information for common chicken caregivers.  There is SO MUCH helpful information out there!  For example, your site, MyPetChicken.com, has a “Chicken Help” section with more than 300 articles to help caregivers provide the best care for their chickens.  Of course, the best option for a sick bird is always to go to a veterinarian for professional assistance, but when that isn’t available, resources like these are invaluable!

In fact, and I’m not ashamed to say this, since it happens to many of us hens sometimes, when I was egg bound, my caregivers were able to find helpful advice to care for me, and it worked.  I’ll be forever grateful to them for that!

 

You have been through a lot!  Yet you’ve remained hopeful.  Other than access to quality, affordable healthcare, what projects are you passionate about now?

Yes, I’ve been through even more than the partial loss of vision.  Maybe later I’ll tell you those stories!

Right now I’m primarily interested in pecking order reform.  I see this as a crucial issue for chicken-kind.  Here’s the thing: because of my disability, I’ve always been near the bottom of the pecking order.  Many of my flockmates see me as a liability to the flock instead of an asset.  Even though I’m smart, resourceful, and kind, they still fear me because I’m “different.”  Thankfully, since I am smart, I’ve been able to dodge trouble most of the time, but I can still feel like an outsider because one of my eyes doesn’t function properly.

 

Being “plucky” is a characteristic of your breed, the Barred Plymouth Rock,  after all, isn’t it?

“Plucky.”  That’s a funny word.  When someone told me that described me I had to look it up!  It was a new one for me.  It means, “having or showing determined courage in the face of difficulties.”  I like that!  And yes, I guess it does describe me.  But I don’t primarily see myself as a “Barred Plymouth Rock;” I see myself as a member of the overall chicken family.  I want chickens everywhere to know that they don’t have to be defined by their breed, their size, or what others say about them.  Anyone, anywhere, can be “plucky.”  We all face hardships, and we can all show courage and determination in the face of difficulty.  It’s not just for Barred Plymouth Rocks; it’s for everyone!

As you can see, I’m concerned that we separate ourselves by appearance.  Should bantams be picked on just because they are smaller?  They were born that way, and I think we larger breeds shouldn’t discriminate against them for it.  The same is true across all the breeds.  I love to see Barred Rocks getting along with Speckled Sussex, and Silkies enjoying the company of Polish breeds.  All the different colors, all the different feather patterns: I’m not advocating breed “blindness” (something I know about!),  but celebration of all this diversity!  It breaks my heart to see chickens separating themselves by breeds, kinship, looks, when they could be learning from one another!

Vive la difference, I say!

What’s worse is when chickens from different flocks see one another as enemies and want to fight one another.  It’s heartbreaking!

We have to be able to learn to get along with one another.  I know that, genetically speaking, we are “wired” to see those outside our flock as a threat, but though that may have worked to keep us safe in the past when we were so separated, now that we have such access to information through transportation and internet technology, it’s my dream that we can move past our genetic “wiring” to see that all of chicken-dom is one big family, that we are interdependent and need one another, and because of that understanding, have peace among ourselves.

 

That’s a BIG dream.  How do you think chickens can go about realizing that dream?

Thanks for asking!  There are some basic, fairly simple steps that can be taken to help new flocks integrate with existing flocks.  You have an article on your website that talks about it, I think.   First, as you know, training begins when we are young chicks, and that’s an important age to teach inclusion and acceptance.  The main thing is we have to get to know one another—and that may be a slow process with starts and stops. And some personalities just clash, you know?  But that doesn’t mean we can’t find common ground and work together for the good for our flock.

It’s when we separate ourselves from one another, retreating into our own safe coops and runs and nesting boxes, and refuse to come out and see what another hen’s point of view may be… that’s when we have trouble.  I’m not denying that there are real tensions in our flock, even real bullies, but we have to lower the stress levels, sit beside each other on the roosting polls, eat with one another at the feeders, and drink together at the waterers.  When we do, we find that, though we may be different on the outside, on the inside we all have the same dreams, hopes, and goals.

 

So are you saying that there should be no pecking order at all?

No, if by “pecking order” you mean “social structure.”  All social societies like flocks of chickens need structure and order.  What I would like to see is “order” without the “pecking”!  Imagine a flock in which leadership is not based on who’s the biggest or the strongest, or – even worse – the biggest bully, but a flock in which leadership is based on who brings the chickens together for common solutions best, who helps all members of the flock have their voices heard, who shares their treats instead of hoarding them.  Leadership should not be based on which bird is the most threatening, but on which one exemplifies concern and care for the flock.

Too often the chicken with the biggest squawk drowns out the voice of the others, and fails to take the next generation of chicks into account when they make decisions.  If our decisions will affect future generations of chickens to come, why don’t we take them into account when we deciding what to do?

 

Some say you are too idealistic, that you’ll never see these reforms.  What do you say to them?

Yes.  I get that a lot.  Here’s the thing: I’m AM idealistic, but I’m also realistic.  Chickens have been doing things the way they do for thousands of years, and change takes time and patience.  I’m willing to put in the time, to do the hard work, and I’m hoping to inspire future generations of everyday chickens to join in the struggle for peace and flock-mindedness.  I know it won’t happen completely in my lifetime, but I can do my part, and so can you!

 

Our interview went on to address many other issues including environmental reform, change requests for human caregivers, and her other “survival” stories.  We hope to post the remainder of our interview in an upcoming blog.

2 Comments
Andrea May 8th, 2017

What a great post! I loved how funny and cute it was but you also managed to touch on some really important chicken care issues. Thanks for sharing.

kitchenhow May 23rd, 2017

Great read.I like the way you have approached the issue of caring of chickens with humor.Actually all chickens should be treated equally. There are no chickens which are more superior to others.

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