On Friday, August second, a mysterious bunch of domesticated chickens were left on Stevens Gulch Road, just north of Paonia, seemingly to fend for themselves. A picture of the flock appeared online, and a flurry of social media activity from area residents soon followed, prompting the obvious question: what do you do with stranded chickens?
Local resident Carol Pierce stumbled upon the chickens as she was driving through the area, but she wasn’t the first one to spot the wandering birds. According to Pierce, a cowboy with his two dogs was on the scene when she arrived, and told her that the chickens had actually been there since Thursday. Not sure what to do, she called around to a local vet, the sheriff’s office (who told her they weren't sure who to contact either) and even a local butcher who raises and sells chickens.
"She didn't want anything to do with it," Pierce says, "and she was real kind and said 'you can't rescue the world.'"
Still, she says she felt compelled to find the chickens a home. Her posting on a local internet message board spawned hundreds of comments, with many people saying they could use the free chickens or knew someone who could, Cindie Sorensen being one of them.
She says of the 96 chickens she picked up from Stevens Gulch Road, some of them were older and starting to lose their feathers. Others were healthier, though they weren’t laying many eggs.
"But they'd been stressed you know, they didn't have any water, they didn't have any food," she says. "So they were not too happy."
She says when she arrived on the scene there were already around eleven dead chickens scattered in the nearby brush. But she didn’t spend three hours on a Friday evening cornering and catching chickens just because she felt bad for the birds:
"I know a lot of families in the valley that needed food, and that was the main reason that I decided to act on it," she says. "There's some families here that need sustenance."
She admits it was a pretty comical scene: the chickens running under her truck, into the bushes, her son Kai scaring them out with a rock. But she’s also well-aware that letting animals loose can be a problem, especially when predators like coyotes and foxes get a taste and are tempted to come around more often. She says letting them go that way is indeed an option, but mainly a lost opportunity:
"You know, I understand why you get rid of old laying chickens," she says. "You can't feed them if they're not producing, but I think there's a lot of people in the valley that are hungry, that could use the food."
If nothing else, she says, the ordeal’s taught her that there are other, possibly more communal ways to both manage animals and address hunger issues in the North Fork Valley.
"We are a very creative bunch of people here," Sorenson says. "Maybe you get a person who knows how to butcher chickens, and you bring that person in and you have a workshop, and you can just set up a processing line and then put them in a freezer."
"It does seem like a big waste," says Pierce. "There are hungry people." Pierce says when she called the woman she knows who butchers chickens, she was told that turning old or surplus chickens into food largely depends on whether the owner is willing to do the work. She says if someone isn't willing to do that work, "there probably are people who are."
Carol and Cindie were of course only two of the many people who helped find the chickens a home. As of Wednesday (August 7), Cindie still had about 17 of the 96 chickens she picked up left, but was expecting to give those away by the end of the week.