When I first heard Joy’s story I was quite touched by her openness and candour. I chatted with her online a few times and scrolled through more than a decade of her Facebook posts. I was struck by how different our online presence appears. Despite obvious health challenges that both she and her husband have faced over a period of years there’s a real sense of community, family, love and support for each other. She’s surrounded by her kids, grandkids and a menagerie of animals.
I interviewed her online and asked if I could use some of her posts and photos to round out this piece.
I live on 12 acres in the mountains in Ahwahnee, California very close to the beautiful Yosemite National Park. We’ve been here 35 years and are lucky to have a three million gallon pond and three residences on our property: one for my husband and me, another for my son and granddaughter, and the third one is rented to tenants. We’ve currently got 13 chickens, 3 dogs, 2 horses, 2 mini donkeys, feral cats, a bearded dragon lizard and a turtle.
We had a huge, unusual snow storm this year. My daughter was here giving my son a break. When it was almost dark, we heard a knocking on our living room window. One hen had come up the dog ramp and was pecking on the window, saying, “I am not walking through this snow and I need to go to bed”. Natasha and I went outside and four hens were refusing to walk through the snow to the coop. Poor Natasha had to carry the four scaredy cats through the snow to their coop. And who thinks chickens are stupid?
I am very sick with terminal cancer and my chickens bring me so much joy. I am being asked to quit caring for them because I have had a couple of really bad falls. I even lost half of my eyebrow because of landing so hard.
Our property doesn’t have a lot of flat area. We do have manual and electric wheelchairs, walkers and canes. All of these are not very useful here, except for the canes and the handrail my son built for me. Our chicken coop cannot be moved. In our county your coop has to be so many feet from your house. It’s also built to be predator-proof (bear, mountain lion, raccoon, coyote, fox).
Last year, my neighbour lost 200 chickens to a bear in one night. I am broken-hearted a hawk just got my hen, Talky. My chickens are now locked up in a smaller pen behind the coop that is hawk proof. They prefer the huge dog pen for free ranging, but until the crows comes back to chase away the hawks I must look after their best interests because I am their caregiver, a job I take very seriously. I have taken into consideration all my pets and where they should go, if I should die first. I do believe it is something we all should do.
I have been sick for the last couple of days. That is my problem, I never know when the bad or good days will happen. I like to write so the Chaplain at the cancer center told me I should write about my chickens, so this is what I wrote.
If my life could sing you a song, if my heart could tell you a story, it would be about my chickens. This is story that you must listen to with your heart and not your head. I have been sick for a very long time, and have had already given up so many, many things that bring meaning and happiness to my life. These losses have hurt.
I know most people could not care less about chickens, but they bring me joy. I know my chickens by name and they know me. They come when I call. When I am in the yard it makes them happy and they follow and talk to me. No one else cares for them like I do. They make me feel useful and needed. Don’t we all want some purpose in our life? I think it is as necessary as breathing.
I was just diagnosed with cerebellar dysfunction which causes lack of balance. Because of my falls I have been asked to stop caring for my chickens. I realize that to many, this is such a small thing and you would be able to easily give them up. You don’t even have a clue about what they mean to me. I know the people who are telling me that I am doing something dangerous have my best interest at heart, and I appreciate it.
All of us take chances every day. If we get into the car, we might get in a wreck. If we take off in an airplane, it could fall out of the sky and we would be dead. Do you let these things interfere or control your life? Of course not. But this is what I am being asked to do. I am being asked to sit in a bubble of protection, I am being asked to give up something I enjoy. It is one of the last few things that I do where I feel that I am needed. This is huge and it is asking far more then I am ready to do. I love everyone for their concern, but I must do the things that give my sorry life some meaning and bring slivers of sunlight into my fairly useless life.
There is one thing I want you to know: not once have I fallen on the trail to the chickens. I have only fallen when I have wandered from it. It is sort of like God and me. I only get into trouble when I have wandered from His Path. He sees this and calls me back, and then I realize things are going to be okay. Knowing that I am somewhat stubborn, my son has built me a handrail to my chickens, and if I do not wander, I will be okay. I am so thankful to know that I have a Heavenly Father and earthly son who care so much for me.
Because of them, I will be able to stay on the earthly trail a little longer. I know there will come a time when I will have to give up both my chickens and this earthly trail, but that means I will only be on the Heavenly Path, and I will be one step closer than I was yesterday.
Many thanks to Joy Kiser for sharing her story and photos, used with permission. I keep her in my thoughts, and hope you will too. If you want to send her a message you can do so in the comments where she’ll be able to see them.
Thank you Bitchin’ Chickens and to Joy for this beautiful story. Beautiful for the soul and revealing the beauty of your souls.
I am a senior woman living in Launceston, Tasmania, Australia. We don’t have a lot of snow here, unlike your location. I have been fortunate to visit many locations in your beautiful country.
I love your stories because they are real, and because you both really care about chickens because of their unique characters, intelligence and comical ways (and many other reasons.)
I only found out how wonderful and vulnerable chickens are about a year ago, when I saw some abandoned chickens in an area of a gorgeous park. I saw a woman throw three lovely hens away into a bush. I was shocked and immediately rallied some people to help me rescue them, buy a coop and bring the girls home. I really love them.
Today, feeding some abandoned roosters (sadly it is a big issue in our state) a young woman sitting with her two big dogs said ‘They’re only roosters’ – she may have known her two dogs, not on lead, were scaring the six beautiful roosters who have no home, only a few 100 yards under a bridge and some trees and not much water when it is hot.
So it was an absolute joy to come home and read your post. Your sacred life has brought such love to your family and animals and their sacred lives in return have brought you and many others (including me) great delight and gratitude.
Thank you. Toni Keeling, a new subscriber, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia
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Joy, so appreciate how you are living your life. I admire your confidence
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Thank you Claire for posting this beautiful story and thanks to Joy for your willingness to share it. I too get much comfort and entertainment from my chickens. I am 72 and slowing down as well, but don’t want to give them up. Our bed faces a big picture window out to a garden and pasture area. Every morning my husband and I have toast and coffee in bed while watching the girls start their day. We had a hen go broody 6 weeks ago and she hatched 3 little chicks. We ran to the farm store and picked up 5 chicks and created an instant family. They have been living in a chicken tractor and every morning is a delight! Joy, I so admire your wisdom and determination to continue this earthly path . May God continue to bless you until He’s ready to call you home!
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Joy, I want you to know how inspiring you are. Yes, you have given up many things but love will always be with you and part of you. I hope you and your chickens find a way to share happiness for a long time to come.
Greetings from a fellow chicken-friend in New Zealand.
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