“OK. Which one of you big kids wants to swap chickens with your little sister?”
It’s not the weirdest question I’ve ever asked as a mother, but it definitely ranks high on the list.
The chick that would be Stacey
During the early days of the 2020 pandemic lockdown, when some families were wrist-deep in sourdough starter and others were neck-deep in home improvement projects, we decided to help my parents (with whom we were hunkered down for a few weeks) start a backyard chicken coop as a homeschool science project.
Our first batch of fertilized eggs (bartered from a neighbor across the road) ended in tragedy. Not one hatched. So it goes.
The second time around, to our delight, four out of seven chicks pecked out of their shells like clockwork — well, almost like clockwork. The first three little bantam-cross chicks emerged one at a time after a few hours of hard work. Each was claimed and named by one of my three older children. The last egg (already starting to wiggle hopefully) was earmarked for their little sister, then in kindergarten. She planned to name it Stacey.
The egg-that-would-be-Stacey ended up taking 18 long hours to hatch. I thought she’d never come out. When she finally did emerge, she was a tiny, exhausted fluff-ball of a chick with what looked like a piece of shell stuck to her hind end. As her feathers dried off and she started to creep around the incubator, I noted with interest that whatever was stuck to her backside wasn’t coming off. It wasn’t until I picked her up to move her into the brooder with the other chicks, however, that I realized what the “eggshell” really was.
“Oh, my goodness!” I said out loud. “No wonder this one had so much trouble hatching. She’s got three legs!”
Tucked under the fuzz that would become her tail feathers, dangling like a peacock’s plume, was a small, limp, vestigial limb, toes and all.
“Oh, no!” I thought to myself, suddenly filled with dread. “She’s got three legs.”
Runt of the pecking order
Chickens are beautiful birds, but they aren’t known for their altruism. My uncle was a chicken farmer, and one of my strongest (and strongest smelling) memories from visiting their farm as a child came when we were invited to help with “chores” in the chicken house; namely, picking up all the dead chickens that had been trampled since the day before. Any bird with any abnormality whatsoever would find itself bullied and pecked (often to death) by stronger, more “normal” chicks; we would put the dead chicks in a five-gallon bucket and dump them onto a foul-smelling heap of manure. In a chicken house, jungle law prevails.
If I’d been a more experienced chicken farmer, or had any sense or courage, I should have wrung the three-legged chicken’s neck as soon as I noticed the defect. What kind of existence could such a freak of nature have? What could she expect out of life except that it would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”?
Sure enough, when I set her down in the brooder with the three other chicks that evening, it took them less than five minutes to notice her deformity.
And as soon as they noticed it, they began pecking at it.
I watched with dismay and helplessness as the hazing continued. The chick had to stay where she was — I only had one brooding tub set up, one heat lamp, and it was too late to buy another that night. There was nowhere else for her to go. Even if I had found alternate lodging for her, what then? She would have to join her siblings at some point. Putting her anywhere else would only delay the inevitable. If she was going to survive, she would have to do it by making peace with her fellow chickens.
Even so, as we headed upstairs to bed that night, I was doubtful. How could such a tiny chicken survive? It was then that I made the decision: One of the big kids would have to adopt the bird-formerly-known-as-Stacey. If the worst should befall, I could at least prevent my smallest child’s heart from completely breaking.
My son volunteered. He thought having a three-legged bird would be cool.
And just like that, “Stacey” became “Python.”
I never thought I would find myself on my knees begging God to spare the life of a three-legged chicken, but that’s exactly what I did that night. I prayed long and hard before I finally fell into a troubled sleep.
A miracle in sawdust
Early the next morning, I dashed down to the basement, a ball of nerves. Whatever was down there, I wanted to see it before the children did. If Stacey/Python was lying limp and bloodied in the sawdust at the bottom of the brooder, I had to be the one to discover it.
I felt like Darius rushing back to the den of lions in Daniel 6:
Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?”
And just like Darius, my worry turned immediately to joy. Once again, the mouths of the lions had been stopped. There, moseying around the tub, soaking in the heat lamp and enjoying her morning feed, was our three-legged chick. Her older siblings, so antagonistic toward her the night before, ignored her now, completely at peace with her presence among them.
I still don’t know what happened. I have no idea how they worked out their differences that night. But I thank God that they did. No small children’s hearts were broken that morning.
I wasn’t sure what kind of chicken our tiny oddball would turn out to be. What would she look like when she grew up? What would her life be like? Could a hen with a dangling third vestigial leg grow? Thrive? Lay eggs? But I did feel certain of one thing: She would at least live long enough for us to find out.
The foolishness of God
Maybe you’ve known some three-legged chicks yourself? I certainly have — and long before I first picked up the one in my incubator. They’re the people Paul writes to and about in 1 Corinthians 1:
Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.
Thanks be to God, the church is full of them. Sometimes, the three-legged chick stares back at me in the mirror.
According to “worldly standards,” God’s precious three-legged chickens have something badly wrong with them. They’re deformed. They’re weak. They’re ungainly. They’re weird. In this world, they know all too often what it is to feel the wrath of the pecking order, to be bullied, tormented and marginalized, made to feel worthless and out of place.
But not in God’s kingdom. To His table He brings you and me, the “poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21); He welcomes all those whom His Spirit calls.
In Christ, He Himself became weakness and frailty. He became sin. He submitted Himself to the deadly pecking order of human jealousy and pride and suffered death on the cross.
Because of His sacrifice, we are set free from the world’s pecking order. We can welcome the three-legged chickens among us and rejoice in them. With Samuel, we can see them — a little, at least — as God sees them: “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). With Paul, we can rejoice daily in the blessed reality that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25).
And when we welcome the three-legged chickens — and are welcomed as three-legged chickens ourselves — we very often find ourselves surprised and delighted by the ways God blesses our lives.
Queen of the coop
The name “Python” didn’t last. After we returned home a few weeks later, another visiting young cousin gave the three-legged chicken her third name — and this time it stuck for keeps. She is and always will be “Baby Peach.”
More than a year after her first, fear-fraught night in the brooder, Peach is the undisputed queen of the coop at my parents’ house. Though she was, and is, the smallest bird in the pen, she was the first to make friends with the rooster and the first to lay eggs, and she remains one of the most generous and reliable layers to this day.
On top of that, Peach has more flair and personality than the rest of the hens combined. Every day, when my dad goes out to tend his small flock, Peach is there to greet him, her third leg just visible (if you know what to look for) under her gleaming white tail feathers. Dad grabs a handful of her favorite mealworms, calls, “Here, Peach, Peach, Peach,” and watches as she gleefully flaps up into the air to be first in line to say “hello.”
There’s a parable hiding in there somewhere, I’m sure. “The kingdom of heaven is like …”
Photo: Provided by the author.