Isa "the miracle chicken" could be the topic of her own entire website, memoir, made-for-TV-movie, etc. Believe it or not, this is the ABRIDGED version of her story. If and when you come visit us here at RRR, please feel free to ask for more stories and highlights from the incredible life of a tiny red chicken.
Isa was born at a hatchery in February 2016 and was delivered to Belmont Feed & Seed - our local supply shop in Chicago. We had just started keeping chickens and we felt ready to expand our flock, so we purchased three baby chicks. Within minutes of bringing them home, it was clear that Isa was the most friendly and snuggly. She literally jumped out of the brooder and onto my foot, pictured here:
Isa warmed up to us quickly. We tried to gently handle all of our chickens - to help them feel safe and comfortable around us - but Isa was really the only one who seemed to enjoy our one-on-one time.
One of my favorite memories is returning home from work shifts late at night and spending the 2-3am hours on the couch watching 'Say Yes to the Dress' with Isa.
When Isa was about 4 months old, she ate what she thought was food, but was actually gravel. (We had been using construction gravel as ground cover in the chicken run - a mistake we will NEVER make again as it looks EXACTLY like chicken feed). Isa fell ill quickly. It took us a few days to piece together what had happened, but as her belly distended and her energy diminished, we figured it out.
We read online about these "crop impactions" and what we could do at home to try to help her. I spent hours and hours syringe-feeding electrolyte solution and trying to jostle the sand and gravel in her belly so it would come loose and come out. But nothing was working. I took her to the vet and described the situation. An Xray confirmed that her ENTIRE BODY was filled with gravel and sand. None of this made sense to me - how did gravel get out of her stomach and into the cavity of her belly? We felt devastated and the vet was very honest with us - this is not survivable. She offered to put Isa to rest permanently. It was a Friday afternoon - Matt was out of town and it was all too much to take in. I said I wasn't ready, and I would take her home for the weekend, keep her in a cool, dark room, and if she hadn't passed on her own by Monday I'd bring her in for the vet to help her peacefully go.
Isa spent the weekend in a crate in my bedroom, sleeping and breathing - that's about it. No food, no water, no poops, no noise. Monday morning came around, June 13, 2016. I awoke and found Isa still breathing. I called the vet and made an appointment for 12noon to have her euthanized.
I packed her into a travel crate and set it on the kitchen counter. I didn't even bother closing the top of the crate because Isa literally had not moved in three days - I was hardly concerned that she would somehow escape. I stepped away for a moment to get my car keys. When I came back to the kitchen, I found Isa standing up, wide awake, head poking up out of the top of the crate, looking at my and clucking as though she were asking for a snack. She was WIDE AWAKE. BACK TO NORMAL. What the actual...?
In complete disbelief I continued with the plan to take her to the vet to be put down. I set the crate down onto the intake counter and checked in for my euthanasia appointment, and the receptionist looked as confused as I did when perky Isa popped her head out of the crate again, looking happy, lively, and definitely not in need of compassionate hastening of death.
We started calling her "the miracle chicken"because we truly couldn't think of another explanation for what had happened. Four days prior, her Xray showed a belly full of rocks. On that crazy day, a repeat Xray showed NO evidence of gravel, sand, or any other unusual material. It had literally disappeared. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. Isa's recovery was miraculous!
We brought Isa home and put her back into the yard with her sisters, and life went back to being lovely and normal.
Isa's first egg:
Isa enjoying a cocktail in the backyard:
Isa helping with my master's work:
The following winter, our curious and excited little red hen decided to follow the humans into the garage. One tall human (NOT her mommy or daddy) shut the side door behind himself without looking and our dear Isa got caught in the doorframe. Immediately it was clear that this was a BAD injury.
Luckily, our veterinarian is not just an avian specialist, but a true lover of chickens, and a very creative surgeon. She quickly outlined for us a surgical plan to get Isa's compound leg fracture straightened out, and advised us of the numerous and frequent visits we'd be having over the next few months.
In retrospect, I'm not sure why we so eagerly agreed to this expensive and drawn out plan. We were sad, scared, shocked, and the doc was SO confident that she could help us. Also, this was our Isa! THE miracle chicken. If there was ever a bird to invest time, money, effort, and energy, THIS was the one. I wonder sometimes if we would have been as aggressive with treatment if this situation had happened with one of our other chickens... we aren't "supposed" to have favorites, I know... but Isa was really special.
We went ALL out taking care of Isa. We lovingly drove her to vet appointments, snuggled with her on the couch (since she obviously couldn't be outside with a cast on her leg!) and even designed and build an over-the-shoulder chicken carrier as well as a custom wheelchair!
It was a tremendous effort - tons of time and money spent, and a lot of tears and frustration. I remember one of the worst nights toward the beginning of this entire broken-leg saga: Isa was in her crate in the guest room, which we had to keep very dark. The idea is to try to "trick" the body into thinking it is always nighttime, that way she (hopefully) wouldn't lay any eggs, and her body could use the calcium that would otherwise go into the egg shells instead to help her leg bones heal. Anyway, it was late at night, and I went into the room to give her pain meds, and she snapped at me. Literally, snapped her beak at my fingers. I cried. Not because it hurt my hand, but because I felt so heartbroken over her situation. She was grumpy and miserable. I was so sad but felt like there was no way out other than to keep pushing forward.
The tears and pain and many Many MANY vet visits were absolutely worth it. Of course our amazing Isa recovered beautifully. We slowly re-introduced her to the outdoors, allowed her to stand on her asymmetric legs, and gradually go her incorporated back into the flock. Birds can be socially brutal, excluding and even harming any birds who they perceive as weak. Isa was so used to living alone in the house that she didn't seem bothered by the amount of time it took to get her sisters to accept her again. And again, of course, our miracle hen bounced back like nothing had ever happened.
Luckily, the broken leg was the LAST of Isa's life drama. The next few years were filled with nothing but simple, happy, backyard chicken experiences.
In the fall of 2020 we purchased the farm property in California. We decided that our short-term plan would be for me to stay in Chicago while Matt took the animals and got the rancho up and running. When the time was right, likely not for a year or more, I'd make my way out to California to join him and the farm family.
I felt oddly and incredibly certain that Isa would make it out to the California farm but not live long enough for me to meet her out there. From the time that we started making our move plans to the very moment that Matt left Chicago with the animals in tow, I spent every possible moment that I could with my dear Isa.
As move day grew closer, Isa seemed to age rapidly. She was still happy and eating and giving me her own version of smiles and hugs... but she was really slowing down and separating herself from the group. It hurt my heart every time I looked at her, but I just tried to cherish every last moment.
Here she is, all packed up in her special seat, ready for the long drive out west:
Our amazing miracle chicken surprised NO ONE by making it all the way across the country with her feathered family members. Matt said she even ate some pieces of hot dog with the guys during the drive!
Isa left Chicago on Saturday January 9, 2021 and arrived in California on Monday January 11, 2021. She left us forever, peacefully and quietly, on January 20, 2021. I never got to spend a day in the sunshine with her on the new rancho, but I received many lovely photos of her enjoying the vast new space.
Isa is buried on the property, and a gorgeous wood cutout of her silhouette is displayed on a redwood tree near the barn. We feel that Isa is still with us in some ways, as she taught us many valuable lessons during her life.
We often share stories and memories of our darling Isa the Miracle Chicken - we hope that you'll ask us about her if you ever come visit us!