Joyce and Rex Stucker: The chicken travelers of the Western Slope
June 16, 2014
For Joyce and Rex Stucker, it started about eight years ago, after they'd hatched some chicks.
"The beak on one was sideways," she explained from the kitchen of their home north of Cedaredge, Colo. "It didn't fit together quite right. I started feeding it with a syringe, and by hand. I'd wipe food across its beak with a finger."
Chickens eat ALL the time, so while it was small, Joyce was "feeding it ALL the time. We had a long trip planned, and there was no choice but to take her (turns out it was a little hen) with us for the entire time. Whenever we stopped, I put her on the hood of the car and fed her. It drew a crowd. Some kids had never seen a chicken up close before. They wanted to hold her."
Regardless of the deformity, the chick grew up and even started laying eggs.
She got so tame from all her travelling that even after having a stroke, she wanted to have her people near.
"We'd taken her to the vet, and knew she was dying," Joyce recalled sadly. "But even while lying on one side, she managed to lift a wing to be scratched. Chickens like to be scratched under there. When she passed away, we cried for a week."
Recommended Stories For You
"That chicken had genetic problems, and died young," Rex added.
But both Stuckers were hooked. They had this chicken-travelling thing down, and wanted to continue with it.
Growing up as a "typical farm kid" in Grand Junction, Colo., Joyce said that her best friends were cattle, dogs, cats, goats, pigs and of course, chickens.
Shortly after they married in 1989, she asked Rex about getting a goat. When his response was, "I'm the only old goat you need," she chose chickens, instead.
"I got him started," she smiled innocently.
These days, the couple keeps around 25 hens, one "huge" rooster, 13 guineas, three peacocks, and even a wild turkey. ("That one wandered in. We fed it, and it stayed.")
Although all are free to roam the property during the day, guarded by Blue Heeler "Mr. Jones," at night they stay in a roomy, well-designed coop that comes complete with heat lamps for winter.
But it was a fight in the coop that brought the Stuckers their second travelling bird. One day, Joyce noticed that a little rooster "had been cornered by all the others, and they were about to kill him. I don't know why."
Rescuing the rooster, she kept him in a cage in the garage and proceeded to "nurse him back to mental health."
Eventually, he was allowed to roam about.
"He got friendly, because I was feeding him. I'd go into the garage and say, 'Hey you,' and he'd come over to me."
From there, his name soon morphed into "A.U." — and he, too, found enjoyment in travel.
"With the hen, we used a stack of paper towels for when it came to potty time," Joyce continued. "After she used the top one, we removed it and gave her a fresh one."
With A.U., "whenever he fidgeted, we pulled over. I set him outside, and in ten seconds we'd be back on the road."
Eventually, he learned to go potty on command, but believe or not "you CAN buy chicken diapers."
The Stuckers travelled with A.U. for the next five years; he was about ten when they lost him. (According their vet, under certain conditions a chicken can live to be 15.)
"He had a dust patch in the back yard that he bathed in. I let him outside one morning, and while he was in it he just lay over and … he was gone."
Right away, the pair set their sights on another.
Joyce hand-picked their current pet, a petite brown hen named "Little Sister." Not only does she travel with the Stuckers — and their two, smaller dogs — but she also sleeps in her own little bed on the nightstand. As for feedings, she stands on a towel on the counter for hand-cut vegetables.
And she's friendly with strangers, as well, allowing anyone to hold her.
But the minute her mistress leaves the area (say, to answer the phone), Sister stretches her neck and chirps.
"Sometimes, it's pretty loud," Joyce admitted.
The key to turning a mere chicken into a beloved pet, Joyce believes, is to literally become its flock.
"You have to isolate it – have it depend on you exclusively for food, water, and companionship."
That said, it can't be casually returned to the coop when its person needs a break. The other birds might kill it. Joyce tried this with A.U., watching from her seat on a cinder block. It quickly became clear that he wouldn't make it if she left him there. But she didn't mind carrying the rooster around.
"I have a favorite story about that one," she concludes. "Rex and I had driven with him through the pharmacy window in Cedaredge, and as we were heading back home we noticed that there was a yard sale going on at the Stolte Shed (in Pioneer Town). We decided to stop and look around."
Since they never leave chickens in the car unattended — at least, outside of a cage ("they're messy") — Joyce laid a towel over one arm and carried A. U. into the building.
"There were about 25 people wandering around, and it was very quiet."
The rooster was quiet, as well.
But when Joyce went to the check-out stand to pay for an item, the person behind her suddenly shouted, "That's a live chicken!"
Immediately, other people gathered around to see. But Joyce's response brought the house down.
"Why would I carry a dead one?" she asked.
Indeed, a live one is much, much more entertaining.❖