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Ode to Muriel, a Hen Who Made a Difference

Herff Farm

Ode to Muriel, a Hen Who Made a Difference

by Brent Evans

If you decide to love an animal, they will probably break your heart. They will die, or be injured, or run away, or just disappear. It is the price for caring for these creatures, and Muriel was no exception. But she left quite a legacy.

She was raised with sibling chicks to join the flock at the Chicken School Yard at the Herff Farm. The chicks grew to egg laying age as part of the demonstration henyard. School groups and families would visit the Farm that is owned and operated by the Cibolo Center for Conservation (the “Cibolo”). The point of the program has been more than just educating about backyard chickens, although many folks have come to learn how to raise their own flocks. There is another more subtle mission of helping people feel compassion for other living things. This is where Muriel ended up being a great teacher.

One night, racoons discovered a way to make a hole in the ceiling of the henyard, and they killed and wounded several hens, including the hen who was destined to be named Muriel. You see, she was blinded in the attack.

There was much discussion among the volunteers about what to do about this hen. She found feeding herself challenging, and the other hens started picking on her. Volunteers built a protective shelter for her and volunteer Sarah Lindhauer nursed her back to health.

But she needed an inspiring name. Then we thought about one of the great heroes of conservation, John Muir. He had also been blinded in an industrial accident as a young man in 1867, and he mourned never being able to see the wonder of the natural world again. But, he gradually did regain his sight. That same year Muir undertook a walk of about 1,000 miles from Kentucky to Florida, going by the “wildest, leafiest, and least trodden way I could find”. Muir spent the remainder of his years writing and speaking, being an ambassador for nature, and is now known as “Father of the National Parks“.  His writings are inspiring to this day. So we named her Muriel, in his honor, hoping she might also regain some eyesight, but she never did.

Maura Bobbitt, Farm Programs Coordinator, preps Muriel for a walk across the gardens at Herff Farm.

Madam Ambassador Muriel would need special quarters to protect her from the weather and the other hens. Volunteers make the hen yard predator proof, and created a Chick Hatchery in the old Aviary at the Farm, sponsored by the Cibolo Conservancy Land Trust, and coordinated by Animal Care Intern Madison “Sits-with-Chickens” Lambiase. Then reinforcements arrived – Suzanne Ferguson donated some replacement hens.

The Chicken Crew:

            Sarah Lindhauer, primary volunteer for the chicken progam

            Laurie Brown, Cibolo Program Director, Intern Supervisor

            Madison Lambiase, Animal Care Intern

            Ciel Evans, volunteer with the Cibolo Conservancy Land Trust

                                    (along with my grandchildren Stella and Phoebe)

            Cindy Fowler, Board Member of Cibolo Center for Conservation

            Jasmine Torrez, Cibolo Staff

Maura Bobbit, Cibolo Staff

Sebastien Taylor, Volunteer

Bernard Warren, Volunteer

Nash Hardeman, Builder, Past Board Member of the Cibolo

 David Pipes, Builder, Board Member of the Cibolo Conservancy

Jon Nystrom, Architect

Suzanne Ferguson, Volunteer Hen Replacement Specialist

Muriel became an Ambassador of Chickens, who would roam around the Teaching Garden, allowing children and adults to pick her up and pet her. An ambassador animal interacts with the public, “for the love of nature” (the Cibolo’s moto).

Volunteers really stepped up. Result: visitors found that holding her was amazingly heartwarming, and big smiles would show up. Muriel taught the lesson of empathy, being sensitive to the feelings of others, be they human or animal. She was universally appreciated and loved for over a year. She even started laying eggs again.

But, as I mentioned, the price of loving animals is often heartbreak, and Muriel did pass away last week. But we all realized that the lesson she taught was empathy. And it seems to me that if there is one thing the world could use right now, that’s it. Dr. Albert Schweitzer said, “Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.”

I like the idea of a circle of compassion. I like that everyone stops for the ducks crossing at River Road in Boerne. Animals can bring out our best selves. Animals are good for us. And sometimes, all it takes to kindle a small fire of compassion is a moment that moves the heart. So, thank you Muriel, we will miss you and the way you moved so many hearts. And thank you to the chicken crew, for the way you have been doing the very same thing all along.