When the World Shut Down, This 9-Year-Old Created an Unlikely Bond with 6 Chickens

In a time of isolation from the rest of the world, this little girl found friendship in her family’s new chickens.

Editor’s Note: America’s Best Pet Pals is a nationwide search for the animal friendships that make you laugh, cry, and purr. Reader’s Digest honors the best in pet friendship in print, online, and on social media. This is the winner in our “People to Animals” category. To see winners in other categories and our full list of finalists, go to rd.com/petpals.

We’ve heard many stories of the heartwarming bonds people create with animals, including the goose that came home after 20 years and the improbable friendship between a camper and a bear, but this egg-celent story of chickens is one that is unlike anything you have heard before.

collage of Sophie and chickens: holding on at a sunflower field; selfie with a chicken; six sit around her while she's on zoom; sophie holds one close at the top of a hiking trailCourtesy Emily Chromczak (4)

When much of the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic beginning in March 2020, a family of four living in a small suburb of Albany, New York, decided to grow their household by bringing home a group of backyard chickens from Tractor Supply Co. The intention was to allow the chicks, who were only about three days old at the time, to grow and flourish into a flock that could provide the Chromczak family with fresh eggs. What they didn’t anticipate was the bond that would form between these chicks and their nine-year-old daughter, Sophie.

Just a girl and her chickens

With a dog and a cat already running around the house, the Chromczaks really were only looking for a source of fresh eggs, but these six chickens became so much more than that. At the time, Sophie was reading Treasure Island and watching the Rocky movies, so she decided to name the chicks Trixie, Bearty, Sweet Pea, Speedie, Captain Flint, and Adrian. She fell in love the moment the baby chicks came home, nestled in a cardboard box under a heat lamp in their living room. Sophie spent much of her time cuddling them, reading to them, and even making them their own cardboard houses. She was even upset when her parents wouldn’t allow the chickens to sleep in her bed with her, with the thought of being apart all night unbearable. These photos of baby birds will warm your heart just like these cute chicks.

collage of Sophie with chickens: sophie with a chick on her head; sophie reading to a chick; sophie in the coop with an egg; sophie and her brother reading by the chick cageCourtesy Emily Chromczak (4)

“They’re really cute and I like to snuggle them,” said Sophie. “Bearty is my favorite. She likes to walk on a leash.”

The six chirping chicks served as a distraction during a time of isolation, disease, and civil unrest, but as the world began to settle into its new normal and the chicks grew into full-grown chickens, the bond continued to grow. Sophie liked to bring a chicken with her wherever her parents would allow, including on a camping trip where the chickens stayed in Sophie’s tent with her—in a box, of course, to avoid waking up to a tent full of chicken feces.

Making memories

One hot day, Sophie asked if she could take Captain Flint down to the creek on their hobby farm to go for a swim. Emily, Sophie’s mother, told Sophie that she didn’t think the chicken would like the water, but Sophie insisted. After dipping Captain Flint’s feet in the cool creek, Emily’s worries were confirmed. Captain Flint definitely did not like swimming, but Sophie had another idea. She suspended a stick over a river tube to use as a perch for the chicken. Now the two could enjoy the creek together without Captain Flint having to touch the water.

Sophie and the chickens: a chicken with a santa hat; sophie with a chicken on the handlebars of her scooter; sophie dressed as a chicken for halloween; sophi pulling chickens in a sled; sophie working on remote schooling with chickens nearbyCourtesy Emily Chromczak (5)

Sophie managed to enjoy the outdoors with the chickens, including resting a chicken on the handlebars of her bicycle as she rode around the neighborhood and repurposing a double jogging stroller so she could push around all six chickens at the same time. Sophie even dressed as a giant chicken for Halloween and brought Trixie along for trick or treating.

When Christmas rolled around, Sophie’s love continued to grow for her six feathery friends. After pulling them behind her on a sled through the snow and taking them on cross-country ski rides, Sophie wanted to ensure that the chickens were included in the holiday festivities. She made each chicken a tiny stocking filled with oats, imprinted salt dough ornaments with their footprints, and made sure each had their own Santa hat.

“If you’ve ever owned chickens, you will know that they poop constantly,” explained Emily. “As such, we’ve made a rule that they are not allowed in the house. We’ve mostly stuck to this rule but one morning when her school was virtual, Sophie told me ‘there’s nothing to feel happy about.’ For obvious reasons this year has been tough for literally everyone in the world. It’s heartbreaking to see your child struggle emotionally with a situation that you can’t control. To make matters worse, winter where we live is very cold. So, we’ve gone back on this rule and allow her to bring one chicken at a time inside as long as she constantly watches for poop and cleans it up immediately.”

The winter months were spent cuddling the chickens during movie nights, keeping Sophie company during her virtual classes, and even joining in on the annual family photo at the spot where Emily got engaged to her husband. The bond between Sophie and these chickens was unbreakable.

sophie and chickens: Sophie making an impression of one chicken's foot; sophie and her brother holding chickens and wearing chicken hats; portrait of sophie and family with chickens, dog, and cat; sophie on the floor head-to-head with a chickenCourtesy Emily Chromczak (4)

The death of a chicken

The beloved Captain Flint suffered a premature death due to a hawk attack. Having watched the attack, Sophie was absolutely heartbroken. The family conducted a small chicken funeral to mourn the loss of one of their own. Sophie mourned by painting Captain Flint and wearing a pendant with a photo of the chicken that she has not taken off since.

“Her chickens are teaching her about love, loss, and grief and Sophie has handled it well,” said Emily. “In a few short months, these chickens have taught us to relax, accept situations we cannot change, and find joy where we can. They’ve brought us comfort during uncertain times and changed our lives. I am grateful.”