Tasha Tudor is known for her charming illustrations that depict the friendship and love between children and animals. Her watercolors of little boys and girls ambling through fields of flowers in the company of corgis, lambs, and chicks radiate innocence and the magic of a childhood spent living close to nature.
With rosy cheeks and bright eyes Ellie Tudor, the 7 year old great granddaughter of Tasha Tudor, looks like she walked right out of one of her great granny’s illustrations. Though Ellie was born after Tasha passed away, it is clear that her great granny’s spirit lives on in her, and in more ways than one.
Like Tasha, Ellie has a strong affinity for animals. With the help of her mother, father, and little sister, Katie, she tends to the family’s pets including four guinea pigs, two dogs, four goldfish, and one cat. But the family’s 39 or so chickens are her biggest responsibility and she takes their care very seriously. On how she started taking care of the birds she says,”When I was very little I started to play with them and pick them up and help tame them. I just liked them and started to pet them and hug them...before I knew it I had lots of them and knew how to take care of them all well. I just taught myself.” Her dedication and experience with chickens has earned her the highly respected title of “Chicken Whisperer”--or at least, that’s what we call her at Tasha Tudor and Family!
If you have been fortunate enough to come on one of our Corgi Cottage Tours you might have had the pleasure of hearing Ellie give her famous Chicken Talk. It was through giving these talks and answering tour guests’ questions that Ellie realized how little the average person really knows about chickens. She was inspired to write and illustrate books to help people learn about her beloved birds. At the age of 7 she has already published two books,Roosters Crow and Hens Don’t (2015) and Chicks Peep and Hens Don’t(2016).
The books are filled with helpful facts and insights into chicken politics such as, “If you have like 3 or 4 or 5 roosters and only one hen, you won’t get many eggs and the hen will be stressed out.” With the matter-of-fact air that only a child who has grown up around animals can muster, Ellie will happily tell you all she knows about chicken mating rituals, the dangers of predators such as weasels, foxes, and minks, and how to care for a bird that has a bad infestation of mites.
With the coming of Spring, we thought it would be a wonderful time to talk to Ellie about her love of chickens and share some of her favorite chicken stories!
On what she loves most about chickens and why, Ellie said, “They’re just so kind and I’ve always liked them. I’m growing up with them and kind of evolving to like them, playing with them more and more. When they are baby chicks, their feet are so smooth and soft. As long as they’re not covered in chicken poop! I like the noises they make and they way they walk and it’s just...so many things I like. I like every part of them, well, except for their bums.”
With over 39 chickens you might think it would be difficult to tell them all apart, let alone remember all of their names. But for Ellie Tudor, each bird is distinct both in looks and personality. Ellie can tell you the difference between the breeds Buff Orpington, Speckled Sussex, Spitzhauben without batting an eye. And she can rattle off the names of her many birds with ease. Some of her tame chickens include Lip, Love, Peach, Cherry, Injy, Sally, Flash-la-dash-the-second, Fluffy Feet, Giselle, Poufy Cheeks, Bronze, Greyie, Pretzyl, Pecky, and Peckalina. She also takes care of one of Tasha Tudor’s last surviving pets, the hen Anadama, whose daughter, White Chick, was one of Ellie’s first tame chickens.
When asked how she comes up with names for her birds she said she often is inspired by their personalities. For example, “Lip is a rooster and he’s very nice and not many roosters are. When he was little he was curious about my lip and pecked it.” And so she named him Lip! Ellie took special care of a particular chick when she first arrived and the chick became very affectionate and attached to Ellie, “now she’s following me around and chasing me wherever I go for a hug.” This loving bird was aptly named “Love”.
The family’s chickens are often playmates at the Tudor household, which has led to many funny stories such as this, “I and Mommy, we were making paper bag clothes for the chickens. It was based from a story called Cinders and it was kind of like Cinderella except for it was based on chickens. We made a paper bag suit, well, kind of, for Pretzyl, and one for Greyie, one of the first chickens who ever came to my chicken talk. We put one on Greyie, she was dressed as Cinders, she ran around trying to get it off. We put one on Pretzyl and he went off to show it to the hens, for real! He went over and spread his wing feathers and tried to attract a hen’s attention (it was Anadama) but she just looked at him and walked away. And he ran over to try some other hens! He kept it on almost all night. We found his outfit in the mud later.”
Fans of Tasha Tudor are sure to remember the elaborate doll wedding that was documented in the pages of Life Magazine in the 1950’s. It will undoubtedly be a delight to hear that events of this nature continue in the Tudor family to this day, but now feature be-ribboned and bow-tied chickens at the altar!
“One time, we had a chicken wedding. We tied some pretty pink ribbons around Greyie’s legs and put a loosely tied black ribbon around George’s neck. Katie, my little sister, who was probably just crawling (which she isn’t now, she’s three and three quarters) was the flower girl. She crawled up and pulled the groom’s tail! Greyie’s legs got a little bit tangled up so we had to take the pink ribbon off her legs and the wedding had to end. But George’s necktie stayed on and he didn’t seem to notice it. I’m hoping tomorrow we can have a chicken party.”
When asked if she plans on publishing a third book Ellie responded, “Yes, I’m thinking about one now and I’ve already started a few pages. It’s kind of a guide for people who’ve just gotten new chickens and have never had any people living next door to them who had chickens and don’t know how to care for them and don’t know their parts and the names and differences.” Keep an eye out for updates on this possible forthcoming book! It’s sure to be as insightful, instructive, and disarmingly funny (to adults) as the last two!