Rescue Story

Tilly and Nilly: Adorable Rescued Chicks Find Friendship at Farm Sanctuary

Close-up photo of chick

Rescue Story

Tilly and Nilly: Adorable Rescued Chicks Find Friendship at Farm Sanctuary

Tilly and Nilly—two young Cornish Cross chicks who likely survived the same chicken farm—are just about as similar as their rhyming names.

But there is a big difference between these pseudo-twins: Tilly has a cross beak, while Nilly’s grew in straight.

A chicken’s beak is a powerful tool, meant for more than just establishing a flock’s “pecking order.” For most, it’s a means of eating, preening, and investigating novel objects and surroundings (the shinier the better). But Tilly’s beak has an additional superpower: it likely saved both chicks’ lives.

A cross beak is either caused congenitally or by some external trauma. The bottom portion of Tilly’s beak juts out at an unnatural angle, instead of aligning neatly with the top. This makes it harder to pick up food, or to defend herself from predation. Without help, she might not have survived on her own.

Thankfully, Tilly had an ally in her rescuer, who found the young chick on her front porch. We’re not sure how Tilly made her way there—perhaps she was abandoned because of her condition, or had wandered after falling from a passing truck. Regardless of the reason, the homeowner fell in love with Tilly—but she also knew the chick would need specialized care beyond her own capabilities. Since no one in the area claimed the cute little fluffball, she asked if Farm Sanctuary could help.


  • Tilly comes to Farm Sanctuary

  • Nilly joins Tilly's quarantine pod

  • Tilly and Nilly come off of quarantine, and join a flock of Cornish chicks

Chick looking at their reflection in a mirror

Tilly gives herself a pep talk in the mirror.

Tilly’s rescuer wanted to give the little bird a fighting chance. Tilly likely wouldn’t have been given the same on a factory farm, though, where most birds of her breed end up. In the meat industry, only the strongest survive these industrial facilities’ atrocious conditions—including crowding, poor ventilation, and competition with other birds for food and space. Even the “survivors” are far from healthy, though; many develop parasites and respiratory issues due to their filthy living conditions. Others suffer broken legs or wings from mishandling by rushed workers.

At the very least, they’re overstressed—and overweight. These chickens, called “broilers” in the industry, are bred and fed to reach an adult chicken’s size by the time they’re just six weeks old. These young birds often develop geriatric issues—including heart disease, respiratory failure, and joint damage—from carrying this excessive and unnatural weight.

Chickens are also excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act—a standard that calls for an animal to be rendered unconscious and insensible to pain before being slaughtered. As a result, they often approach the chopping block fully aware of their impending death. They’re scared and suffering—and they’re just babies: though these chickens can live up to eight years, they’re killed on average within just 42 days of being born. 9 billion chickens face slaughter in the United States each year.

Whether by happenstance or an act of compassion, Tilly instead has the chance to grow old. What’s more, she even has someone to share her new life with!

Growth rates of "broiler" chickens have increased 300% between 1968 and 2008.

Chickens are curious, social, and loving birds who form deep bonds with other chickens and with people.

Within a few days of bringing Tilly to Farm Sanctuary, the same rescuer asked if we could accept another Cornish Cross baby: Nilly. While the circumstances of Nilly’s rescue are uncertain, we had a good guess—based on her breed—what her fate would have been without rescue. We were glad to give another bird a chance at freedom—and to give Tilly a friend!

Per protocol, we quarantine all incoming animals to ensure they’re healthy enough to be with others. But since Tilly and Nilly came from the same place, and both had the same parasites, they could spend this period together. It’s clear they were happy with this decision—later that night we found them snuggling together, and they’ve been nearly inseparable ever since!

Tilly and Nilly at Farm Sanctuary

The only time they’re apart is for meals. Tilly needs to eat on her own, to ensure she can get the nutrients she needs without competition from other birds. Our staff prepares a soft, watered-down pellet mash that’s easier for her to grasp and ingest. It’s a slower (and messier) process, but Tilly approaches her meals with gusto. We’ve even seen her leaping from perch to perch in anticipation!

While Tilly’s mealtimes look a bit different than the other chickens’, she is not in any pain, and is still eating well and at a healthy weight. While cross beak is not always fixable, birds can still have a good quality of life if given proper food and attention.

And she’s happy. Thanks to Nilly, this once shy and reserved chick has “come out of her shell” and is a confident, friendly chatterbox. The dynamic duo is almost always cuddling, or running laps around each other during playtime outside. As chickens are flock animals—and since these two have grown up without their moms—they are lucky to have found each other.

Tilly at Farm Sanctuary

The chicks are now living in a larger group of other young Cornish Crosses rescued from slaughter. But their living arrangement could change as they grow. When Tilly and Nilly arrived at Farm Sanctuary, they were too young to accurately determine sex; we assumed they were both hens, but it’s quite possible that one or both are actually roosters. As they mature, their secondary sex characteristics—including comb size, behavior, feathering, and crowing in males—will become more apparent. If one turns out male and the other female, they can’t safely live together as adults; their unnatural breeding, even when managed through a carefully-controlled diet, makes the males grow so large that they can crush females when trying to mate.

For now, though, they’re enjoying their adventures with their new friends, and continue to snuggle up during sleep each night. And whether they continue living in the same space, or come together to chat over an adjoining fence, their friendship will always matter. It gave them the confidence to heal from past trauma and grow into happy and sociable chicks; their bond set these positive paths for life.

Despite their “bird brain” reputations, chickens are curious, social, and loving birds who form deep bonds with other chickens and with people. And despite the cruelty that many of our rescued birds experience, they are quick to trust when treated kindly. Many will climb right into our laps, or preen our hair like feathers. They love life, and they love one another. All it takes to give them that chance is to leave these sentient beings off your plates.