Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Over the years, we’ve had many experiences with injured and sick chickens. Sometimes the birds have pulled through, sometimes they have not.
Such is truly the way of life.
Part of my reasoning when I got our first set of chicks was that tending a flock would be a wonderful opportunity for my children to show compassion and demonstrate care and concern toward those in the world who are so much smaller.
This is the story of one of our little chicks who had gotten ill and my son, who did all he could to care for the little patient. Simon certainly taught us to never underestimate the strength that can come from a tiny, little thing.
It seemed that one of our little chicks, Simon, of the Appenzeller-Spitzhaubens-Simon-and-Garfunkel pair had, unbeknownst to us, gotten herself into a bit of trouble one weekend.
She had always been the littlest of our exotic chicks and from early on we noticed that her place of comfort was always tucked under the wing of one of the gigantic-compared-in-size Light Brahma chicks. It was an endearing site and we all took a protective view of this the littlest of the littles.
But being little sometimes means you get pooped upon.
When we moved the chicks to a larger nursery, we were horrified to realize that Simon’s feathers were so covered in Tom’s chicken poop they resembled naked, twisted twigs. Simon was lethargic and consistently chose not to join the other chicks in their exploratory activities. What we had thought was a chick tucking herself under a larger bird for comfort was actually a chick that had gotten herself into alarming trouble.
Chicks need full functioning feathers to keep warm and I wasn’t sure if Simon’s feathers had been injured beyond repair. With cool fall weather on its way to New Hampshire, I was worried that this little one wouldn’t be able to keep herself warm enough to survive when she finally transitioned outdoors.
We had to do something.
We tried washing the chicken with water. That didn’t work. She looked even more bedraggled and I’m not sure if chickens shiver but this one certainly appeared to be doing that. She was breathing heavy and her tiny body was starting to list to one side as she tried to stand.
I started prepping the kids about how some chickens die and it’s just nature’s way of getting rid of the runts and weaklings before they are able to mate. Yada yada yada. You know, all that stuff that adults say to kids to try to make them (us) feel better before something really bad is going to happen.
Trevor, my nature boy, though, wasn’t ready to give up so quickly. He picked up the little chick and started carrying her around in a little baby sling he had fashioned out of towels and bits of polar fleece.
Trevor wore the sling with little Simon inside for hours. When the tiny patient had finally stopped shaking, Trevor washed her again in the sink using dish soap (the same stuff they use on birds caught in oil spills) and two rinses of warm water. This bath was then followed up with more baby sling carrying.
When it looked like Simon was comfortable, Trevor then made up a “nest” using one of my good hand towels (“She pooped on it already mom, what did you expect me to use?”) inside a cardboard box. In that box he put water, some food, and then he let the baby chick be.
Simon ate, drank, and then slept for hours.
When it started to get dark I told the kids that the chick needed to go join the others for the night. We had done all we could. Torn with guilt for not having recognized the situation earlier, I was fully expecting to have a dead chick in the morning and I didn’t want to prolong this anymore than was necessary. With a heavy heart we released Simon into the chick nursery to live what we thought would be her last night in the comfort of her friends.
Incredibly, when we put her down, she rushed over to the other little chicks. Simon started chirping, eating, drinking and even started fluffing her feathers which had remarkably started to look like real honest-to-God feathers.
Photo by Wendy E.N. Thomas