We have decided to raise chickens. And by that statement, I mean that I have decided to raise chickens, and he was caught up in my excitement and cute little balls of fluff and the promise of fresh eggs. So now there are three chicks quietly beeping at each other in the corner of our home office, the boundary of their world a three square foot wooden shipping crate. I’ll admit, I find a strange sort of peace in their chatter.
Raising chickens is both simpler and far more involved than you might imagine. Or perhaps it is only far more involved because I have made it so. I have read an unreasonable number of books on rearing chicks in the last two months; everything from the prototypical farmer’s manual of raising poultry to lighthearted anecdotes of urban flocks. I have gone to urban poultry keeping seminars. I have cornered people outside their chicken coops in an attempt to barrage them with questions. Like all things, I am determined to go into this well armed with any knowledge I am able to obtain in advance.
I was thoroughly unprepared for yesterday’s ordeal, however. My aging calico had surprisingly expressed little interest in the chicks, and yesterday she was lounging in the kitchen as I started to open the office door. Before I could even get the door open far enough for me to pass through, she shot past me and was in the brooder. The brooder which I had been meaning to cover with hardware cloth, at the same time in which I pull hardware cloth across the outdoor run. In a day or two… no hurry. Fortunately, I was only one step behind her, and reached her just in time to see her crouched on the floor of the shipping crate, her tail sticking straight up, my two week old buff orpington chick in her mouth. I grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and literally tossed her out the office doorway. I still can’t believe I did that. She growled, then slunk off to go hide for the remainder of the day.
When I returned to the chick, she was laying on her side, panting. With the other two chicks still screaming from their places on the brooder perch, I scooped up the little ball of fuzz and held her in my cupped hands as she tried to catch her breath. She kept holding one leg out behind her, and I was certain that it was broken. She had a small puncture wound on her back, squarely between her wings. I spent twenty minutes holding her and wrestling with the decision to kill her or not. Should I put her out of her misery? Was she going to die on her own? Was she even in pain? After a time, the little chick made the decision for me, by pulling her leg underneath her, perching on my wrist, looking me square in the face and chirping. I think that was when I realized that she might somehow be alright. I frantically searched my books and the internet to gain a consensus of what one does with a wounded chicken, besides culling her. I cleaned the wound with an alcohol wipe, and applied neosporin to it. I separated her from the other two chicks, assuming that was the best plan of action.
All three began screaming. They squawked all night. The little buff chick seemed unable to figure out that the food and water in dishes in her container was the exact same as the food and water in the chick feeders to which she’d become accustomed. She refused to eat from the dishes, and I found myself rotating chickens into and out of the brooder container every couple of hours so she would eat. By morning the buff was pasted, and needed to be cleaned. I had no idea that chickens could be this involved. My books compared the responsibility level and time commitment of keeping a flock to that of keeping a couple of gerbils.
Finally, I returned to the farm and garden store today, planning to purchase additional chick feeders for the buff. I told them what happened, and asked if there was anything else I should be doing. They suggested an oral antibiotic and an antiseptic with gentian violet to stain the injured chick’s skin blue and prevent the others from pecking her wound. Then they could all be together again, and (hopefully) quieter. I followed their instructions, and held my breath as I placed her back into the main brooder with the others. At first, I thought they were pecking her, and then I realized that they were actually just trying to clean her feathers of the blue dye. I’m not certain what to make of that.
So twenty-four dollars later, I have a chicken on the road to recovery. While I am a firm believer that the chickens are here to serve a purpose, not to live their lives as pets, I’m glad that I made the decision to keep her. I hope she’ll be alright. And her eggs had better be amazing.