The other evening I went to our local Tractor Supply Company to see if they had gotten the latest Backyard Poultry magazine (I wrote the article in it about dressing chickens up in costumes.)
“Are you going to pick up any chicks?” My daughter asked, hope shining in her eyes.
“Nope, we’re scheduled to get 9 baby chicks the first week of May and that’s enough for us.”
I did, however, have plans to at least look at the TSC chicks.
When I went over to the chick tubs and looked down, in one tub of golden comets sat a tired little black chick huddled in a corner. This chick was breathing heavy. She was lethargic and didn’t try to get away from me when I approached. All very bad signs.
When I teach my chicken workshop I tell people that chicks are not like puppies. With chicks you want the bright bouncy ones with shiny eyes, not the calm one who is relaxed and most likely won’t chew up your sofa. A calm chick is often a sick chick, leave them be.
I took out my phone and snapped a photo of this little guy to show future workshops of the type of chick you do *not* want to get.
I stayed and watched the chicks a little longer and when this little guy did try to get up, I saw what the problem was. One foot was curled under making it impossible for her to walk. She stumbled, she fell and then she cowered when some of the other chicks came over to peck her.
I called a store clerk over. I want a chick, I told him.
“I want that one.”
“Oh you don’t want this one,” he told me. “She’s not doing so good.”
I explained that I had experience with chickens and that I was going to take her home and do what needed to be done for her foot (at that point I didn’t know if it was webbed and curled or just curled.)
I would take care of her.
“Okay,” he said and as he put the chick in a box, he wished her well.
When we got home, Addy and I booted the baby’s foot. I cut out a small triangular piece of thin cardboard (I used the box she came home in) and then using medical tape, I first spread her toes out onto the tape and then taped her foot onto the board.
I must say that our little baby rocked that boot.
Using one of my sons’ winter hats as a substitute “mama’s bum”, we placed the baby chick in her nursery with food and water and waited.
“If she’s alive in the morning, she may have a chance,” I told my kids.
The next morning, she was indeed alive. Although she was eating a few bites of food, she wasn’t drinking – anything. Her heavy breathing continued and when I held her near my ear I could hear a definite “click” every time she breathed – the universal sign of respiratory distress in a chick.
Darn it. I removed her boot so that she didn’t have to deal with that discomfort.
By the evening, I knew that she wasn’t going to make it and so I tucked her into the fuzzy hat, kept her warm and sent her positive thoughts each time I passed her crate.
She died warm in the hat in a household that had cared deeply about her short life.
In the end, I was right. That is *not* the kind of chick that you want to buy. You want the active, upright ones that will grow into successful members of your flock. Sick and hurt ones die.
But in a very clear example of do what I say and not what I do, I have to confess that for this mama hen – I’ll take home a little one in trouble every time so that I can, at the very least, give it a chance.
Wendy Thomas writes about the lessons learned while raising children and chickens in New Hampshire. Contact her at Wendy@SimpleThrift.com
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