No one warned me that it’s possible to develop an addiction to poultry. I’ve been a shoe addict. A handbag hoarder. A girl obsessed with the perfectly done “smokey eye.” I have been addicted to spray tan. Acrylic nails. Even cigarettes for a whole year in college. But chickens? What kind of girl is addicted to chickens? It’s a question I had not once given any consideration. Until it happened to me.
I’ve been dying for baby chicks ever since falling head over heels in love with Rosie and Henrie, our two Rhode Island Red pullets (farm-girl vocabulary word, meaning young hen). They cluck and coo and follow me around the garden, plump feathered bodies and inquisitive eyes, necks craning to see just exactly what I’m doing. If I’m digging up weeds, they are digging next to me. If I’m digging a hole to plant holly bushes, either Henrie or Rosie is in the hole when I turn back. If Sage heads up to the house, one of “the girls” follows her up to the door, hoping for treats.
We didn’t get to raise them from chicks, so I have really wanted to have little bitties around. Which made Sage’s 5th birthday the perfect excuse to order baby chicks. And really it IS the perfect gift for her, because she is a girl equally hooked on chickens. In fact, she usually has at least one chicken (or occasionally a duck) in tow when she’s outside. And sometimes when she comes in.
A month or so ago we bought a pair of black silkie chickens, male and female. Sage so loves the silkies that I ordered her 4 more, as well as a couple Barred Rock girls, a blue Orpingon and a bantam mottled Cochin. They hatched on the 28th of October, and I was about to come out of my skin with excitement, awaiting their arrival.
I obsessively stalked the online tracking page. I followed their journey across state. I even called a local post office when I noticed they’d made it to Hampden on Tuesday afternoon of that week. Just in case I could scoot over and intercept my chirpy parcel…. Which I could not.
However, at 5am Wednesday morning, the postmaster called me to let me know I could come over and get them. So I started my vehicle to rid it of frost, scurried around, under-caffeinated and freezing cold, to set up the brooder. Then decided it was too chilly in the barn for them, even with the heat lamp, since we had not been running the heat out there yet. So I made an impromptu brooder out of an empty plastic tote, covered the bottom with pine shavings, set up the water and food and turned on the lamp… and off I drove.
The teeny box of chicks was cheep-ing so loudly I could hear it before the woman at the post office opened the big metal doors out back at the loading area. Driving home I prayed there were no dead chickies inside (because this happens sometimes).
My husband was ready with coffee when I bustled in and began cutting the taped edges to peek inside at our little bundles of fluff and joy. Eight chirping babies huddled in the little next of straw. But one didn’t seem well…
One by one I put them down on the floor of the brooder. And a little gray silkie didn’t hop around like the others. She wouldn’t bare weight on one foot. She fell over when she tried to move. Her foot was limp, toes curled lifelessly. My heart sank. And broke a little bit.
I did what any concerned mother would do: I used social media to get emergency info. Stat.
I learned she could be given Poly-Vi-Sol without iron (infant vitamin drops), so I rushed to the pharmacy and took the last bottle. (If you live in my area and cannot find this for your infant, my apologies. My chicken needed vitamins. I’m sure you understand.)
I was directed to numerous sites displaying splints and shoes and structural support for my chicken’s legs, feet and gait, the likes of which I would have certainly needed my cousin Patrick and his masters degree in architecture to construct properly. Although this did not prevent me from trying.
We named the little chick Hopalong. She was the first one of the batch with a name. Checking on little Hopalong has become a family routine. My husband holds her in his palm, so she can drink her water. I administer the drops of vitamins thrice daily. My littlest girl – the family chicken whisperer – announces dutifully any time Hopalong appears to have the dreaded “pasty butt.” (farm-girl vocabulary, meaning a plug of poop dried onto the vent – aka butt – of a baby chick, which could prevent future poops and lead to some type of internal combustion I am going to assume. It is fatal anyway…. So to remedy this, one must dip the chick’s butt in warm water and carefully remove this little poopy. The announcing is Sage’s job. The removal is mine. We live for clearly defined roles in my house, apparently.)
I tried a splint on her, and she stood, both feet on the ground. Then she promptly fell over, her wrapped leg swishing recklessly around her, squawks of panic rapid fire from her little gray beak.
I called the bird sanctuary. They don’t help domestic birds. Fantastic. But they do recommend letting her just adapt.
I called the vet. They recommend euthanizing her. I’ll pass, thanks.
I had a pit in my stomach for hours, trying to figure out how to wrap a leg the size of a toothpick into an “anatomically correct” position with non-adhesive bandaging. It appeared from all investigation that she has a slipped achilles, and one is supposed to be able to feel that and manually slide it into place. Seriously? People can do that?!
So I came to the point by the day’s end where I had talked to everyone I could think of, and my husband and I finally determined we’d let her be. She was not suffering, she is eating and drinking. She uses her one good leg to hop. She stands like a tiny, fuzzy-looking gray flamingo. She balances with her little wing tips on the ground. And she’s not being tormented by the other girls.
Each day it seems she’s faring alright. Today the girls are a week old. I don’t know what the future will hold for Hopalong. Chickens are pretty tough cookies when it comes to seeing and eliminating weakness in a flock. My prayer is that Hopalong will be one of those feel-good stories of a little one with the odds stacked against her overcoming obstacles and having a good life. But I know that it’s possible her story won’t be that way. And it’s a bit of a thing where I have to just not be in charge. Which is not my forte. So even in these little chick-raising moments, God is stretching me. Reminding me I’m not in charge, our world is not perfect, and bringing to mind that the Bible says His eye is on the sparrow… and I know if he sees the little sparrow, he sees my little Hopalong, too.
The other girls are all doing well. We have Cookie and Cupcake, the two Barred Rocks. A buff Silkie named Sparkles. Two white Silkies, Rainbow and Daffodil. The mottled Cochin, who is named Spottie after my mom’s childhood chicken. And a blue Orpington my dad – who was here visiting the day they arrived and who helped me in my first effort to splint Hopalong – named Bluebell.
They’re in my sitting area now. Chattering and chirping nonstop. Scratching around. Eating, pooping, drinking, bustling. Being subjected to Sage’s mandatory “butt checks.” (She’s such a farm-girl. But for real, you do have to do regular pasty butt checks on these little ones.) It’s crazy how they’ve grown and changed in a week!
And because if a little bit’s good, a lot must be better, I ordered more chicks today. I did ask permission from my husband, though. And he said, “Get whatever you’d like.” (He’s spoiling me with chickens, you guys.) So I ordered his Barred Rock rooster, for whom he will have to mull over the perfect name. And two White Rocks. Two Ameraucanas (because they lay blue eggs!!!). And another Rhode Island Red (because the first two are simply delightful). And I’m done. I’m cutting myself off. This is it. For now. Really.
He must have been playing it safe when he built the 12×8 foot chicken house…. Have I told you lately how much I adore my husband?