feathered friends

I’ve wanted to raise chickens for a very long time. I’ve written about this before but since then I’ve been steadily researching and studying (breeds, coop designs, general care etc.) Besides my own personal interest in chickens, I’ve also been strongly motivated to have them for my kids. Not just as the usual “4-H” type learning experience but also because one of my sons has a really intense fear of birds. When he was two years old he was strapped in his stroller at the local county fair when a rooster went berserk right in his face. It traumatized him so profoundly that four years later he still is irrationally terrified by any winged creature. My hope was that by introducing him to tiny little chicks (which I knew he would love) and forming an attachment that way, then as the chicks grew he would also outgrow the fear. (Wouldn’t it be nice if there were soft and cuddly versions of all the things that torment us, that we could love and grow through? Or maybe that’s just what all of life is…)

So this Thursday I turned yet another dream into a reality. The boys and I drove up to a local feed store and brought home the first two chicks for our flock—a Rhode Island Red and a Barred Plymouth Rock. After we set up our brooder I told the boys they could decide what to name them. They surprised me with an interesting idea–they wanted to name one Monday and the other Tuesday (and continue on with the names of the week as we got more.) How could I disagree with such a cute idea?

The last two days were a non-stop a celebration of the chicks. Both boys were enchanted by them they actually asked if they could sleep with the chicks! I, on the other hand, was not sleeping at all because I was up all night checking on them, cleaning their water, adjusting and re-adjusting the heat lamp to make sure they weren’t too hot or too cold. It was just like having infants all over again.

Then yesterday afternoon I noticed that Tuesday (the Barred Rock) was droopy, panting and didn’t appear to be eating or drinking. My chicken mentor, Amy, came over and suggested dipping Tuesday’s beak in the water to make sure she was drinking and not getting dehydrated. As the evening went on, the beak-dipping still wasn’t making her drink and she was clearly getting worse. I spent most of the night on the internet reading everything about chick health I could find.

After reading and reading, I was still torn about whether I should leave her alone to rest or intervene. By midnight I decided I needed to force her to drink. So every few hours throughout the night I held her and gave her drops of water from an eye dropper. Each time I did this I hoped she would suddenly be revitalized and return to being the happy little chick that came home with us. But instead she just became more listless, barely able to stand up. Meanwhile Monday started to mercilessly peck at her (the way animals often choose to attack a sick or dying member–one of nature’s cruelties that is very hard to watch.)

Finally at 7:30 this morning when I was giving Tuesday another dose of water from the dropper, she died in my hands. It’s amazing how much sadness and loss one can feel about a creature that has only been in your life for less than two days. But there is something so deeply bonding about caring for another living thing. As the tears were streaming down my face, I couldn’t help but also think about my hypocrisy in not crying every time I eat chicken for dinner. Another reason to be close to the food you consume.

Rest in Peace little Tuesday.

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