Morning came around and each of us in our own sleepy time padded to the kitchen to peek at the new arrivals. Expecting to see them cuddling together in a sleepy heap of feathers, I took my turn. Instead, all ten chicks were cheeping and scarfing food like riotous teenagers.The feeder bottle, that was completely full yesterday, was empty and they were just finishing the crumbs in the bottom plate. I filled the chicks’ food again and scooped misbehaving wood chips from the water dish before starting breakfast for the rest of us. Babies! I thought.
Throughout the day I found myself peeking out the window at them. In the later morning I noticed one bird, a Rhode Island Red, very still under the heat lamp. I remembered my father explaining to me as a child that chicks made poor pets because it was too easy to over handle and kill them. Had Anna somehow hurt the chick with her zealous mothering yesterday? She’d had her in the kitchen for quite a while.
Continuing on with my work, I left the birds to themselves for a while. My daughter’s friend was coming over after school; they would have plenty of attention then.
In Anna’s first grade class there’s a girl who wishes, with all her heart, she could live on a farm. Sometimes, when she comes over to play, my daughter realizes she’s been left alone in her room and embarks on a search and rescue. It is certain her friend will be found in one of two places: the kitchen with the dogs, or outside with the hens. Savannah had been the eager recipient of Anna’s excitement over the past weeks and was almost as interested in the chicks as we were.
Once again, the kids arrived home from school making a bee line to the porch, this time a group of three.The lone chick was still under the lamp, swaying on unsteady legs, eyes closed despite the activity around her.
“What’s up with that one?” Matt asked.
“I’m not sure, but let’s leave it alone.”
The girls took turns loving on the other chicks and an hour and a half passed by quickly. Worrying about the little bird, I wondered if I’d left a stray staple in the cage in my failed attempt to devise a cardboard wall to contain the wood chips. Maybe the bird had somehow ingested it. When I caught myself saying a prayer for the chick, I knew I needed to focus on something else. This gives new meaning to praying over your food. I thought.
After occupying myself with tasks around the house for a couple hours, I located my phone and dialed the supply store. The owner answered and I blurted out the question that had been troubling me.
“Should we be careful not to handle the chicks too much?”
“No, just the opposite.” He said. “The more you handle them, the better. They’ll be easier to work with once they’re grown.”
Relieved, I hung up the phone, thankful I didn’t have to run interference between youthful affection and baby birds.
That evening, just before dinner, the doorbell rang. It was the man from the feed store with packets of electrolytes to add to the water. He was on his way home and thought it might help the sick baby I’d told him about. I mixed a pitcher full of chick-Gatorade and presented it to the flock. The sick one remained motionless in her warm spot under the light while a curious buddy pecked at her. I wasn’t sure she was going to move enough to take a drink. Shutting the cage door, I determined not to look at them again for the rest of the night. This was getting out of hand!
You’ll be happy to know the next morning, when I took my first peek, all the chicks were up and about. Crouching down to get a closer look, I tried to locate the sick one, but couldn’t pick her out of the crowd.
I’m now certain, rooster or no rooster, these little fellows aren’t going to end up on our dinner table. They’ve been fully inducted into our circle of pets. Shhh, don’t tell the Chihuahuas though, they need a little more time to adjust.