On Wednesday, Chew brought home a batch of newly hatched meat chicks. As we gently placed each one into the roomy brooder pen he’d made, he noticed something odd about one of them.
“Keep an eye on this one,” he said. “It’s not acting right. It could be tired from the hatching, but…” He paused a minute. “Just keep an eye on it, okay?”
I nodded. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to watch FOR. As the other chicks eagerly took their first-ever nibbles of chick-starter feed and sipped from their water dish, the tired chick didn’t move from beneath the heat lamp. I carefully dipped its beak into the feed and the water a few times. Finally, it began to taste a bit from each dish. We let out a sigh of relief.
The next morning, the relief was gone. The little chick was definitely not well. It was throwing its head back, and kept losing its balance. Having never encountered this kind of behavior before, I turned to the trusty computer. After thoroughly checking several sites, I had come up with a probable diagnosis (“Wry Neck”) and a remedy (vitamin E and Selenium, with electrolytes).
One big problem: we didn’t have any of those items on hand, and I had no way to go get them. I did some more internet searching, and came up with a recipe for homemade electrolytes (almost identical to an electrolyte powder for humans I had once learned). As I retrieved the baking soda to add to the concoction, I noticed a small packet of “all-natural hangover relief” tablets I had been sent as a product test. I scoured the ingredients and noticed Selenium, Vitamin E, and the B vitamins.
Checking dosage amounts and ruling out any dangers from the capsule’s other ingredients, I pulled the capsule apart and dumped it into the homemade electrolyte mix.
Once an hour, for 9 hours, I carefully dipped the ailing chick’s beak into the concoction until I was certain it had taken a few sips. Afterwards, I would set the poor bird into a box beneath the heat lamp, where it could hear its siblings without fear of being pecked or trampled.
When Chew came home, I met him in the driveway. I told him about the ailing chick, and he came in to check. He shook his head.
“It doesn’t look good,” he said.
Again, he was right. I continued the hourly dosages until 2:30 in the morning. During the last two, the little chick no longer even tried to swallow. It hadn’t opened its eyes in over 12 hours, and could no longer stand up without falling onto its back.
Neither Chew nor I were surprised in the morning, when we found that our little patient had passed away. Still, I couldn’t help mourning our loss.
On Saturday, when we went to visit the folks we had bought the chicks from, I described the symptoms.
“Oh,” said the girl, “That’s a sign of dehydration. It’s not that rare in chicks that are hatched out of incubators. The next time, have some bootstrap molasses on hand. Mix a Tablespoon in warm water, and add it to enough drinking water to make about a quart. That almost always brings them out of it.”
Could it BE that simple? I wanted to cry. Why didn’t anyone have that information online, or in any of the chicken books I had desperately poured through?
When we got home, I went into the barn to sit by the remaining meat chicks and lament my ignorance. My silent self-berating was interrupted when Chew called my name.
In the yard, our two barn cats had something in their grasps. These cats are phenomenal mousers who earn their keep by keeping all rodents out of our barns and coops. Twice, in addition to mice and moles, they have delivered a chipmunk to our barn door.
Now, they had number three.
I commanded them to drop it, and they did. They looked at me in puzzled confusion as I scooped the chipmunk up in my hand and took it in to show Chew. It was a baby, probably not out of its nest for long, and its little heart was pounding so hard that I could feel it reverberating through my wrist.
I released the little critter, away from the still-perplexed cats. When I returned, I gave them lots of praise and a few treats. I wondered why on Earth I had bothered to rescue the little critter, knowing darn good and well that it was bound to either raid our stash of nuts, burrow into one of our buildings, or wind up as a kitty treat.
Why had I spent the better part of a full day, trying to save the life of a one-day old chick that was destined to be our dinner? It made no sense… and yet, it made perfect sense.
That little chick was intended to be food, true. However, it was also a living creature that was entitled to the best care and compassion that we could give it during its two months on Earth. That chipmunk was in danger, and I was in the position to save it. Next time, it might be on its own, but this wasn’t “next time.” This was NOW.
Honestly, “now” is all we have to work with.