This is a story that I do not want to tell.
This is a story that I had high hopes would be dramatically different from what I am about to share. A huge part of me does not want to do this. So please know that this story is being drug out of me. I mean kicking and screaming, full on tantrum, I do not want to.
One reason that I am telling this story is because when you do your best to raise responsible children, your words can come back and bite you. On this day, that very thing has happened to me. After talking with my Part-Timer, she convinced me that I have to tell this story. Up until our conversation, I was not going to, but she reminded me what this whole thing is about in the first place. This blog is about exploring small-scale farming. If we are honest, there is a side to farming that is ugly. It is not fun. It is not something that we want to discuss, and it is something that we want to avoid at all possible cost.
So, here goes...
As you know, we ordered baby chicks last fall. We lost a few in the process, some things we had no control over and some we did, but we learned from our mistakes and moved on. I also ended up with two roosters that needed to go, but was able to manage finding them good homes. In the end we ended up with 29 chickens total, including the five original girls that have been with us from the beginning.
We did have one exception in this group and that is Little Chick. Who is Little Chick? I haven't written about her. I have spoken to a few of you about her, but I really didn't know how this was going to go, so I haven't mentioned her. The truth is that I have been hoping for a miracle and an awesome story to tell.
I started calling her Little Chick from the beginning of our adventure together. I can't explain why, but it just stuck. Over the Christmas Holiday, both the girls were here and we were out in the coop working when we noticed one little girl not doing very well. We watched her for a bit, but noticed that she was not moving around. She was smaller than the other girls, and she had picked a spot near the water and that is where she layed down. We were herding all the girls to one side so that we could get a count to make sure we had them all and she didn't move to get up. She was just laying there and letting the others step all over her.
I picked her up and she was really light weight. I sat her on her two feet and she took a step or two, and then sat down. This happened a couple of times, and I picked her up to examine her as best that I could. I initially thought that she had hurt her leg or something.
I immediately moved her to a private section of the coop that we call the infirmary. It has been used to let little ones pack on some weight without getting picked on by bigger hens. It was used to let the one chicken that was attacked by the possum heal. It was used to isolate aggressive hens, a time-out if you will. I even used this area to let my roosters fill out a little before trying to get rid of them. The bigger hens had been tormenting them by pulling their tail feathers out.
I don't know why chickens are so mean.
Little Chick was placed in the infirmary and in an attempt to get her health back, I started feeding her people food. She was not interested in eating the chicken feed that the others were getting, but she became very interested in the little mini-meals that I began feeding her throughout the day. I have no doubt that if I had not done this, she would have been dead within days. She was just not eating anything. These mini-meals included things like steamed corn, steamed peas, cooked rice and sliced tomatoes. I really thought we were getting somewhere with this girl.
I am not going to list all the details of what we have been through together, but you should know that this started at the end of December. This chicken went through cycles of doing better and then going through quick declines. I removed her from the other chickens as a precaution early on. If this was something bad, I didn't want it sweeping through my flock.
I am very happy to report to you that none of the other girls have experienced any problems.
I have read books, searched the Internet, read Chicken health forums, asked people, you name it - nothing. I tried several things to help her. Medications, wormers, special diet - all to no avail. Always the same scenario of moments of getting stronger and then a decline. Most of the information that I was getting was pointing me in the same direction. I needed to cull the bird.
Do you know what that means? It means to dispose of the bird.
I didn't want to do that.
I did not want to do that.
Can I say again that I did not want to do that.
I made a deal with Little Chick, if she would get better, she could live separate from the other hens. She was not required to give eggs. She could have a special house up by me and she could just live out her days doing whatever she liked. All she had to do was get better. I even started her on physical therapy to help her get stronger. When I was outside working, I would take her with me. She would wonder around a little and get to be out in the sunshine and move around. I can't say that I was seeing vast improvements, but I can tell you that she always stuck near by. If I moved away, she made her way to me.
Last weekend, we had a little remodel project going on at our house and Little Chick stayed out with me. She stayed fairly close by and seemed to be moving around okay. I won't say that she was doing great, but I felt like we may get somewhere with her eventually if we kept up our approach. Then it all took a turn for the worse during the week. She basically layed down one day and didn't get up. She had a nice pen in the garage with a heat lamp and a radio. I mean, what else could a chicken want? She just gave up though. Once she layed down, that was it and it was obvious to me that she was suffering. I learned last year to define an animal as suffering when that animal can not make it to food and water on its own. Little Chick was no longer doing this and she left me with no choice.
I will tell you that last week, I prayed for God to just heal her or take her. Please do not make me have to do this. I want to be a Farmer, but I do not want to participate in the ugly side of farming. It makes me think of the mean old farmer that seems to have no feelings at all towards the livestock. As if it is all just business, nothing more. I am sure there are farmers that fall into this category, but I would like to think that there are farmers that feel the way I do. They abhor the part of their job that requires tough decisions and actions that make you want to run screaming in the other direction.
I can tell you that I did all I could. I did more than most would have and it did not work. I had one last thing to do, and I did. Little Chick is not suffering any longer. The feelings that it left me with make me want to be a better farmer. I take very good care of my animals and this is why.
I had hoped of a day when I could share Little Chick's story with you, and it would have a happy ending. It would include the struggle of overcoming her weaknesses, but it would end with her survival. It would have ended with her living in a mini-coop up at the house, following me around the yard and garden at chore-time. She would be sitting under a shade tree in the afternoon heat living the good life. That is the story that I had hoped to tell.
Unfortunately it did not work out that way. There are things that are beyond our control. I do not know why she didn't develop like the others. I do know that no matter what you do, you can not make them all thrive. From the financial side of being a farmer, I can tell you that what I have done was not practical. It did not make sense on a monetary level and it did not make sense from a labor stand point. I went above and beyond, and was very happy to do so, it just was not enough.
As much as I have cried, and as much as I would like to just sit down and cry some more, I won't. There just comes a time when you have to put your big girl panties on and go back to work.