At this point in the story about raising these ten baby chickens this spring, it was obvious to me that Amelia would not going to fit in with the other girls. I was certain of this because of the loosely collected facts from read articles, phone and text consultations with veteran chicken owners, as well as careful observation when I tried to reintroduce her. Up went a post on Facebook about trying to find a home for an ostracized chick.
Within hours, great news arrived through this fabulously effective social media channel from my friend Kelly (mentioned in earlier post). She is the owner of a small flock of Silkies, and had agreed to take Amelia. In discussing logistics with her, I made a stunning discovery. Apparently, one of her hens had become broody and Kelly’s thought was that Amelia could be snuck in over night and the hen might awaken with the discovery that her hard work hovering over her eggs had actually paid off. Oh, the cunning trickery! What we also might have going for us was, in addition to the fact that her gal wasn’t very bright, Silkies are reportedly known for adopting other chicks quite well.
After returning home from delivering Amelia to Kelly, I returned her infirmary buddy to the box that was now once again a single compartment. I had little fear about the mild mannered buff chick fitting back in since she hadn’t been picked on by the others in trial reintroductions. That night, I rested comfortably for the first time in weeks hoping that the two chicks would find their way back to the simple task of growing without being killed.
The next morning, I popped out to the garage feeling like it was a fresh start. I had been thinking as I fell asleep the night before that I should clean the box right away to decrease the likelihood that any bad bacteria or viruses would lessen our chances of successly raising these chicks. When I had called the feed store where I got the chicks to ask if they had been vaccinated for Merek’s (“indeed they have”, was the indignant reply), I was quizzed about my poultry husbandry. Was the lamp positioned so they weren’t huddling? You bet. How about fresh water? Duh. Happen to try Save a Chick electrolyte supplement? Yep. And apple cider vinegar, P.S.
As I gently scooped out the litter and droppings, I shooed the chicks to the side, so I could lift the waste out with the flat shovel we used to clean the box. My breath caught for an instant when I saw the limp body of the buff chick get trampled by her sisters. And then, when they passed to the corner, I believe I saw her struggle to right herself but one of her feet was curled up on her side and her head bobbed back and forth. This was not good at all.
I didn’t need to think too hard about what was coming as I scooped fresh shavings into the original small box I had used to transport the chicks home. I placed her still body into the box and stroked her with a finger while I thought about what to do next.
As you read, you might remember that I had never been able to name either of the two Buff Orpingtons. As I fussed over what I knew in my heart could be the last few hours of this one’s life and raised a small dish to her beak to see if she would drink, it came to me. Because she was the only pal to Amelia and because she was so sweet, I decided on Copine. French for girlfriend.
I didn’t know what else to do but give her the day and observe her. Water and food remained untouched and when night fell, I received a sad update from Kelly. Amelia had died because the flock of Silkies had rejected her like mine and attempted to cull her. Kelly noticed what was happening and pulled the exhausted chick from the run and kept her comfortable until she died.
With a sick feeling I couldn’t shake, I tried to distract myself with other chores that day but knew what I had to do. But how would I find the courage and how would I do it? Axe? Hammer? Yikes. I poked around online and thought about this true initiation into being a farmer. I didn’t want to rely on my husband to do it because I knew that this was part of raising livestock. Even though he was way better suited to the task, as he had killed many animals in his years on his childhood farm. Things way bigger than chicks, like cattle. I knew I needed to toughen up.
Some people who have almost drowned report a peaceful feeling right before the end. I have always thought myself that this would be the least terrifying way to die. So, knowing that chicks love to be warm, I filled a bucket with body temperature water. In a trance, I performed the task, praying in a soft voice for this creature’s little bird soul. I don’t need to get into the details of how it happened, because I’d like to spare anyone reading this the graphic memory of her last moments. Dying is rarely peaceful. I dug a hole for her under a Japanese maple in our garden and fought back tears as I buried her and gently placed three smooth cobblestones on top of her grave. It started to rain just as I finished.
I believe that I will, like most animal owners who have euthanized a pet, wonder if Copine could have miraculously rebounded. So much smaller than the others from the start, what would her life have looked like if she had? I comfort myself mostly with the question of who would want to eat the eggs of a chicken who carried the Herpes virus. It also helps me to remember that two flocks had attempted to cull Amelia and that is normal chick attrition. Attrition is such a rough word but I was getting tougher by the day as a farm gal. As tough as B is, I am guessing he was relieved that night that he only had to come home from work and hear the sad story being told…