Corner View: Experience
I often think of the time I raised baby chicks and had a backyard flock. That experience made me see humans in a very different way, perhaps forever. They prepared me for motherhood more than any other pet I ever had. They gave me so much to think about, that even now, I can still meditate to the lessons of the chicken.
All six of them required food and warmth making me a bit anxious in trying to meet their needs the way their mother would. The heating lamp didn't seem natural. All baby chicks sit under their mother for warmth and here was this harsh lamp on them 24 hours a day. It bothered me. I woke up once at 2am and there they were, so tired, but still awake in a daze under the lamp. I dragged out a heating pad instead and hung it on the side of their cage. I covered the cage with a blanket and placed the heating lamp outside the cage at a distance where it would still provide extra warmth. I then got online and looked up alternative heating elements. Before I went to bed I peeked in on them and they were sound asleep one on top the other letting out tiny sighs and faint snores.
I wanted always to wake up to six chicks, to come home to six chicks. For two weeks I felt they kept me worried. I downloaded software that would allow me to check in on them from my work desk by logging into a private website. It didn't always work and would freeze up. All I could think about were those six chicks and keeping them alive. When I was younger, my grandparents kept chickens and I remembered when they'd start a flock they would lose a few. I had never had an animal die on me and I didn't want that experience.
When one fell ill at the end of the two weeks after I got them, I struggled to keep the others healthy and nurse the sick one back to health. I couldn't stand the idea of waking up to her cold body in the morning. I held this baby chick up to my neck all night to keep her warm, fed her garlic and onion soup, kept her away from yogurt because she had a terrible cold, and fed her a probiotic capsule. It all worked to keep her alive but it didn't kill the cold. I resisted the use on antibiotics, but A&M assured me that she was so young, by the time she'd start laying, the medicine would be long gone from her body. So finally, I bought an antibiotic, mixed it with her water and within a week she was healthy again. Gone was the coughing, sneezing and runny nose. I had no idea chicks would even get colds like humans do until then. A cold will usually bring down a baby chick, usually the whole flock.
Once the chicks got their feathers in, they moved outdoors to their coop. To keep them safe, at night they were basically in a wooden box. I checked in on them and would find a fluffy, feathery pile of quietly snoring chicks that would melt my heart. Chickens do snore. I developed an ear for them. I wouldn't wake up during a thunderstorm but I found myself waking up with any noise that came from the coop.
I raised Silkies, the sweetest breed of chicken there is. I miss the eggs we created together. Bananas and oats created a rich and buttery Silkie egg. Garlic, watermelon, yogurt, it all worked to change the flavor of the eggs and I had fun experimenting, they enjoyed all the good eats. They always had tons of oyster shell for a good, strong shell. So strong were these shells that I once forgot I had an egg in the pocket of my hoodie and it went through the wash unbroken. That's pretty legendary. A hard boiled egg is no problem to peel if your hen gets enough calcium. When they had fresh greens the yolks were as orange as the sun!
Keeping my flock happy and comfortable brought me such a sense of accomplishment. They gave me eggs year round because the coop was kept cool during a triple digit summer using a table fan and ice. During a rare, icy Texas winter they were kept cozy and warm with hay, cardboard insulation and a heating element installed to keep their water from freezing.
I did finally lose a hen. It was Ducky, the little chick I had nursed back to health. She ended up a little tubbier than the others and had gone through 63 days or so of triple digit temperatures. It was on a cool morning in September that I felt an urgency to get to the coop. I arrived only minutes after she passed, her limp body was still warm. Her sisters were at the corner cooing sadly. I buried her in a corner of the yard and planted flowers. Her death bothered me for several days and can still make me sad. She was the best mother when I gave her fertile eggs to sit on. She had been depressed for weeks when she went broody so I had to do something about it. She was so happy to sit on eggs and even happier to be a mother. I don't care how silly or crazy it sounds, Ducky will always be my feathered, two footed little hero. I contacted A&M and they wanted to run an autopsy but I told them she was already buried. They said she probably had a weak heart which is why she fell ill to the cold as a chick and probably had a weak immune system all along.
I had to give away my backyard flock when I left Austin and started traveling with my husband. For months I had dreams about the chickens and their coop. In many dreams I'd be walking along and find them in their coop with water needing to be changed and their feeders empty with several weeks worth of eggs in their nests. That was a nightmare. I missed them. I wondered if they were missing me. Eventually the nightmares stopped, they are still alive and living in San Antonio. At least they were last I asked. I don't ask anymore. The lifespan of a Silkie can be 9-13 years. I had to give them up at four years old. One day I will raise Silkies again.
Just before we left the hospital with August, a woman came in to give us a book on child rearing and a quick run down of do's and don'ts and newborn safety. On the way home I sat in the back seat watching August stretch and move, yawn and make cute little sighs before falling asleep in her car seat. I got up close, feeling her baby breath on my nose, I could hear the sweetest little snore. I wasn't at all nervous or anxious, I already had experience caring for the teeny-tiniest of lives.