Our numbers are growing. We now have 31 animals, which truly boggles. We received our first shipment of day-old chicks last Monday and it was a lot less sweet and a lot more horrific than I’d anticipated. Many things conspired against these beautiful babies, my status as novice the least, it turns out, among them. But, whatever the reason, losing 5 chicks in the first 48 hours of being entrusted with their lives ranked up there with among my All Time Really Bad Days. It started on Monday morning, when the Post Office called at 6:30AM to alert us to the peeping box in their sorting room. Not wanting the babies to sit in a cold warehouse any longer than necessary, I jumped into my sweats and got to the back door by 7. I couldn’t believe how tiny everything was – but of course they have to be to stay warm. Still, here was 20-something chicks in a square foot box! Wow.
But, five were already doomed. Over the next 36 hours, I would watch helplessly as one baby then another would grow listless and stop moving, allowing the others to peck it and stomp over it until it finally stopped living. It was heartbreaking. Meanwhile, I am calling my chicken friend and my husband and anyone else I can think of, convinced I am murdering these innocent babies with my sheer ignorance. But, no, my call to the hatchery elevates my care to near-miracle, the kind lady on the other end informing me that others in my place are losing 90% of their chicks. The weather in the midwest has caused disaster amongst the day old chicks – keep on keeping on b/c it’s working.
Gee, this is fun!
So, I’m holding funerals for baby chicks, per my weeping 8-year-old, and fretting every half-hour over the remaining birds. But, we turned a corner and after I stopped hyperventilating I started to really enjoy the Miracle of Life in the form of fuzzballs turning into swans before my very eyes. I’d ordered a mixture of birds and that is what we got, and each day, including today, I am truly impressed by how very beautiful they are. That’s the part of chicken-keeping folks don’t seem to say much about, but the fact is that many fairly pedestrian breeds of chickens are indeed truly beautiful and I swear every chick in my shower is spectacular (although it could be that I’m a wee bit biased). To watch them stretch their brand new wings out fully and preen is really something. Eight days ago they were fragile, clueless, just-hatched beings and already they are flitting and preening and eating and drinking and annoying each other and and and. Such is life.
They are brown and yellow and rust and black and almost white. They are fuzzy-topped and big and small. As of yesterday, a few of them discovered that these pretty wings had a use and have start flitting from one corner to another of the box.
At it’s heart, farm life is about life and death and the quality of both. That is why we started a farm, that is why we wanted our son to grow up on a farm. To understand where food comes from, to appreciate, really, from the gut, the food on his plate and feel connected to the cycle of life.
But, burying two-day old chicks is hard, no matter what your ideals. Watching the ugliness of the strong destroying the weak takes a fortitude I’m not sure I have. Waking up in the middle of the night b/c 20 lives might extinguish because the lamp I put in their box went out is, well, just a heap of responsibility. The cycle of life includes a lot death, much unplanned, and sometimes I forget that I’m the grown-up.