Life and Death on the Farm

Author Photo
By Lori Havens

Strong storms moved through most of Wisconsin last night. Though we had quite the lightning show and heavy wind and rain, we were spared the structural damage that seems to have hit farther east, in the Madison area. Nonetheless, the wind and soaking rains did lead to the loss of three of our young chickens. It would have been four, had it not been for Farmer Bryan’s quick actions, which saved a hypothermic bird.

She is one who doesn’t yet have her full feathers. Most of them do, but a few are a bit “behind” their pasture-mates. Bryan ran her into the house, into the basement where the brooder used to be. I ran to the barn to grab a chain from which Bryan then suspended one of the heat lamps we use for the baby chicks. Our bird was dropping her head down to the ground. Her eyes were closed, and she was shaking quite hard. We set her down in the little child’s pool we keep as a “hospital pen” for sick chicks. We tossed a couple of towels into the microwave to heat them up, then wrapped our little patient in two of them, and placed her under the heat lamp. It wasn’t looking good.

There were still the other birds outside who needed food, water, and freedom from their nighttime confines, so Bryan headed up and out to finish chores while I sat with our shivering bird. I remembered my experience, back in high school, with a November canoe trip in Michigan. A classmate who was goofing around (foolishly so) in her canoe lost her balance and fell into the cold river. We spent hours with her, battling hypothermia. I remember distinctly being told, “Whatever you do, don’t let her fall asleep. Keep her awake. Talk to her, sing to her, rub her skin, just don’t let her fall asleep.” So I figured I’d do the same thing with the chicken. I talked to her, sang to her, petted her head and neck … which were the only parts sticking out of the towel-wrap. Then I finally turned on the radio, so she could hear music. I carefully lifted the waterer to her beak, and tried to coax her to take a drop. I had filled the jar with very warm water, and added just a dash of “Save-A-Chick,” which is an electrolyte powder. It looks and smells like orange Gatorade. She only took one drop. I prayed …

After about 15 minutes, she briefly opened her eyes. A good sign! I talked to her, petted her, and re-adjusted her towel wraps. Her eyes opened more often, and she seemed to look at me. After a little more time, she was noticeably more alert, and began to squirm just a bit inside her wraps. I pulled them back, but just a little bit, as she was still shivering.

I didn’t time this, but I’m guessing it took about 30 minutes of sitting in the towel wraps, under the heat lamps, before I smelled the clear notice that her kidneys and her digestive system were functioning normally (smiles). I don’t love that smell, but this time, it was a welcome sign that her organs hadn’t shut down! Once she’d done this, she really wanted out of the wraps. I opened them more, enough that she could get out if she really wanted to, but they were still there if she was cold.

She began to move, but was really stumbling around. This lasted another half-hour or so, during which time she ate a bit (another good sign) of food from her tray, tried to perch on her tray, fell into her tray, sat in her tray, and, finally, walked out of her tray.

As her gait became more steady, and she began to explore the walls of the little pool, we decided to “wall her in,” just in case she found the strength to make a jump for escape.

Once we saw that she was thoroughly dry and thoroughly recovered, Farmer Bryan dodged her pecking beak and was able to grab her for the trip back outside to her pasture home, and her pasture-mates. It was hot and humid outside … perfect weather for a chicken!

It was so cute … as we approached the pasture, her pasture-mates stopped their activity and peeked around the Chicken Huts to see what was happening. When Bryan stepped into the paddock with our little patient, they all came running, as if to say, “Yay! You made it! You’re home!”

Bryan placed her in the Chicken Hut, near the food trough, and her pasture-mates flocked around to see their missing friend.

We are sad to have lost three of these chickens, but it was sure satisfying to nurse this one back to health! We have more possible storms predicted for tonight, so we are praying that she stays safe and dry. Think we’ll get up with the sun tomorrow morning and check on them, just in case we need to warm up some more.

Published on Jun 18, 2014