The Spark of Life

Chickens are truly amazing creatures. They’re fearful yet inquisitive, loud and active during the day yet completely docile the second the sun goes down. The family and I have been chicken farmers for a little over a year now, and the things we’re still learning blow me away.

Recently, our Queen-hen-of-all-things decided she wanted to have babies. So we let “Blondie” sit on her eggs. They didn’t hatch, but she didn’t give up. Blondie sat on a new batch of eggs, she skipped meals, skipped drinking water, skipped laying. Occasionally she’d poke her head out of the coop, then run right back in to take care of her soon to be babies. She’d coo when we opened the hatch door to the nesting boxes and pat her head.

Then, finally, two eggs hatched. She became the best momma in the whole wide world. And so did two other hens. As soon as those chicks arrived, the other hens wanted to take the credit for all of Blondie’s hard work. They squished their way into the nesting box to share responsibility of keeping the chicks warm. They sat on the babies while they ventured into the run. And they left the babies in various places around the yard—for the man and kids and I to rescue—until they learned how to climb the ramp into the coop to go to bed for the night.

Dumb birds. Where were they when Blondie was skipping meals? They were pigging out, of course!

So, since these two hens now wanted to be mommas, I decided to let them sit on three eggs. Wow. They got mean! Pecked at our hands, ran at us like they wanted to kill us, and pretty much all but one bird stopped laying eggs. Whatever. They’d get over it soon.

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Last Friday, two of the three new eggs hatched. The process was amazing to see so up close and personal. But by the time my husband arrived home from work, he’d found them in the run. Hens don’t usually leave the nesting boxes on day one. My husband reached in to put them where they’d be warm, and realized one baby was missing a head.

A head!

He was so brokenhearted. Then he picked up the other, the cold, lifeless body of a day old baby chick… and it moved. He felt the spark of life in that little chick, and he thought for sure it would die. My husband did what any good human being would do and ran the baby into the house, cleaned its wounds, then put it on a towel under a heat lamp.

We didn’t think the chick would survive a day. By the time I got home from work, the baby was on two feet. There were wounds on either side of its head, its eyes were closed (we weren’t even sure if she/he had eyes at this point), and she could only manage to walk backward.

So I grabbed her and held on tight. I talked to her. I ran my finger along her head and down her back. I offered her food and water and told her everything was going to be okay, even though a little voice in the back of my head said no way would she survive the night.

I couldn’t believe these hens could be so cruel. I didn’t want to believe that they could murder the babies they sat on for so long. None of it really made sense, especially after they all took such great care (minus the abandonment in the yard) of the other chicks.

But, that’s nature. I guess.

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Anyway, I’m happy to report that “Sparky” is alive and kicking. She’s hanging out in the brooder with the ducks who are like eighteen times her size, and they’re teaching her how to eat, how to drink, how to play in the mud, and how to live. And the kids and I cheered for Sparky when she opened one on Saturday, then both eyes by Sunday. She’s walking backward and forward. She’s running, even. And we’re still talking to her and showering her with love.

My husband and kids and I all learned a valuable lesson: life is delicate, but if you have even the tiniest spark of it, you’ll survive.