New year’s day brought the early arrival of the baby chicks, the progeny of our recently deceased rooster Byron. We had never incubated eggs and never seen a chick hatch, and you can imagine that I found it pretty wonderful. The effort it takes! Making those first pokes out of the shell, and slowly cracking it apart. And if you have ever tried to stuff 3 lbs of laundry into a 1 lb bag, you know how those chicks feel inside those shells!
Once hatching began, it continued quickly, with over 10 emerging in a few hours. The first was nearly white and huge; then some yellow chicks, tan, and pale mixes, and finally a few black ones, the baby-Byrons I had hoped for. I peeked in often, checking on hatching progress and moving the dry chicks out of the incubator. But then, suddenly, something was wrong.
One of the new black chicks had a pool of blood behind it; or a pool of something… it was the wrong color and consistency of blood. I reached in and picked her up, and the blood pool came with her. It was attached. Looking more closely I could see veins and knew that it was her intestines, coming out. I called Robert, who of course, got out the computer. A quick visit to google confirmed this fear. Apparently chickens have a sort of ‘belly button’, and it has happened before to other young chicks that part of their intestines get stuck to the shell as they hatch. This is what happened to her, and she was dying. The only possible solution was to try and push them all back inside. Of course I tried.
This chick fit into the palm of my hand, still sticky from emerging, with thin beginnings of feathers plastered to her body. I flipped her upside down and held her there, trying to figure out how this could work. Using a q-tip, I began, several fingers doing a complicated maneuver that held her body still, and her legs down. Slowly working, trying to push bit by bit on the elastic dark shapes, which continually slipped loose and slid back out, slowly trying to push them back inside. She would chirp and that would loosen them again. It took over 30 minutes to slowly work them all back into place. Then according to Google, her little belly button would naturally close. I held her for awhile and thought we might be ok, but then she tried to move and chirp again, and something dark would start to ooze out. My hands were covered in blood and stickiness. I tried again, pushing her back together. Again, she held for a minute, but just that. Google was wrong, my chick wasn’t holding together.
Using a piece of tissue paper stuck in the goo, I finally reached a sort of peace with the wound. Maybe it would hold. I tried letting it dry, all the while moving her into and out of the heat lamp to try and keep her little new body warm. It held, until it didn’t. Once she tried to right herself, the tissue tore away, and all the progress was lost. There were more intestines outside then in, and I had to start all over.
We were both tired and I could tell she was weak. At least I was better at it, and did manage to push her back together, sitting on the floor of the bathroom, listening to the chirps of the others in the makeshift coop in the tub (if you knew this house you would know that the bathroom is one of the warmer rooms). She was back together but neither of us could take another round. This time Robert suggested using a piece of gauze, cut into the tiniest square, to stick over the little hole in her belly, into the blood and goo. I held her still yet again, trying to speed the drying. Finally I was able to turn her upright, even as a few of her tiny feathers pulled off onto my hand. She was weak and quiet but the bandage held. Now I just had to wait.
In the meantime the rest of the chicks emerged, 15 all told. Six blacks and nine red-blondes. But just the one in medical need.
I mixed some anti-biotic and became the water pusher, always making her drink. She stayed in with the others, I figured if her life was going to be short it was best to spend with her family. For the first two days it seemed very iffy; she was not active like the others, not moving or growing. But slowly, she emerged. She began to stand, she drank more, and then finally she began to eat! Two days is a long time in a chickens early life, and a long time to keep watching, waiting, rooting for her survival. And survive she did. A week later, still half the size of her siblings, little Phoenix was acting just like any other chicken, fussing over being disturbed, scratching at food, running about the tub/chicken nursery. Now at 12 days, it is getting hard to tell her apart from the others, as she catches up in size and stamina. Unless you flip her over, where she still has a small stiff patch on her belly. I can only hope that it holds through a long and happy chicken life.