Here chick, chick, chick



Columnist Susan Manzke gives one long-awaited chick a second chance after finding him motionless on the floor.

Bob and I don’t raise hundreds of chickens anymore. We now limit our birds to a few for eggs. I actually think of our little flock of five as pets.

Last year the numbers were way down: one old rooster and one hen. That didn’t leave us with many eggs, so I asked my friend Georgie if she had a few extra hens. We were able to add three bantams.

A month ago, the tiniest hen decided she wanted to brood. Too bad for her that none of her eggs were fertile—our rooster has never produced offspring.

That hen wouldn’t give up her idea of sitting on eggs no matter how I tried to dissuade her. Again I looked to my friend’s flock for help and ended up putting six adopted eggs under our hen—four were from full-sized chickens and two were from bantams.

Twenty-one days is average time for an egg to hatch so I marked the calendar. If I didn’t do that I would have forgotten when to check for babies.

During those three weeks, I hardly caught sight of that hen off her nest. She was so tenacious about brooding I worried that she didn’t get enough food and water for herself, but I guess she did because she survived.

When the date for hatching arrived I didn’t hear anything, not a peep. The only thing to do was to check under the hen—my husband would never do this. Bob’s afraid of setting hens. Anyway, when I lifted her just a bit (yes, she did peck at me) I saw a little ball of yellow fluff.

This broody little hen is finally a bonafide mama thanks to a generous neighbor and patient owner.

I had to look a little deeper to see that all the eggs hadn’t hatched. Those eggs needed more time. Still, it was time to set out water and food for the chicks, which I did.

The next time I checked on mama and her babies, she had them out of the nest. Two eggs remained. One was a dud and one hadn’t made it out of the egg—though I tried to help it, the little thing was dead.

Another problem lay on the floor. One yellow chick lay away from its siblings and mother. Sadly, I picked up its cold body and prepared to dispose of it with the unhatched eggs.

As I walked away from the hen and her three frisky chicks, I mourned the ones that didn’t live. The one in my hand then opened and closed its eyes—was it alive or was that just a reflex? I wondered.

When it opened and closed its eyes again, I cupped it in both my hands and blew warm air over its body. After a minute there was a tiny sign of life—once I gave a puppy mouth to muzzle resuscitation, but I didn’t do mouth to beak this day. I just kept it warm.

In the house, I improvised a warming station with an electric heating pad. After tucking it in a makeshift nest, I said a little prayer and left it alone. Whatever happened, it was beyond my control.

I expected to find an expired chick when I returned, but it was alive, standing, and peeping.

What do I do now? Keep it inside and raise it, or return it to the hen? I worried that she had abandoned it and wouldn’t take it back—a cat did that once to a kitten and that’s how Cruella became a housecat.

To make sure I knew which chick was which, I took a marker and drew a line on the top of my chick’s head. When I returned it to the barn, I could watch and see how the hen treated it.

The resurrected chick didn’t take any time at all getting back under its mother. The hen didn’t seem to care that it was there either—all seemed back to normal.

Of course, I kept checking on the hen and her brood. Every time I count four I feel good. Fingers crossed that all keep growing. I can’t wait to see what happens when the two regular sized chicks grow larger than Mom..

Stop in and visit Susan and Bob July 11-12 at Farm Technology Days in the Wisconsin State Farmer booth A064. Susan can be reached at