Watching Baby Chicks Die

This was a hard week. It wasn’t supposed to be. We got two shipments of baby chicks, 26 each from and Greenfire Farms. (Yes, 52 baby chicks.) All were hatched on Monday, and shipped to us via Express Mail, like usual. It’s a particular joy to go the Post Office to pick up your box, and have them go to the back to fetch it, and return with the sound of peep-peep-peep getting louder and louder until they hand you your box over the counter….

These were our 4th and 5th shipments of chicks to the farm. It’s always gone smoothly (though we did lose one chick in each of our first two shipments from MyPetChicken; the Greenfire shipments have been fine). The chicks generally arrive vibrant and energetic, sustained on their journey by their yolk-sac, ready to eat and drink and to grow-grow-grow, doubling in size seemingly before your eyes. They’re the cutest little things in the world. You keep them warm, give them food and water and a safe, cozy place to grow, and check their little fluffy butts every day for the first week (they can actually die if their little vents get clogged up, and it takes them about a week before they reliably don’t get matted up back there), and they’re just off to the races.

But. This time was different. Our Greenfire chicks arrived Tuesday and were perfect, happy and healthy, just like normal. The MyPetChicken ones took an extra day to arrive, on Wednesday, and when we opened the box, one was already dead, a little White Sultan. So sad. It can happen, though, that the occasional little chick just fails to thrive. But then, over the next 48 hours, we lost 7 more. We’d check them every few hours, and we kept finding another poor little thing, flat and motionless. Some (like the other two Sultans, the Blue Favaucana, and the White Marans) seemed perfectly fine, running about one moment, then suddenly dead. Others (the two tiny chestnut brown Fayoumis) were visibly weak, and we nursed them by hand, trying to get them to eat and drink, but to no avail. Stressful, and heartbreaking, to watch these little innocents fall one by one. I was on the phone with MyPetChicken for hours, trying to figure out what was going on. Did they have a disease? How many were going to perish? They had the same setup, and the same food, as the Greenfire ones, who were all fine – and they were separate, so if there was a disease situation, it would be contained – but none of that really feels like consolation when little sweethearts are dropping dead one after another.

MyPetChicken blamed the Post Office, or their delivery partners, and their money-saving efforts, changed routes, etc. Maybe they were exposed to excess heat or cold en route. Maybe they were dropped. We’ll never really know.

Two little ones who were injured, a Black Sumatra and a little yellow chick (either a Frost White Legbar or a Salmon Faverolle, time will tell), we did manage to save. They had been banged around, or pecked, or both, and were starting to get picked on. I treated them with antiseptic and isolated them until their skin healed and the feathers started to grow in to cover. As soon as they were a little better, I put ‘buddies’ in with them (chickens hate to be alone), and they perked up and are doing well. Just today they were reunited with their whole flock, and they were visibly happy about it. Which makes me happy. Watching the little yellow one who had been so weak eat and drink and cavort around with the others completely made my day.

There’s no way to raise animals and not to deal with death. I know this. You do your best, and it’s out of your hands. We ship these chicks here to live a happy life, in freedom with sunshine and grass, and protection at night from the things that would eat them. As chicken lives go, it’s pretty amazing. But still, they’re only in the box because I sent for them, so you know, I feel that. And I’m sorry, little baby chickens. The ones we lost are buried beneath a cedar tree. The rest are receiving admirers and names, and learning the joys of mealworms, and working their way up the ladder from brooder to stall to free range expanse.

Rest in peace, little feathered eight.

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