When I was a little girl, my dad brought home a cage of quail chicks. I am not sure why he did, but I placed them on my toy shelf and cared for them. There was one that was small and got trampled by the others. I tried to make sure he got enough food and water so he could grow, but one day I checked in on them and he was dead. I was so sad and cried as I buried him in our yard. I felt like I had failed him, that I should have done more. Today I had those same feelings.
Yesterday, I found Pee-Wee on the floor of the coop sleeping. I thought maybe she had been picked on by the girls so much, she was just trying to stay safe and rest. I picked her up and put her on top of the coop in the shade for a few hours. Later, I moved her into the feed shed. She still didn’t want to do anything but sleep. I gave her some feed, but she couldn’t seem to find the food, pecking at the table. Even the rattle of the can didn’t perk her up. I took her home last night and made some hot oatmeal and she ate a bit. This morning there was no change. I made her drink and eat, but she still wouldn’t stand on her own and now she wouldn’t open her eyes.
I was torn between hoping she would snap out of it and ending her suffering. We had finished up butchering and I went to check in on her and she started flapping around. Before I could open the cage, she stood up tall, gasped, and fell over. I burst into tears as Fred tried to console me.
I have no idea what was wrong. Had she eaten something she shouldn’t have? A disease? But I think Fred’s explanation may be right…her tiny body just wasn’t made to live so long. Pee-Wee was one of the meat birds we saved. They are bred to grow and be butchered, not live a long life. If the hens don’t make weight by the last butchering, we keep them as layers. Pee-Wee was well below butchering weight, like a third of the weight of the others. I am not sure if it was because of her stunted growth, but she also wasn’t quite right in the head.
She had a thing about eating…she wanted to eat out the bucket or can, not the ground or feeder. Not sure if that is why she never really grew. I heard of chickens having twisted beaks and a hard time eating, so I checked her out. No twist. So when it was time to eat, I would let her eat out of the can. When she was with the layers, I couldn’t put the can by the ground without everyone else trying to eat, so Pee-Wee started to jump on my lap to eat. Then she started to climb up my leg as soon as she saw the can. Our routine was for the other girls to get fed, then I would slap my knee, she would fly up to my bent knee, and I would put my arm under her for her to roost on while she ate. If I couldn’t do this with her, she would just walk around the food confused as to what to do. She would peck a bit, but not like the others.
She was a sweet chicken; always wanting to be with me. When they were out roaming the farm, she’d be in my business, under foot, trying to get some love. When they moved into the chicken oasis, she would squeeze under the gate to come sit with me. It’s like she didn’t know she was a chicken. And when she got mad at me, she would let me know. Many a time did she walk right up to me, hop on my lap, peck me hard, jump off, and walk away. I would make it up to her with a little extra wheat at the end of the day and she would sit on my lap and snuggle. Her fellow meat birds didn’t pick on her, quite the opposite. The above picture was typical of how she would spend her days…surrounded by 3 birds. Never once did I see them pick on her, it was like they knew she was different.
The hard thing with chickens is that when they are sick, by the time they show signs, it’s usually too late. I know she had a good life, but the feeling that I failed her is still there. I guess it’s a good thing it hurts my heart so much. It confirms that I haven’t lost compassion for my animals. I think if the day comes that I am not saddened by the death of my animals (either accident or planned), that will be the day I will no longer keep them. For all the special treats and treatment Pee-Wee had in her life, and there were A LOT, she gave me a great year of companionship. Thank you, my sweet Pee-Wee.