One of our new chicks came very close to dying today. If I hadn’t been paying attention or had decided to walk away after feeding them instead of watching them, she wouldn’t be here. It’s amazing how just one moment can mean life or death, and when you’re raising livestock, you witness these moments more than you’d like to.
Our chicks are being raised by Little Carl, our head hen. While they were tiny they were living in a cage in our back porch, but since they’re 4 weeks old now, they’ve gone to live with their momma in the coop with the big birds. Every day I feed the big birds their layer feed to distract them, then feed the babies their chick food in a separate location. It didn’t phase me that the babies are getting more brave around the big girls and were right under their feet as I was feeding them.
Today, when I went to put down the chick feed, all the babies were scrambling around, peeping away excitedly. All except one. I spotted her out of my periphery, standing to the side looking dazed. I knew immediately that something was wrong. Chicks are very energetic creatures and standing around at feeding time is unheard of. I snatched her up and took a look at her.
She had a wild look in her eye and her mouth was open. My mind raced as it tried to fit the pieces together. It was a very hot day, in the 90’s, could it be she was suffering from heat stroke? Maybe she hadn’t been drinking water and was so dehydrated she was going into shock. When I got her inside I tried to give her a droplet of water from my finger. It slid right out of her mouth, along with bubbly foam. It was suddenly very clear.
She was choking to death.
I knew immediately that she’d eaten a piece of layer feed while she was scampering around under the big girls. That food is the perfect size to get lodged in a chick’s throat, as dangerous as giving a hot dog to a one year old baby.
At this point she’d been without air for at least a minute and was going limp. Her little legs were kicking out weakly and she could barely hold up her head. Her eyes rolled back in her head, she was losing consciousness.
I frantically started rubbing at her throat and crop. Nothing was happening and she was fading fast. I was starting to think she was a lost cause and she was going to die right there in my hands. We’ve never had a chick die before and I wasn’t willing to let this be the first one.
With new resolve, I massaged her throat harder, trying to break up the piece of food with my fingers.
I kept whispering, “Please don’t die, baby, come on, you can do it. Please please please…”
After a full minute of this and her laying there lifeless in my hands I finally felt it move. There was a gurgling sound and then a gasp of breath.
She opened her eyes and took several deep breaths, clearly as relieved as I was. She sat right up and started peeping loudly and flapping her tiny wings as if nothing had ever happened. I cuddled her as tears ran down my face and took several deep breaths myself. It was over and all was well with the world.