Ok, so I went to bed at a reasonable hour Tuesday night, exhausted by lack of sleep and driving around all day. What is it about traveling that makes you so tired? I don't know, but I was wiped. I think it was about 2 in the morning when Doug got up and went into the bathroom, where the chicks were set up in the tub, in their box, with a heat lamp on them. We had been told that the chicks needed to be kept very warm (90-95ºF) and if they didn't, they'd huddle together to stay warm.
I waited for Doug to come back to bed (hey, a girl's gotta go sometime, ya know!) He didn't come and didn't come. I finally got up and tapped on the door with my fingernail, hoping not to wake Amber up, in the living room. He opened the door, with a concerned dad look on his face. I asked him what was wrong and he pointed at the chickens. They all looked funny to me, and one of them was lying flat out on its back. Its bulgy chicken eyes were closed and the other chicks were running over the top of it.
"I don't think that one's going to make it," he said softly. "It was on its side in the watering bowl. I think it might have drowned."
I looked at the poor little chick. I did feel sorry for it. Crummy way to die, not 48 hours after pecking your way into the cold, cruel world. Just then, one of its nest mates walked over the top of it and I got mad. I know that chickens have a pecking order and that some animals just don't make it, but I was aggrieved that the chicks would clamber over that one which was laid out so still.
So still and so wet. I pushed the clambering chickens off the one Friend Husband had rescued from its watery grave, and picked it up. It was still breathing, but had its eyes closed and looked like it didn't care whether it lived or died. It was totally soaked, to the point of leaving my hand all damp and dirty. It occurred to me that that was why the chickens looked funny; they were all wet. I looked at the group of them, huddled under a flap of the box and realized that they were all as wet as they could be.
Chickens are not exactly Mensa scholars, you know.
I picked up a few that looked like they were the wettest and tried to dry them off with paper towels that Doug had brought in. It was a futile task. The bottom of their box was soaked and as soon as I'd get them toweled off, they'd go and roll in the water again, being bumped around by their nest mates. Friend Husband went off to get newspapers to put in the bottom of the box and I picked up more birds to attempt to dry them off and warm them up. When Friend Husband came back, he did the same.
There we were. We always joke that we know nothing about anything useful. The only things I knew about chickens were the things that Amber or the people at the hatchery had told us that day. If they huddled, they were cold. If they cheeped loudly, they were unhappy. If they got too cold, they'd die. And these guys just looked miserable.
I looked up at my beloved Friend Husband, who had to leave in a few short hours to teach the masses. He looked as though he'd fall asleep right there, with the chick still in his hands. The box of chickens was loud and writhing with chicks, trying to get warm. As I looked at one of the more pathetic specimens, picking it up to join the few I had against my chest, I noticed that it had a big swelling in its throat. "Oh no!" I exclaimed, causing Friend Husband to jump and ask what was the matter. I pointed out the gouty-looking swelling on that chick and pointed to the others I saw with the same thing. There were many more chicks with swollen throats than without. I was starting to get worried. I was starting to wonder if I should wake Amber up and ask if she knew anything more about the chicks that she hadn't shared. Then I noticed that the chicks on my chest were asleep. They weren't completely dry, but their heads were fluffy again and they had stopped cheeping to sleep contentedly on my chest like babies do when they're very young. The chick in Friend Husband's hands was likewise sawing little chick logs and was looking fluffy again. Hooray! Five down, 13 more to go.
I took Friend Husband's chick away and told him to go to bed. He protested but I pointed out that he was going to have to go to work that day. It was far more likely that I would get to rest in the course of the day than he would. I also pointed out that Amber had a long drive ahead of her, with the probability of hard labor at the end of it, so I wanted to avoid waking her up if I could. So he went back to bed and I collected more chicks to add to the little group on my chest.
It is very hard to sleep with a bunch of birds on your chest while you're sitting in the bathroom. There was no comfortable position. I knew I had to try to drowse a little bit or I'd be totally useless on Wednesday (the day I help out at our enrichment classes) but I was finding it difficult to accomplish that feat. And the rest of the chicks were disturbing me with their cheeping. It wasn't so much the noise as that I was afraid that they'd die from exposure, in my bathtub of all places. I got a big bath towel and made a nest in it for the chicks on my chest. They woke only briefly as I tipped them into the center of the nest and put a corner of the towel over them. I picked out a few of the chicks who didn't look like they were drying off well in the box and added them to the towel-nest group. They attempted to crawl out of the nest, but when I pushed them back down in amongst the others, they settled down and went to sleep. I also lay down next to the blue toweling nest and tried to go to sleep, or at least to rest, but the cheeping of the remaining chicks still got to me. It's like having a newborn baby cry. It's almost impossible to walk away without trying to fix whatever is bothering it. One by one, I removed all of the chicks to the towel nest. After getting them all settled (pushing them back into place as needed) and covering them with my hand (to keep account of them and to make them think I was their mama, sitting on the nest and keeping them warm), they went to sleep. Blissful blessed peace.
In the next room, Amber lay awake listening to the silence. All through our ordeal, she had lain awake, wondering if she should come in and intervene, knowing all she had to do the next day. Later on that morning, she told me that when the chicks stopped cheeping, that was the worst part. She didn't know if they had all died or what. She finally convinced herself to go to sleep (and I'm thankful for that).
I don't know how long I lay dozing on the bathroom floor, curled up around a towel nest with 18 chicks. I felt very maternal toward those dumb clucks, though. Eventually, they stirred enough where I realized that they needed to go back into their box. I deposited them, towel nest and all, back into the box, where they cheeped a bit and began walking around. They were fluffy again, and looked every bit as cute as they had the day before. I knew that I neither looked nor smelled very cute but after cleaning up a bit, I crawled back into bed for the remainder of the "night".
The next day I thought about what Friend Husband had said before he went back to bed himself. "You're a good mom. Even to chickens." It made me laugh then and it still makes me smile. Day to day, I might be the best mother but when the chips are down, I can pull it out. He tried to tell me that it took a special person to take care of the little sodden birds the night before. I thought about it and said, "No, I don't think so. I think any mother would have looked at those things last night and said, 'Oh, the poor little babies!' and then helped them get dried out."
The next day, Amber and the girls drove back home with the chicks in their car, seemingly none the worse for wear. As strange as it sounds, I missed the little cheepers after they were gone. There's just something about babies, no matter their species. And there's nothing like helping out when you're really needed to make your heart sing.