Poor Amir. He’s been doing all the heavy lifting around here the last couple of days, and tending to not one, but three gimpy chicks (myself included.)
The straw that broke this camel’s back was, well, hay actually. I was just hand gathering a bunch of long cut grass to throw in the chicken pens when something spasmed and wouldn’t stop, so I joined the other malingerers in our little household.
Sick chick number one is Gimpy. (Is that wrong?)
I noticed her resting alone by the brooder entrance on arrival day, while all her brothers and sisters were jostling together for the coveted corner space against the opposite wall. When I gently prodded her, I noticed she couldn’t stand or walk without plunging over. So she was removed to the private recovery suite at Glean Acres Infirmary. We didn’t want her to be lonely, so we plucked out a random, healthy friend for her, for moral support.
So Gimpy’s friend turned out to have problematic bedside manners. He took food from her beak. He stepped on her toes. He stepped on her. He, well, walked all over her, actually. His redeeming feature was that while we thought we were putting him there for “moral support,” and perhaps to model good chicken movement and appetite, Gimpy decided to use him as a little crutch. When he came near, Gimpy would muster all her strength to stand up next to him and lean, hoping he might move at a pace and to a place suitable for her.
But finally, we decided Brutus was too much for Gimpy, so we inserted a barrier so that Gimpy could rest without being stepped on. Though the barrier was porous and they could still see and hear and touch each other, now we were worried Brutus and Gimpy would not be company enough for each other. So we brought in what turned out to be a gentler chick companion for Brutus. They seem to get along well.
A few phone calls and internet searches led us to speculate that Gimpy might be a victim of what is known as “spraddle leg.” If baby chicks can’t get their footing immediately out of the egg, their legs splay out and they can’t bring them back in. It happens sometimes, even in good hatcheries and brooder environments. It also could be a related injury due to being trampled or piled upon by the other chicks. Or it was a birth defect. On the chance it could be spraddle leg, we decided to follow the protocol for home treatment. That is, we hobbled poor Gimpy with a bandaid tied around her legs. I didn’t traumatize her again to get a picture of her, but below is a picture of another chick who is having the same physical therapy treatment. It’s from the poultryhelp.com website.
A certain amount of mortality is expected when dealing with batches of hundreds of chicks. In pastured poultry operations, producers expect anywhere from 6% to 30% mortality before harvest. Some are in the brooder, and some are in the pasture, if it gets too hot, or too wet, or too cold. Or if the birds put on meat and fat faster than their organs and bones can keep up, as happens frequently with Cornish Cross breeds on pasture.We expect far less mortality with our Freedom Rangers.
With our first batch, we were eager to achieve 0% mortality. But we lost one at around 10 days old. Unexplained, but we nursed two other sick chicks from that same batch around the same time back to health. We lost a two-day old chick in batch two. Again, unexplained. But considering that is out of a total of 275 birds, we’re still at less than 1%, so far. So we must be doing something right.
Now we have Gimpy, and today Amir checked another not-quite-right chick into the infirmary. Because we have small flocks of 100 or less, and these hundred are divided into two batches during the brooder stage, we can keep a pretty good eye on them and notice the welfare of individual chicks. It would be hard for a grower to notice an injured chick in a larger brooder with hundreds of chicks scampering around, until it was motionless and ready for disposal.
The other not-quite-right chick I call Angel. Because her wings are too big for her body. It seems her wings grew, but not her. We’ve been helping her drink water and made a pillow for her out of her food so she can snack easily. We think she might be feeling a little better. But it’s hard to know, isn’t it?
We’re not quite sure what we’re going to do with our special needs chicks when they get all better. We’re already too attached to our flocks for our own good, seeing as though the chicken harvest is set for just 9 days from now. We have an introverted rooster out on the field who prefers to stay in the coop by himself while the rest of the flock enters into a feeding frenzy first thing in the morning when we let them out. We bring him his food separately.
Before I get all morose, I better get back to work. The labels for the bags the dressed chickens will be packaged in just arrived. And I have to go check in on our peeping patients. As for me, plenty of farm chores to be done that don’t involve heaving lifting. Such as seeding our ground cherries! This farmer wobbles, but she doesn’t fall down (for very long, anyway)!