This morning started out as a fairly normal day on the homestead. I woke to slightly ambient light coming in the window, and cold sheets beside me where my husband had already rose. My eyes felt heavy and crusty from a summer cold lingering. It felt too soon to be time to get up. Last night was late to bed, as our chick order from the hatchery came in to the neighboring town’s post office and a 9:20pm call to pick them up was answered with a hasty anxious trip to the next town over, 30 miles away. Thankfully we were somewhat ready.
David and I sped off hoping all was well inside that little cardboard box. We have had experiences otherwise, but we have also had plenty of angels in the postal service willing to go the extra mile for our little chicks. We once had an order of 30 chicks come in over the weekend, and got a 5am phone call from some good soul who was starting their shift, and saw they were there. It was Sunday morning. They had apparently come in sometime Saturday, and because they came to the neighboring town first, they were stuck there until Monday morning when the truck would bring the mail to out rural post office. Needless to say, they would not have made it until Monday. They were dehydrated and overdue, but we were able to save them all. Rural mail service can be a little tricky.
Expecting chicks in the mail is much like expecting new life in any way. You worry, fret, and finally remember to pray that they will arrive healthy. You learn to let go and have faith that all will work out for the highest good, and you track your package like a schizophrenic with OCD. Oh, sorry, maybe that’s just me. All kidding aside receiving new chicks in the mail can be quite a tumultuous experience, you never know what you might find, so we zoomed to town on a wing and a prayer.
Our post office angel last night was Donna. She was awesome. She gets it. She must be a mama too, for she knew we would want our babies right away, and not let them sit in their little box an extra night. As she carried the box up you could hear their robust peeping, and my heart exhaled, I knew they would be alright. A noisy box is a good thing. A quiet box is not.
We got the noisy little brood home, after teasing Donna that she could now have some peace and quiet for the rest of the evening. We set up the light without much incident, besides a smoking extention cord…A little creative reorganization elminated the need for the the extention cord and soon everyone was under the warming light, beaks had been dipped, and were scratching for grain. It was approaching midnight. All was well in the brooder, and I was wide awake with the adrenaline rush of caring for new peeps. I wanted to give them some time to settle in and check on them before I went to bed anyway, so I made some tea and did a little reading. About 1am I did last rounds, all was quiet but the peeping of bewildered chicks who are trying to figure out how they got here, and are you my mother???
I heard the kettle whistle shortly after my bleary eyes opened.
God. Bless. My. Husband.
He started the coffee. Amen & Halelujah.
Coffee on the homestead is a little salvation in a cup to shake the cobwebs loose. We poured ourselves a steaming cuppa joe and headed out to the coop to check on our new additions. The air felt cool and less humid than it had the night before, I wished I had grabbed a thicker sweater. I set my coffee cup down on a shelf outside the coop, and opened the door to peek in. Most looked well, but in the far corner of the brooder, well away from the heat lamp, was a little chick laying flat all alone, eyes closed, and looking less than lively.
It was the chick David had called Spot the night before, as his little head was marked with some kind of grease crayon. He was the lone rooster I had ordered. I thought he had died in the night, but just then he twitched, I knew he was still alive. I picked him up, he was cold as ice. Somehow he had managed to wander away from the flock, got cold, and couldn’t make it back. Being not sure of the details, but I quickly realized that they are rather unimportant when you come across a hypothermic chick.
What mattered now was action.
I scooped his limp little body up and held him close under the heat lamp, praying he would come around. It was then that my hardworkin’ hubby reported a fatality in the waterer. When you are homesteading there is always a first time for everything. He helped me all he could, but the time for him to leave for work was nearly past due. We said our good-bye’s, he wished me luck with our impending crisis and headed out the door of the coop. That’s when it happened.
I got locked in the chicken coop.
I just didn’t realize it at first, as all my attention was fixed on the cold little body I was willing to live. I held him and stroked him under the light and pondered how to get some cayenne into this little chick, hoping that the warming spice would be enough to help him back from the brink of death, and soothe the shock he must be in. I tucked him up carefully inside the folds of my shirt holding him skin close for warmth, and pushed on the door.
Stuck. Shut tight.
I looked desperately for another way out, but I hadn’t opened the small side door for the mama hen and her babes yet, as I was so focused on helping my chick in need. Anyway, I’m not sure I could even fit out the little door, it would definitely be a squeeze into less than a 12 inch square. Everyone was still asleep, yelling would do no good, especially with the little voice I had left from battling a summer cold. No phone either, but worst of all was the realization that my steaming fresh coffee was on the other side of the latched door.
As I stood in the semi-darkness I realized that I would have to get myself out of the chicken coop. I pounded a couple times on the door, refrained from any bad language, and realized my saving grace was that the bottom latch was still open. Thankfully the old weathered wood gave a bit after a couple of whacks with my hand. Now remember that I am still holding a less than half-alive chick with one hand and trying to pound the door open with my other. That wasn’t going to work.
It was time to get serious, a little chick’s life was very literally in my hand. And wrapped in my shirt. And pressed gently against my belly to keep him as warm as possible. I knew I would have to go all ‘Karate Kid’ on the door. It was the only way to get out of the coop and save the chick. So I hiked up my proverbial homestead skirt, aimed as best I could at the latch and gave it my best Hi-Ya!!! I saw a little more light in the crack of the door, the latch was easing away from the wall! I wound up and kicked it again, trying not to loose my flip-flop, and then I gave it the beans a couple more times. With each kick, the door inched slightly more open. One more Hi-Ya!!! and the door finally exploded open. Light streamed in and we were free. I hurried to the house to continue my chick rescue mission.
Cayenne pepper and warm water administered with a dropper was our only hope. I heard a faint peep from my belly button region. I only hoped I had made it in time. After all was gathered and mixed, I carefully placed a small drop on the end of his beak. It was go time. Either he still had the instinct to swallow, or he would be too weak to muster the strength. I held my breath with anticipation, his head was still limp and my hopes dimmed. I watched that tiny drop of water on the tip of his beak with what seemed a very long time. Then it happened. He swallowed. Without raising his head or opening his eyes, he swallowed the drop.
I placed another drop on the end of his beak, being careful not to let it run into his nostrils as his head was still lying against my fingers. Slowly, again he swallowed. After several minutes he had taken half a dozen drops of the cayenne solution. His peeping was getting more regular, although still faint. He opened his eyes a few times, and he started to try to hold his head up. I was encouraged. He seemed to be gaining strength.
I nursed him gently for more than an hour. He sat upright and reached out for the dropper when I offered. Amazing how little creatures seem to know exactly what they need when they need it. The cayenne was working. He was getting stronger. It took the better part of the morning, with David stepping in for a shift of sharing warmth and offering TLC to recooperate. I am glad to report that he has recovered fully and is nestled back in the coop with the rest of his flock.
And that, my friends, is the story of How I Got Locked in the Chicken Coop.
All this before my first cup of coffee, which if you remember is still out on the shelf by the coop, cold.
Homesteading is nothing if not an adventure.
Now for that broken latch….