Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Star Belly Sneetch

Well, I wrote about how terrific and easy chickens were. So of course, something had to give. That's how things seem to work here on Maggie's Farm (And everywhere else, too, eh?) a sort of "Murphy's Law of Gotcha!" So the morning after my post, I strolled down to the coop to find a New Hampshire hen (one of two identical “Sneetch Sisters”) with a swollen, maggot ridden wound! I don’t know for sure how this happened, but I suspect Luka got a little nippy when we were elsewhere. She’s made a few attempts at the chickens in the past, following behind them. “So cute,” we said, “She’s herding!” Well, herding may have progressed to, um, hurting. Or something else may have happened. Our chickens roam around all day long, and we've been pretty blessed in our (lack of) predators. (Do you hear me Murphy? I said "We have had no predator attacks!")

Anyway, this wound was the most disgusting thing I’d seen in a good long time. It was early in the morning when I discovered her and attempting to be the macho farm gal I aspire to, I thought I’d let let Dan sleep and try dressing it myself. I went back to the house, got the hydrogen peroxide and ointment, doused the poor, bleary girl and picked out the grossdisgustingawfulhorrible maggots with a paper towel best I could. The hen was so passive, just squinting her eyes and hunkering down throughout the ordeal. It didn't look likely she would survive.

When Dan awoke, we went back out and worked on the wound again-- still crawling with grossdisgustingawfulhorrible maggots-- and cleaned it with a home-made ointment of calendula (Thank you Mollie!) and bacitracin. Then we covered it up with vaseline so we wouldn't have to go through the maggot thing again and started oral antibiotics, set up a comfy dog crate for the Sneetch Sister and waited. It seemed unlikely she'd survive the day. But she did and, with repeated dressings, the next one too, and the next. It's still a little touch and go, but this is one tough Sneetch!

I know this begs the question-- are we crazy to spend so much time on a CHICKEN when we eat other people’s chickens all the time? When the chicken in question is 3 years old and not really so productive anymore? When the chicken doesn't even have her own name? Maybe. I have to say my first thought upon discovering her was to put her out of her misery. But I didn't. (I get like this about all sorts of life-- from the sometimes injured frogs and salamanders the kids catch to the half-developed eggs we tried to hatch in our home-made incubator. ) Hard to know when giving up hope is really-- really-- appropriate. But I guess the best answer is to value life, especially the life that happens to fall into our care and if there’s hope, I want to help it along a little. So many miseries are beyond our reach and comfort. We do what we can. And in this case, well, we thought maybe we could.

There’s a lot more to write about this topic— and many connected ones. But I want to finish the Sneetch story for now. Here’s the other half of it:

A day or two after the miserable maggoty Sneetch sister adventure, I woke early, went down to the coop and discovered a more pleasant surprise: Our two eternally broody hens who’ve shared a nest box all summer actually succeeded in hatching a new chick. It's an adorable little thing, though not a spring chicken at all (An autumn chicken?) And one of these two broody mamas is our other Sneetch Sister! I put the lucky Sneetch and chick in a dog crate with her chick and food and water, and so far, they're managing quite nicely. This is the first chick we haven’t raised in a brooder box in the kitchen. And though already it’s getting quite cold at night, little Stella is doing great.

So this is a tale of two Sneetches— Star bellied and not. There is a lot to write about this too—how life can take a sudden inexplicable turn, even for two identical chickens who share a name. The universe is mysterious—both ugly and beautiful. It makes sense that our farm, our chickens, would reflect that.

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