The little rescue chicken that I wrote about in my January 3rd post, will unfortunately have to be put down. This makes my heart very heavy, but at the same time I know it is for the best. I know some people may judge me for this decision, but I don’t care. It is not something that has been made lightly, or a reactionary quick judgement. Nature is a most cruel beast at times, and sometimes, human interference works out for the best. Sometimes not.
I rescued this little chicken when it was approximately 2-3 weeks old from the farm that we are caretakers for, the week before New Years. When I originally saw the mama hen with it, I thought she was pecking at the ground in front of it, helping it look for food. To my horror, I saw that she was pecking it in the head and then running away from it. It was then that I saw the poor little thing had a hurt leg. It was doing it’s best to try and catch up to her each time, using it’s wing as a crutch, hobbling along the ground, cheeping frantically. I did the only thing I knew to do. I reached down and picked it up and announced to my husband that it was going home with us. There was another clutch that had hatched the week before, so my husband scooped up one of those chicks to bring along to help the injured one.
When I first got them home, the injured one was not very energetic. It would keep the injured leg pulled underneath it, not putting any weight at all on it. I kept the two of them in my small brooder so he could rest. The rehab buddy would snuggle up beside him, on the same side as the injured leg, and the injured chick would spread his wing over the top of him and prop on him. A very sweet sight to behold. The injured chick didn’t have much of an appetite, and I feared (secretly hoped) that it would expire before it healed.
After a few days, it actually seemed to be getting better. It would limp a couple of steps on the injured leg, and the leg that wasn’t injured seemed very strong. It gained an appetite and could eat well on it’s own. I thought that if worse came to worse, and the little dear was a little hobbled, I could keep it if it turned out to be a hen. The chickens I currently have live in a mobile chicken tractor, so, this one wouldn’t have to worry about having to get away from predators or being ostracized by all the other free range hens at the farm. If it could get around and eat and drink on it’s own, then the small space would be perfect. If it were a rooster, I don’t know what I’d do. We’re not allowed to have a rooster. And a crippled rooster would certainly be under constant attack from the other roosters at the farm. And who on earth could I find that would take in a crippled rooster?
I checked the leg daily for signs of fever or circulation problems. Even though it’s toes were curled under a bit more than I would have liked, it was able to move them when I touched them. I was also concerned that there might be nerve or muscle damage, but I noticed it stretching the leg out behind it and stretching it’s wing just like normal healthy chickens do.
The chicks were moved a couple of weeks ago from the small brooder to my bigger brooder. I was hopeful that being able to walk more on the leg would help strengthen it, and the chick would make a full recovery. This has not been the case. The leg is turned at an awkward angle, and in the last few days, the toes have begun to curl again. It seems the good leg has either become weak, or as it has grown, the leg can no longer support it’s weight. When it tries to stand to eat, the injured leg lays limply behind it, and the “good” leg will slowly slip out from under it. It still has a good appetite, but it is quite an effort for it to do the simplest tasks of eating, drinking and walking into the little sleeping box. I’ve begun pulling it out a couple of times a day and letting it sit on my lap and eat from my hand to give it some rest. I do believe that it has also developed a circulation problem in the leg, as it seems colder than the other leg.
So, this past Thursday, my husband and I made the decision of what must be done. If it just had a limp, that would be one thing. Unable to feed itself, or stand, or the possible threat of an infection setting in or it dying due to complications from the injury is quite another. I have done my best to not get attached to this little thing. But, how can one not? It will not be culled because I don’t like it. It will be culled out of the love I have for it. It would never have a normal life, and I could not bear the thought of it dying in agony from illness that sets in. I am a firm believer in quality of life, from household pets to working farm animals. Yes, there is a time to be “put out to pasture”. But, there is also a time to prevent the inevitable.
I know that everything that could have been done has been done. I had decided when I first brought it home that even if it did come to this, at least the little thing didn’t freeze to death, starve to death, or get beaten to death. It will not die all alone suffering from injury or neglect. It’s short little time here on earth has been filled with a warm home, a full belly, and lots of spoiling.
It’s never an easy decision to make. It’s a lot more easy when there’s obvious life-threatening injury or illness. But, too, when an injury does not heal properly or an illness does not get better over a period of time, that’s when the animals need us more. It’s not enough to just feed and water and protect. Sometimes, we do need to help nature along to prevent potential suffering.
I think I have learned a valuable lesson with regards to nature too. I’ve heard of some animals just not being good mothers, who usually just abandon their young. Or they know something is wrong with a baby, that it is weak and for the benefit of the strong ones, she culls the weak, sick or injured one. In this case, I think this mama hen already knew what I didn’t. I’m a stupid, sappy human. She possibly knew the severity of this leg injury. It’s winter and food is scarce other than what is in that feeder. Perhaps she was trying to prevent the other chickens from turning on her baby. Or preventing a predator from getting it. She was following her motherly instincts. I was following mine. I guess it was a 50/50 chance either way.
And, yes, because I am such a sap. I am worried about little rehab buddy being lonely and missing his friend. I’ll just have to spoil it a bit more I guess. Whether that’s for it’s benefit or mine, I’m not real clear yet.