The Roving Rototiller

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Twip.  Twip.  Twip.

Ah, the sound of chicks at play.  Chatting with one another, poking through the dish of crumbles, receiving the occasional unsolicited body-slam.  It's a lot like kindergarten at lunchtime.  Their little voices echo slightly off the blue tiled walls of the spare bathroom shower, lit 24 hours a day by the heat lamp tied to the flexi-hose of the holstered shower head, a tiny oasis of summer's warmth in our single-paned house while yet another atypical cold rainstorm patters down outside in the chilly breeze.

These are the chicks of the first incubator hatch:  two Icelandics, three Easter Eggers, and a bantam cochin.  All six are still with us; the last-hatched chick, whom I suspected of being somewhat oxygen-deprived, has shown considerable cognitive improvement and no longer has to be reminded to eat.  Chick number four--the one on the far right--an Easter Egger who came out of the shell only with assistance and stood bolt upright like a penguin for several days, has at last shown some response to our efforts to re-educate its legs.  Chick number five, the bantam cochin, had a couple of turned toes which responded beautifully to a temporary shoe.  And numbers one through three--the Icelandics and the black Easter Egger in the center of the photo--never had any problems.  One of them has already learned how to perch on the rim of the box.

There seems to be a trend with me, incubators, and orthotic chick footwear.  The last time I used an incubator--a Roll-X, the Ferrari of incubators, borrowed from a neighbor--we had an uneventful hatch of eight out of ten eggs, but two chicks emerged with turned feet.  I struggled with them for months but never did manage to correct the wayward toes; they are our two senior roosters now, Jake and Elwood.  This time around, we again had two with leg/foot problems.  The cochin, thankfully, was an easy fix:  two days of clumping around in a snowshoe contraption made of 3X5 cards and sticky tape, and the toes straightened out.  Our little "penguin" chick, on the other hand, has been another story.

The chick's first problem was contractures of the upper leg muscles, resulting in a bird that stood with its spine nearly vertical, rather than the almost horizontal posture of a normal chicken.  Two days and several bouts of physical therapy later, I noted glumly that the long tendons that run along the back of the lower leg and under the toes were starting to contract as well, arching the toes and bringing the sole of the foot off the ground.  The chick lolled comfortably on its back in my hand, waving its curved feet like a stage magician telegraphing along to "Abracadabra presto-chango."

"Seriously, kid?"

In order to stretch the tendons again, the chick needed a flat surface to bind the toes to, and also a support running up the back of the lower leg.   By a lucky fluke, the plastic casing of a double-pack of black printer ink had been molded with just the right angle.  With much measuring, and trimming--and some cursing when the chick kicked at inopportune moments, tangling the tape--we eventually got it fitted.  When stood up, the chick promptly flopped down and began pulling at the tape.  It then demonstrated that slick plastic has a distinct lack of traction.

"Peep!"  We got the massive stinkeye.

Tape treads were applied.  A piece of non-slip liner was pilfered from one of the kitchen drawers and placed on the floor of the brooder.  With these aids, the chick managed to totter about.  Later that day I discovered it sleeping on its back, bandaged feet in the air.  The tape treads had accumulated a truly shocking amount of poo.

Modelling the latest in strappy spring fashions . . . .

At the end of the third day, the chick was walking fairly well and, as an added bonus, had finally adopted a normal stance.  So we removed the braces, to the tune of much yelling from the chick:  "Sticky tape PULLS!"  Since then, it seems to have reached a plateau.  The toes haven't contracted again, and the chick hasn't gone back to standing like a penguin.  But it's not as mobile as the rest, and has a tendency to stagger and sit down suddenly.  I'm as bad as the proverbial mother hen, hovering over this kid and worrying, but at the moment there really isn't anything more that I can do, other than keep an eye on things.

And the incubator has been refilled, and set to run a second time.  Oh how I hope that things work out better this time around.  o.O

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