by May Woodworth
Once it was clear that Uno was the sole survivor of the incubator hatch, I evaluated him. He was in rough shape. In addition to the obvious inability to move without flipping backwards, and thrashing around the brooder, the left side of his head was extremely swollen. He could not open that eye. I am more than willing to put any creature out of its misery when needed, but I sensed the desire to live in this little chick. Despite his state, he still tried to get to the food and water, thrashing and flipping around pitifully with his attempts. It was these attempts, along with the ‘something’ I saw in his one good eye (he would crane his wee head to make eye contact with me), that kept me trying to figure out how to help him. I had no clue if he could be helped.
The next two weeks were a blur. They consisted of 24/7 ICU chick care. Luckily, I had time that summer to do such a thing. If it wasn’t for all the pictures I took, I might not believe it happened. It was hour to hour. At times, I was uncertain if he would not make it to the next hour, but he did.
After extensive online research, wry neck sounded like his biggest issue. It was a Community Chicken article about wry neck that resonated the most with me. I applied some of that information and additional online advice to his care regime.
The heat lamp was kept on always. With no additional chicks to keep him warm, I felt this this was a must. We made a washcloth bundle, and attached some of his father’s feathers to it to mimic a chick. He leaned on this mock brooder mate occasionally.
His neck needed to be untwisted and propped between my fingers every time I picked him up. I traded the washcloths for swatches of purple velvet fabric to swaddle him. He was tiny, and frail.
Low of funds, I used whatever I had on hand. I made a liquid concoction of turmeric, vitamin e oil, scrambled eggs, and vitamin water (Crushed a human multi vitamin that had selenium in it). Tiny amounts of this was syringed into his wee beak every few hours, along with a squirt of just the vitamin water to wash it down.
This concoction kept him alive, and he pooped, but I did not see any real improvement at first. He still ‘star gazed’, or flipped over backwards from the slightest movement. Until a few days later, when he held his head up on his own for a few moments. The swelling on the left side had diminished. He could open his left eye. It was joyous!
The joy was short lived. While cooking in the kitchen, I heard a strange noise in the brooder room. My heart sunk when I peeked inside. He was face first in the chick waterer and could not get himself out. It wasn’t a big waterer, just a small chick waterer, but his neck had seized, and he could not lift his head. He could have drowned. He was limp, and cold, and I was certain he would die. I swaddled him in velvet and carried him in my cleavage the rest of that day, waiting for him to take his last breath. The syringe nutrients continued. The relapse lasted two days. I checked on him endlessly, braced to find him gone. But he never left.
When he seemed a little better, on a whim, I swaddled him and brought him outside into the sunshine. I figured he should see the sky, trees, and feel grass before he died.
That was a huge turning point. Like a switch was flipped in his head. He squirmed and struggled to raise his face to the sun. When he saw the other chickens, and the dog running around, he squirmed in my hands. He tilted his head back when the sun shone on his face. Being outside? It was pure joy for him. That spark inside of him burned brighter. So much so, that when I put him in the brooder, he cried to come back out.
Youtube video of Uno healing (about a week old) https://youtu.be/dBfZEEtwP-Q
As his health improved, his awareness of being alone grew. The poor thing was all alone in there. He peeped and cried at times, until I called to him from wherever I was. I provided little field trips to different parts of the property and house, to keep him stimulated. I was accused of ‘spoiling’ him, but how could I deny his need for company? I couldn’t. That’s how. If he had chick mates, he wouldn’t need me as much. But it was what it was.
I cooked dinner with him in my cleavage, and spent lots of time with him in the grass or in the garden on sunny days to watch the older chickens and dog run around. One of his favorite activities was to watch the turkeys strut in their enclosure. The turkey hens were particularly curious about him, nudging right up to the mesh to get a better look, singing and peeping to him.
After the chick waterer relapse, each day there were more improvements. He could hold his head up for longer periods, and was able to take a few steps. The biggest joy was when I observed him on the monitor take a few steps, and then peck at his food, all on his own! That night I fell asleep in our bed (not the couch) feeling that he was on the road to recovery.
At some point that night, things went wonky again. When I checked him at dawn, he was cold and limp. Another relapse. The red heat lamp was on, but not putting out heat. We have no idea why it stopped working like that, but it did.
Uno was back to star gazing, and flipping backward. Back into my cleavage during the day. Me back on the couch at night. This time it took three days before he snapped out of it. Three long rainy days. On the third day, the sun came out I brought him outside (swaddled and kept warm). He perked up immediately. I brought him to walk in one of the gardens. He was smaller than a green bean.
After that he got stronger, and more vocal. I sensed his loneliness even more for other small critters. It was September, and no one near us had young chicks. At dinner one evening, my guy presented me with the invoice for an order he made. Chicks! He ordered sixteen chicks from a hatchery in Pennsylvania. They wouldn’t arrive for three more weeks though. Until then, I did my best to entertain him.
When the Jennies (Novogens) arrived, Uno was over a month old. I placed two in his brooder with him, the rest went into a separate brooder. He was scared at first, and then he tentatively made friends. To this day, Uno, Shadow and Snowball are inseparable.
Uno will be one this August. I still add turmeric to his daily treat (scrambled eggs are still his favorite). On occasion, I’ll see that his left foot is hurting (it will be visibly swollen and he will favor it, hold it up more). Sometimes I bring him inside for a day off. This is when I apply a homemade turmeric/beeswax paste to his afflicted leg and foot, and give him a little break from his rooster duties. He will allow it for a day, but as soon as dusk arrives, he wants in the coop with his girls. I get it. He has a job to do, and he does it very well.
If you come to visit us, amidst all the pretty flocks of chickens, turkeys, ducks, and cute goats, there will be Uno. The odd-looking rooster who is full of quirks. The one that almost died (not once, but many times.) The one I hold near and dear to my heart.