Parable of the Dying Chick
I own a flock of hens; eight to be exact. I don’t particularly like chickens, but I keep a few because like me they are scavengers. Along with their normal feed, they will gladly consume any leftovers I don’t claim first. Unlike me, they produce more than belly fat from those leftovers, so we enjoy a few fresh eggs.
Our children are all “city kids”, but a bit of residual agriculture runs through the veins of my wife and I. For all my many moves, I grew up mostly on or around farms in northeastern Washington State. My wife was raised on a small farm in southern Idaho, where her dad also worked as a state potato inspector.
The other day, I stopped by the local feed store to pick up a bag of chicken feed. My wife and 18 year old ‘citified’ daughter were with me at the time. It was spring, so as we entered the store it was alive with the peeping of baby chicks. While my wife was off checking on some items for one of her projects, my daughter and I wandered through the aisles looking at all the varieties of chicks on display.
As we were looking at the chicks, I pointed to one and said, “That one is dying.”
“Oooohh!” was my daughter’s sympathetic response. “Why is it dying?”
My intent was to supplement her urban education. I explained how fragile baby chicks were and how high the mortality rate could be; especially if they were not cared for carefully. I pointed out how the chick sat stationary against the side of the box. I told her it had either become sick, or more likely, injured during transport. Now it did not have the ability to fend off its fellows who were walking on it and curiously pecking at it. I wanted her to understand that the “Circle of Life” is more than a Disney song by Elton John and Tim Rice.
I don’t know why I expected to give this daughter any agricultural insight, when I had so completely failed with all her siblings. When we bought our house in a somewhat remote area of the city nearly 30 years ago, our nearest neighbors had a variety of farm fowl as well as a few rabbits and goats. I thought raising a few chickens and rabbits was a great way to supply some meat and eggs; supplementing my meager income.
I set to work building the needed chicken coop and rabbit hutches. We acquired the necessary livestock. I had heeded the call of the soil. I was excited to be a farmer again. I wanted my children to be excited too. I encouraged them to wander in and out of the animal pens like I had done as a child on the farm. They did. Of course after about a week, all the critters had names and were pets. Rabbits and chickens were carried around like dolls. When the children learned that I intended to kill and eat their pets, they were all appalled. They were never going to eat Fluffy, Pecky, or Trouble.
As you may have already guessed, no sharp blade has ever touched an animal on our place. Even worse, most of the beasts live well past their “sell by” dates. They enjoy a long life; very long life; extremely long life, where they eat me out of house and home and (aside from an occasional egg) never produce as single edible thing.
After looking at the assorted baby chicks, I bought my feed and carried it to the car. I deposited the sack on the back seat. When I turned, my wife and daughter were walking purposefully back into the store.
“Where are you going?” I asked (as if I didn’t already know.)
“We’re going to buy that baby chick!” was my daughter’s response. “I’m not going to leave it to die where it is being picked on. If it dies it is at least going to be loved.”
So that is how we got into the business of providing hospice for a baby chick. I went back into the store with them, fished the pathetic little critter out of the flock, and placed it into the provided transport container.
At the check out, the clerk looked in the container to determine the breed. Noticing something was wrong, she asked with concern, “Is this one okay?”
“No!” was my daughter’s terse reply, “That is why I am buying it.”
I’m sure that answer confused the poor clerk because she spent the next couple of minutes explaining the return policy. If any of the chicks expired within the first 24 hours, the store would happily provide a replacement free of charge.
At home the baby chick was provided with a warm light, a cozy nest, food, water, and lots and lots of attention. Over the next few hours I thought I noticed some significant improvement, but predictably the next morning it was dead.
That should have been the end of it, but my daughter has been raised by a psychological Scotsman. “Waste not, want not.” My daughter had no original intent, other than caring for the dying chick. After its predictable demise, her pragmatic thrift kicked in. “We already paid for it and bought the feed. We just as well get a replacement so we don’t waste our money.”
Of course, when they returned to pick up a new chick, my wife and daughter decided they should buy a second chick, so the replacement chick wouldn’t be lonely.
That is how I went to the store for chicken feed and ended up raising two extra chickens.
What is the legacy of that dying baby chick? I am confident that in less than 24 hours, it received more love and attention than the combined flock of little ‘peepers’, but what did that insignificant little ball of fluff do for others. Did its last 24 hours have any impact?
My daughter was able to display some of her latent compassion on the terminally ill chick. I may have a few eggs produced by the new infusion to my flock. Two chicks lucked out. Whether they produce eggs or not, they will never find themselves sitting beside the mashed potatoes at Sunday dinner. My grandchildren had the joy of watching two piles of peeping fluff endure their awkward (unruly feathers poking out everywhere) teenage stage and mature into respectable looking hens. My children and grandchildren gained some additional insight into their parent’s and grandparent’s agricultural roots as they learned a little about what it takes to care for chickens. Isn’t that quite a legacy for such a brief and insignificant life?
Moral: No life, however insignificant or brief is without influence.
©2014 William L. Steen