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My sister, Anne, moved into her new house recently and decided it was finally time to get her own backyard chicken flock. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I decided to go with her to pick out the chicks at a local feed store. Who could turn down a trip to see such adorable fuzzy animals? I watched her pick her different breeds out and, one-by-one, add three little girls to a cardboard box. The saleswoman was beginning to tape the box shut when she asked “Is that all for you?” I suddenly heard a shrill voice screaming “And one more!!!”

It was me. I couldn’t help it. They were adorable! Look at this picture of Anne’s chick Sunny – could you resist that? I made it for 29 minutes of the 30 minute trip and just couldn’t resist anymore. I added a day-old Barred Plymouth Rock to the box.

The plan was quickly formed on the car ride home: Anne would raise my chicks with her until my little girl was old enough to be introduced to my other girls. I named her Mabel.

Things went fine the first week, but it started to appear Mabel was getting the bottom rung of the chick pecking order. She also had problems not grooming herself, so I had to actually clean her bottom a several times for her. A couple weeks went by and she started withdrawing from the other girls. She mostly hung out in one corner alone, with the other chicks occasionally running her over during their wild energy sprees. Another disconcerting observation was that she didn’t seem to be growing. The other three chicks were at least double her size.
I got nervous when I saw her that Friday night, a few weeks into the chick-raising adventure. She was having problems staying awake and seemed so small and frail. I knew she wouldn’t make it through the night – I could just tell. I ran to a pet store, bought a heat lamp, threw together a setup at home, and brought little Mabel home with me. I pulverize her baby chick feed in my cleaned out coffee grinder, mixed it with warm water and electrolytes (vitamins for chickens) and created a super-powered baby chick mush. I grabbed an eye dropped and proceeded to force feed her.
At first it was messy and she didn’t like it, but I managed to shove a good amount of food into her belly. The next morning I jumped out of bed and she was alive and chirping! All day Saturday she actively ate the mush out of my hand every couple hours (no more force feeding!). She started grooming herself again, which was a great sign! Sunday brought more of the same. I even brought her outside into the sunshine and watched her stretch her wings and run around pecking at worms and bugs. I knew she would make it.

Around 8:00 that Sunday evening I was making dinner with a friend in my kitchen. Little Mabel’s cage was on one of the counters under the heat lamp. I noticed she was starting to seem listless and shivery. I kept an eye on her and put in a fresh, new fluffy sock that she curled up in under the heat lamp. She seemed to be breathing kind of hard. I tried force feeding her some mush again, but this time I couldn’t keep her awake. Her face kept falling right into the mush and I couldn’t nudge her awake. I figured she was just tired from her active day so I put her down in the little sock. That’s when it happened.

Suddenly, viciously, Mabel started seizing. It was the scariest thing I have ever seen. Her whole body contorted and flailed violently around the cage. She was gasping for air. I was sobbing and hysterically saying “Oh my god, what should I do? What should I do? We need to help her!” But nothing could help her. In a few more seconds, little Mabel was lying lifeless on the cage floor. And still, in my mind, I kept thinking I could do something to help her.

It all went by so fast. It had maybe been 30 minutes since she first started to show signs of fatigue.

We wrapped Mabel up in her sock later that night and buried her outside. I didn’t want her to be cold. I cried all night in bed and walked into work with puffy eyes Monday morning. It was a very quiet day for me.

It’s been a month or so since it happened, and still it makes my eyes water. I realize more now that something was terribly wrong internally with Mabel. When I saw Anne’s chicks again, I realized they were more like 3x her size. And despite feeding her, giving her clean water, and providing warmth, her body wasn’t meant to live past that Friday night. I gave her two extra days and a wonderful afternoon in the big sunny yard, and Fate really didn’t mean for her to have any of that.

Today I planted a little hydrangea bush over the site where she is buried, snug in her little sock – in loving memory of Mabel.
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Written by Renee Wilkinson