I never thought I’d be a chicken nurse, but I certainly have learned a lot. I can’t believe that in almost a year of chicken-rearing, I never noticed that a chicken’s eyelid closes from the bottom up. Then again, I’ve never been around a chicken who is injured and weary enough to fall asleep right in front of me in broad daylight. For a minute I had the strangest feeling that one or the other of us was upside down, but no, the eyelid, complete with tiny red eyelashes, closed upward.
Hey, wait a minute! The other day I was watching Little Red and I swear I saw her eyelid drop down from the top.
The time had definitely come for some research, which was harder than I expected. There simply was not very much information on the Internet about chicken eyelids. Fancy that! It was actually easier to find out about the development of a woodpecker’s tongue than about a chicken’s eye. Once I got on the right track, I found out several fascinating facts :
* All birds, not just chickens, have three eyelids; they do not have tear ducts, so one of the eyelids serves that function.
* Avian eyes make up 15% of the head, while human eyes are only 1% of the head. Avian and human vision is very similar.
* Birds can be literally half-asleep, with one brain hemisphere alert and the other taking a siesta. How handy! The hemispheres take turns sinking into the slow-brain-waves sleep stage; the eye controlled by the sleeping hemisphere droops shut, while the wakeful hemisphere’s eye stays open and vigilant (birds can also, thank heavens, sleep with both hemispheres resting at once).
* A bird on the outside edge of a flock tends to keep its outer-facing eye open while resting. This rather intriguing skill evolved as a protection against predators. Interestingly, it has only been found in birds and such aquatic mammals as dolphins, whales, seals and manatees. I can’t help thinking how useful this trick would be in business meetings.
I have learned other valuable things in the course of my nursing. Triple antibiotic ointment is the wonder-drug of the century, for either humans or chickens. I will never be without it again. Little Red prefers green beans to apples, but she loves cheese (of all things!) better than anything else I’ve tried.
After she spent three days here in the house in an extra-large dog crate lined with soft cottonseed hulls, I built my convalescing chicken a temporary daytime shelter outside so the sun and breezes can help her to heal and lift her spirits. She’s also right behind the chicken house so she can hear her flock and they can come to call during visiting hours in the afternoon. I covered the ground with alfalfa and set her up with water and snacks. In just a few hours, Little Red will have survived for six full days. I can’t help thinking she’s going to make it through this crisis.
I expect most nurses are familiar with the kind of rollercoaster I’ve been riding. There were several mornings I awakened with a heavy heart, expecting to find my chicken dead, and other times that she gave me a feisty little peck on my hand that thrilled me with hope. There were moments in which I wondered if I was doing the wrong thing, merely prolonging her suffering, or if it might have been better if the dog’s attack had been immediately fatal. Then there’s a day like today when her appetite for cheese and green beans makes me feel like dancing a jig.
I never dreamed I’d wash a chicken’s butt or do physical therapy to try to get her to use her legs properly. I had no idea I’d fuss the way I do, checking on her every half hour to make sure she’s safe and comfortable out in the yard. I never thought I’d be a chicken taxi service either, carrying her back and forth between the daytime and night-time wings of our makeshift chicken hospital.
I can’t help recalling again the true meaning of husbandry : bonded to the household. Little Red and I have a bond that makes almost anything possible.
By the way, iHola! I’m Lola just laid her first green egg today. Perhaps everything is going to be all right after all.