It was a dark and stormy night. I had gone to bed at nine o' clock but it was eleven now and I was still awake.
At eleven thirty I was so hot I got up and kneeled by the window. I was contemplating taking the screen out and sticking my head in the rain to cool off when I noticed the barn lights were on.
I went to my parent's room to ask why the barn lights were on. Mom stirred and sat up. I walked over to her. "Sarah," she hissed at me in an angry whisper. "Go out there and get the little kids. They've been out there for an hour!" I left the room and went down our creaking stairs.
I walked swiftly across the driveway in the dark through the rain. The wind quickly dried the sweat on my body. The yard light was on but it was muffled because of the storm. Out of the darkness to my left, came an eerie procession. Ten of our ducks were silently marching across the yard eating the grass.
The lights in the barn hit my eyes with a vengeance. Walking to the north calf pen my bare feet and legs protested at the feel of the lime on the floor.
A surreal sight greeted me in the pen. Three soaking wet and dirty kids in various states of dress and undress were standing amidst a wreck of extension cords, dirty straw, wet towels, a large dog kennel and a miserable looking calf. The combined picture made me conclude that I was actually dreaming.
Rachel in particular looked strictly ridiculous. Her long, wet hair hung witchlike down her back and she was wearing a huge tie-dyed t-shirt. A glimpse of her skinny legs was just visible between her huge shirt and her knee-high red rubber boots.
"Hi Sarah!" Mary said brightly. "Did you come out too?" Ever the optimist, Mary shifted the hair dryer she was holding to her other hand and waved at me. Then she resumed blowing air busily into the dog kennel.
"Sarah!" my cousin Becca said, "We came out to get the calf in the barn."
"Yeah," Rachel said, "Sherry was outside."
"I know," I said, "She was sick so I put her out so she could get some fresh air, but she was under the trailer, she should've been fine."
"Yes," Becca said, "she wasn't that wet, just a little, but Sarah..."
A peeping sound from the dog kennel got my attention. "The chicks!" I cried. Suddenly everything became clear. They had come out to get the calf in the barn, had remembered the chicks in the pen, and when they went to check on them they found them almost drowned. That was why they had the hairdryer out here. They were trying to save the chick's lives! Looking into the dog kennel, I saw that they were all fairly dry, but miserable, crouching on the floor with their wings spread out to balance themselves.
"We gave them food and water, they've been eating," said Rachel.
"Good," I said, "Mary, you can stop now, they'll be fine. You guys did the right thing, to bring them in and dry them off. How many died?"
Rachel and Rebecca said they thought three. "Where are they?" I asked.
"We left them out there," Becca said.
"Oh no!" I said. "Quick! Put that down, Mary! Hurry! Rachel grab a flashlight!" I slipped through the wooden pars of the pen, went out through the feed room and ran toward the cage. We had been fooled before by chicks we thought were dead when actually there was still a spark of life in them. It is an odd thing with chicks, that though they are delicate and die quickly, many times you can save them as long as they are still breathing.
I jammed my knee on the cage in my hurry to get it open, and cut my fingers on the loose wire. I peered into the cage, but it was too dark to see. "O.K. Rachel, give me the flash light!" I said reaching into the cage.
"Oh, you wanted it out here? I left it in the barn."
"What! I told you to grab it!"
"I did!" Rachel cried defensively. "But then I set it back down," she finished lamely. There was a pause, "I'll go get it, I'll be right back." She ran off toward the barn. "What did she think I told her to grab it for?" I asked disgustedly. Nobody answered.
Becca volunteered to climb in and crawl on the ground to feel for them. I told her no because she would get full of chicken manure. She said that didn't matter because she had done it already tonight and she couldn't get much worse.
"It wasn't that bad, Sarah, although I got some on my hands, which was gross." Well, that explained the brown stains on her I had seen in the barn.
When Rachel brought the flashlight, I was able to fish the three limp chicks out. Shining the light on them, I was disappointed. They were all stiff and rigid. Then Mary yelled. "Look, Sarah! The black one, it breathed!"
Frantically we grabbed them and raced back to the barn. I concentrated the hairdryer on the weakly breathing chick. As it's feathers dried and it's body warmed, it began to move. Then it sat up and let out a few hoarse croaks.
Mary, Rachel and Becca cheered.
"Give it some food and water." I said smiling. "That's one tough chick, it'll be okay."
Farm Fact: Chicken language has real meanings. The birds give different alarm calls depending on which type of predator is threatening them.