On Sunday morning, the first tracks on our road scroll out behind my tires. It is my snowiest drive to work all winter—April 3. My feet make new tracks on the sidewalk at the emergency clinic. I am walking in to a kitten with an infected eye, a dog with dog bite wounds, an old cat with an intestinal blockage who tries to die under anesthesia.
I wish I had stayed home and sat all day, cross-legged, in the brooder. Light is constant and warm there. Peeping balls of fluff skitter across clean shavings and droop into naps. Chicks are simple babies, able to eat and drink and run on their own. Curiosity is their survival trait. They see everything, peck everything. They reassure me with their fragile, feisty lives.
They arrived early one morning, and we rang the bell at the post office back door, where we could hear the peeps inside. Sam carried the noisy box carefully to the car and held it on his lap. At home, we lifted each chick, weighing nothing, and dipped their beaks in water. It’s a ritual of welcome and a promise—we will care for you.
A farm, even a barely operational farm like ours, holds one hundred opportunities for tending—animals, plants, buildings, equipment, soil, each other. It is rhythmic work interspersed with frenzy, both meditative and stressful. The work is coaxing life, guiding life, and respectfully ending life to feed other lives. In spring, there is tiny new life to nudge forward.
At one week old, the chicks already seem like strapping young birds compared with a week ago. The twenty-five chicks that will grow into meat seem burlier—meatier—than the twenty future laying hens. They are all growing accustomed to us, and I indulge myself in reaching into the sleepy crowd of them and strumming my fingers among their soft bodies.
The chicks are getting their first feathers that extend fuzzy winglets into more useful-looking patterns. Oblivious to the April snow, these babies have everything they need. Our dog watches over them with all of her border collie concern, whining if her peeps sound distressed. I feel the same way about them, and about my veterinary patients.
At the emergency clinic, I think of the chicks as I stroke my fingertip up the nose and downy forehead of the old cat. The adrenaline settles in my bloodstream from navigating his rough anesthesia. This old cat survives, sits up, and we blink at each other, bewildered by the afternoon’s events. Relieved and subdued, I listen to his chest and tuck his blankets around him. It’s a ritual and a promise—we will care for you.