Life Goes On

Okay. So. There’s been enough going on around here that I can barely wrap my arms around it all, much less tell a coherent story about it…but I guess if we’re going to start somewhere, we should start with the guineas.


Fair warning: This is not a story with a happy ending.

Two weeks ago this was all pretty exciting. I mean, in no way did I want 14 more guinea hens living in my barn all winter, much less on the property forever, but once these little balls of fluff were here, I couldn’t help but want to keep them around.


How could you not?

But they also added a lot of latent stress to my life. Like, there are things in life I cannot do anything about and I choose not to worry about them, and there are things in life I can (and should) do something about and I choose to handle them… and then there is shit like this that that falls right in the middle. Like, did the guinea mom know what to do, or should I intervene? Were the chickens going to kill the keets? Should I set up food and water for them outside the barn? Was it going to be too cold? Etc., etc., etc.

Yes. All the things.

You also have to understand that When I was a kid and it rained I used to make my best friend help me pick up all the worms off the driveway that had been partially run over and perform surgery to “save” them… so this is where I’m coming from. It’s taken a fair chunk of my life realize and accept that sometimes I just need to let nature do its thing, and sometimes that means the weakest birds die.

I’m still not at the point where I can just sit there and watch them die though, so on more than one occasion I scooped up a “straggler” that was crying pitifully in the grass while mom was already on the other side of the house and warmed it up under the heat lamp before putting it back out with the flock.


Still, Friday morning I counted the chicks after they were all up and out of the barn, and there were only 9. From what I can tell nothing was “getting” them, they were just falling behind, getting cold, and eventually dying. One by one.

Last Saturday morning there were only 5 keets left.

One was dead in the grass outside the barn, two were dead in the “nest” the mom had made in a corner of the barn. Of the 5 left, 3 had “droopy wings” and were stumbling around like they were drunk. And this is the point where I was like, “Oh, fuck Darwin and the finch he rode in on… I’m saving these birds.” So I tried.

I brought the stragglers in the house one at a time (and had to go a round with mom to get the last one even though it was dying right in front of her.)


Once they were in the brood box, I dunked all of their beaks in the water trough so they knew were to get a drink, and holy shit, I’ve never seen little birds (or any animal) drink like that before. Clearly mom hadn’t shown them how to get water in the barn, so I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the babies that died earlier had been dehydrated.image

Four of the five perked up after water and some time under the head lamp, but they were used to free-ranging and mom showing them what to eat, and I couldn’t get them to try to chick feed. So. Plan B.


At this point I had 2 hours before I had to leave for a 3-hour drive to my best friends bachelorette party and I decided that I could build a brooder in the barn, get showered, and pack for an overnight trip in 90 minutes.

Of course I did.

And it worked… kinda. I built the box out of scrap I had lying around. My thought was with the heat light on them they’d stay warm, and mom could fly into the box and show them how to eat, etc. instead of dragging them around the property.


As soon as mom heard them, she was in there in a flash, and she did get them all warmed up, but inside of an hour two more of the babies were dead.

So, the remaining three babies came back in the house while I got ready to leave, and my mother comes up to stay the night with what has to be the loudest three little birds I’ve ever personally experienced. (Also, let’s once again acknowledge how awesome my mom is to come up to the farm at the last minute for bird-sitting duty… I’m lucky I’m her only child so that she doesn’t realize how weird and ridiculous this is.)

Anyway, I leave my mom alone in the house with three loud little birds that seem to be doing fairly well…

Then 30 minutes into my drive she calls me. One bird is dead and another one is struggling. At this point she tells me she decided to pick the struggling bird up and it’s sitting in her lap while she sings to it.

Let me tell you, there are so many ways in which I am just a younger and slightly more female version of my father. But this thing– the singing to a dying bird thing, or trying to save the worms, or probably a lot of what makes me want to be a good steward to the land and animals I care for around here– that’s all from my mom.

And, after calling me to give me the status update on the birds she texted me 10 minutes later with this:

“Well, I thought it was just content sitting in my lap, but it turns out it died with its eyes open.”

I know, I know… that really shouldn’t be funny, but it still makes me laugh. Every time. That is just so my mom.

In the end, none of the little nugs would have made it past Saturday morning with their mom, and none of them made it past Saturday evening with our “help”… so. I’m not sure what exactly the problem was, but I expect the late timing/cool temps and the fact that they weren’t drinking water early on probably had something to do with it. And I’m sure there’s probably a life lesson (or at least a farm lesson) hidden in there somewhere, but in the end I buried them all out in the field.


Which seems a bit strange to do for a bunch of little chicks, I know. I wasn’t memorializing them or anything like that… I just like the idea that all the little building blocks that made up those birds came from this property, and now they’re a part of the land again.

And life goes on.

29 Responses

  1. I’m one of those people that get upset seeing roadkill and have to just block it out and imagine that the dog, cat, raccoon, opossum, deer etc. had a quick and painless death. So I totally understand where you are coming from. When do you help them, and when do you accept that sometimes life sucks?

    I think you made a valiant effort for them. Sometimes life sucks.

  2. Possibly because it was so late Darwin had mom all messed up with motherly caring instincts early on (or lack there of ) thus not teaching them how to fend before the cold weather and to get enough water. Yea, hate to see new little critters on your farm not make it but life sometimes sucks and we have not the last word. You indeed, made a very valiant effort to save the chicks. I’m not putting mother nature in question here on the late hatch, I’m saying Darwin wasn’t perfect and is responsible. 🙂

  3. Hey I just want to say that I went through a similar life lesson this summer and want to commiserate. One of my hens hatched 2 chicks, so I left them with her since the mama hen is SUPPOSED to be a good mom and protect her young and whatnot, similar to your Guinea mom. Well a few weeks in I noticed that the younger chick had been attacked so badly by the other hens that it was missing all the skin on its back. The mama hen didn’t give a single shit and ignored the sad cries of her dying baby. I took the young injured guy in and tried to nurse it back to health, or more realistically just make it comfortable, but it died shortly after bringing it in. Sometimes animals are shit moms and you feel badly that you didn’t recognize it early enough to be able to help the cute little innocents. I mean, poultry are basically tiny dinosaurs so I shouldn’t be too surprised when they act like savage beasts and rip each other apart. I hope you’re not taking it too hard and can chalk it up to a lesson learned. I also opted to bury the little nugget. Now he’s resting in the poultry cemetery of past lessons learned. Every year there are tough lessons to learn, but it also gets easier every time.

  4. This is why I’m afraid I could never raise animals. It would take me a long time to learn to let go and let nature do what it does. Kudos to you.

    Also, this is completely unrelated: Do you know why are there two “trackback” items listed under your comments, which seem to be blogs that are just posting your content (and other people’s) as their own? I always assumed these were maybe people who mentioned your blog in their own, but that doesn’t seem to be the case!

      1. Weirdness! How do you stop that? Unfortunately, they are now getting hits because we’re checking this out. Let me know how you fix this because I don’t check the trackbacks on my blog and this same thing may be happening there too.

        1. And it’s weirder that Kit’s blog is ‘tracked’/’referenced’ at the bottom of those 2 blogs.

          Coding/system snafu…?

          1. Hey guys, you’re right… these are “content scrapers” who automatically copy content from certain places and put in on their websites. This is because I have an open RSS feed (which means people who subscribe through a feeder can see my whole posts without clicking another “click here to see more” link.) In order to get these taken down I have to fill out a tedious form for each post stolen and then as soon as I post something new it happens automatically again. Mostly they do this for google ranking and not for pageviews, but, honestly, it still pisses me off and I’m trying to figure out how to pursue legal action. I usually delete the trackbacks once I’ve reported them, but not before so I don’t forget… sorry about the inconvenience!

  5. I can handle animals dying, I just can’t handle animals suffering. It sounds like you did your best to make sure the baby birds didn’t suffer.

  6. you were valiant and did what i would have too.

    agree with other person – can not stand suffering and death – well not happy with that either.

    perhaps survival rate with guinea is low so that is why there were so many? and perhaps it was the lateness in the season of the birth.

    you did the best you could… good for you
    and your mom! wow! what a LADY!

    here’s to battling Darwin and winning Next time!

  7. Well shit… I’m laughing and crying all at the same time. Bless you girl and your cando-neversaydie attitude. I would have buried those little critters too.

  8. There was something very peaceful about their deaths. They kept slowing down over a period of about one hour, and then “went to sleep”. It was sad, but I could somehow surprisingly accept it. And you have all explained it to me – because they didn’t suffer.

  9. So sorry for your little nugs. You tried and if you look at it in the way of nature, if you hadn’t been there to at least try to help them, they wouldn’t have made it that long. This was a live and learn moment and you did as good as you could (oh and your Mom :-)_ Loved the Darwin comment and I may be twisted (I once talked to a baby skunk who I was trying to re-hydrate and until the moment he died, I had a full conversation going on the necessity of drinking water) but the text from your mom made me giggle too!

  10. Sometimes natural selection and the cycle of life is too much for my human heart to take as I anthropomorphize everything. For that reason alone I don’t think I could ever live on a farm and I worry mightily about raising chickens in my backyard like I want to.

  11. That “Thomas Rush” blog has stolen several of Kit’s posts. Not sure how many the “Steven Bush” blog has stolen.

  12. So very sorry for the loss of the little nugs, what a valiant effort you and your made to keep them amongst the living. Hang in there!

  13. Well, at least now we know that guinea hens don’t teach their babies to drink. Good to know if I ever have a guinea hen. The sneaks off and has a hundred babies.

  14. I had the same thing happen to me with some chicks this past winter. My hen hatched 12 and by the end of the week, she had 5. With the cold, other big birds, and so much going on, I just think the hen wasn’t up for taking care of so many.

    Don’t give up on it. I have 9 guineas and they are a blast and aren’t that loud…

  15. So sorry to hear about your chicks. We learned this the hard way too and lost 14 chicks the first time the hen hatched a bunch. Now we take the chicks from the mom as soon as they hatch and raise them seperately from her. Some people around here will use a Bantam hen as a substitute mother, they are like the super moms of the bird world 🙂

  16. I’m so sorry about the heartache 🙁

    Unfortunately, Guineas are barely smart enough to remember to breathe *Seriously, a slice of bread has more brains than those birds). Everything else with them is a crap shot at best. If you want a certified Mama hen you might want to experiment with Silkies. Good luck!

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