Simply Read, Rifle, CO
photo by Tobin Sanson

Monday, October 25, 2010

Half Chicken. . . Whole Story

The first snow fall of the year can only mean one thing. . .Halloween is on it's way. I've never been very good at Halloween. This year however that is all going to change with an eye patch, some makeshift leg splints and a chicken costume.

Each year, in the Spring, my Kindergarteners and I attempt to hatch baby chicks. To date 12 and a half chickens have come into my classroom.

This is the story of the Half Chicken.

After 21 days of anticipation, "hatching day" had finally arrived. I came into school extra early and tiptoed into my classroom, listening carefully for the little chirps of baby chickens.  For the record, I'd only every hatched one chicken, and he did not last long in this world.  So I'm not sure why I'd decided to try this whole experiment again. 

Sure enough, I hear little peep-peeps and hurry to the incubator.  Three fluffy black chickens are scurrying about while one more is wet and resting on the floor, after what I can only assume was an exhausting escape from a cramped shell. Throughout that day my classroom of children got to watch an additional 4 black chickens break free of their shells.  "This is the BEST day of my life!!!" rang from the the mouths of the children throughout the day.

By the end of the day four more eggs had small holes in them, promising more baby chicks in the morning.

Day two was when it all started to go wrong. Upon arriving at school I found 3 more black fluffy chickens wobbling and chirping about the incubator, bringing the total to 11.  It was adorable. . . well nearly adorable.

Also in the incubator was the egg/chick that would come to be known throughout the school as Half Chicken.  This little guy had managed to peck a dime sized hole in his shell.  Just enough room for all who looked to see that he was the only yellow chicken of the flock AND that something wasn't quite right.  His little yellow beak just didn't line up. It was lopsided, misaligned, and utterly useless. We could clearly see and hear this chick as he chirped and squawked and struggled to free himself.

You can only imagine the types of conversations that came of this situation.  Is he a chicken or is he an egg? What are we going to do? Can we help him out of the egg?

I'd done lots of internet research and knew that you are not suppose to help a chicken out of it's egg.  Breaking out is the prerequisite to becoming a chicken. If they can't get out, they are meant to be a chicken. "But what about c-section babies?" the other teachers ask. You were a c-section baby Ms. Vennon, what if no one had helped you out?

Despite a small, but strong contingent of "Free Half Chick" supporters, I stood by my opinion and refused to help this chicken, or was it still an egg? That night I went home, secretly hoping that in the morning the struggle would be over and we could deal with whatever that meant.

But no, the next day there he was. Still stuck, still fighting. Surely nature will run it's course sometime during the day, or with any luck overnight.

NO, day three arrives and this little chicken/egg is still making noise and struggling to free itself. Only now, it's managed to get one foot out of the egg.  Just one foot and a beak.

On a small side note, this was a day when the children were not in school, but were scheduled to come in, one at a time, and take their end of the year assessment.  The test that would show everything they'd learned, or rather that I'd taught them, throughout the year. How were they suppose to concentrate with half chicken squawking away in the incubator, with a just a foot and a beak sticking out.  This was getting ridiculous.  And to make it worse, every time I thought about the situation I visualized those little salt and pepper shakers walking around.  You know, the ones that are an egg with legs sticking out.  It was awful.

So I gave in.  I called the head of the "Free Half Chicken" support group and told him to do whatever he needed to do.  Half Chicken had to leave my classroom immediately and I was not to be held responsible for whatever was to come. But, I of course, wanted updates.

A few minutes later I get a call.  "Well, we hatched him," the voice said,  "and you were right, he kind of is a half chicken." I was informed that Half Chicken had only one eye and that his legs were utterly useless. Not to mention the fact that is beak was all wrong, so the prospect of eating or drinking didn't look good. He was free, but things didn't look good.

After a long day, we all left the school with heavy hearts, knowing that Half Chicken was unlikely to make it through the night.

"You're not going to believe it!!" screams the first voice I hear the next morning.  "Half Chicken is alive and he's standing up!"

A plan was quickly made to take Half Chicken 20 miles up valley to the vet. Perhaps they could save him.  He'd peeped out of his egg almost 5 days ago at this point.  Surely he needed to eat, or drink, or something. So, the incubator was plugged into the car charger and off Half Chicken went.

Throughout the late afternoon we received text message updates from the teacher who had arranged for all of this.

TXT: She put in a feeding tube
TXT: He's on an IV now
TXT: Be back soon
TXT: We're going to need to borrow a chicken as a mentor

$250 later Half Chicken had been put on a strict beak exercise routine, that involved squeezing and releasing his beak for 15 seconds at a time. He was also issued leg braces and prescribed a nutrient rich mash that was to be fed, via a suringe, every hour, on the hour, day and night.

The care of Half Chicken went to a 9 year old girl. She was determined to be the most experienced in these matter, as she had raised duckling the year before (although we do not talk about how that ended).

For a week, Half Chicken was in the school, traveling in his incubator, with his mentor chicken. He was fed during reading, math, and science and was often seen in the cafeteria being admired by the children in the school.  That girl carried Half Chicken with here EVERYWHERE.

And then one morning I came to school only to find Half Chicken's caretaker in my classroom sadly returning the mentor chick to his flock.

"Oh honey, I'm so sorry, what happened?" was all I could say.

"Well. . . we were driving home from school last night and he just died and THEN he fell into his water bowl,"  she replied.

We'll never know if this order of events was exactly correct.  But, Half Chicken will live on. . . if only in my Halloween costume.


  1. Holy cow, what an amazing thing to do in a classroom! How long do you keep the chickens afterward and then where do they go? Sad about the yellow half-chicken, and also sad I still cannot resist eating chicken sometimes...

  2. Lydia-
    The chicks stay in the classroom for about 3 weeks. At that point they can nearly jump out of their trough. This batch was sent home with friends of mine who raise chickens for their eggs. They are all doing great and producing eggs (except the roosters).

    I also cannot resist eating chicken, but now at least I have a better understanding of where they come from. These little guys have a great life and still love to be held!