By Ayesha Syar
When my sister left for college, she left behind a learning experience for me, one that resulted in a flock of lifelong companions.
When my sister left for college, she left behind a flock of unruly hens. My parents have owned chickens for several years, a nostalgic re-creation of their lives in Pakistan that they insist on preserving in a New York City neighborhood. So, when a new group of eight baby chicks hatched, I was tasked with being their primary caretaker. Every morning, as I made my way to their coop, their discordant clucks would fill the air, demanding their breakfast. I scattered the pellets across the ground and watched as they darted towards the food, climbing over each other and pecking their siblings to demand their turn.
“5, 6, 7 …” I darted around to look for the eighth baby chick, which was nowhere among her siblings. After searching outside of the fenced coop, I saw the chick, huddled in a ball. Her brown and yellow feathers were sparse and revealed patches of pink skin. As I picked her up, she didn’t kick and chirp like her siblings. After gently examining her in my hand, I realized that her beak could not fully open to grab the pellet seeds. Confusion and sadness welled up in my stomach. If she couldn’t eat, how would she survive?
I started to search the internet, hastily typing “why can’t my chicken’s beak open?” and found everything from worms in her beak to the chick being born without a neck. Even more shocking were the solutions, which recommended cutting her beak or manually forcing it open. I couldn’t stand the thought of putting this small animal through so much pain, so I began experimenting with my own feeding techniques. After chopping the pellets up in a food processor, crushing them with a rolling pin, I realized smaller pellets wouldn’t work because when she went down to peck the pellets, they would slide away. So I tried mixing it with honey, instead, which proved to be too thick for her to peck at. Then, at last, I landed on a successful recipe: water and pellets.
I buried my hand into the bag and grabbed a handful of brown pellets before hastily grinding them in a mortar with some water. For the third time that day, I made my way over to the baby chick and placed the brown mush on my fingertips, waiting for her to eat. To save her from being pecked by the other hens at night, I transferred her to my room and made her a makeshift home from a crate, hay, and a desk lamp. After many weeks of feeding her three times a day, her croaks turned into cheeps, which greeted me as I woke up, and her sleek brown feathers covered the once bald pink spots. When I re-introduced her to the family coop, she was now one of the first to dash towards the food.
This essay reflects upon the lessons I learned while caring for a sick baby chick. I felt inspired to preserve my experience through words, and began by documenting the different stages that occurred. I deliberately chose to structure the piece in four paragraphs, each one containing an important part of the journey. The essay begins with my reluctance to care for the chickens, then moves to my feeling scared and hopeless when the sick chick was put in my care, and finally moves into doing everything in my power to help the chick. Around the middle of the development process, I struggled with deciding what to omit in my writing, as there was so much more I could have spoken about. I found it difficult to synthesize my words and keep myself from writing long run-on sentences. However, with the help of my mentor, I began to polish my essay and use imagery and dialogue to pull the reader into the moment. As I worked on this piece I learned the lesson that sometimes less is more.
Ayesha Syar is a high school senior interested in computer science, animation and the visual arts. She hopes to use the intersection of both fields of study to give back to her community. She has held internship positions at the American Museum of Natural History studying spider genomics, as well as volunteering as a teaching artist. Ayesha enjoys spending the weekends attending races for her school’s track team or painting and spending time with her family.