Chicken Math

My husband is a very patient man.

Somehow two chicken fatalities several weeks ago strongly suggested an immediate need for a whole new flock of chicks, so two weeks ago that exciting noisy box came to the post office and eighteen chicks took up residence in our spare bedroom. Much to my delight, and to Pearl’s, who was overwhelmedly thrilled to have baby chicks to stare at for hours at a time. We actually caught her perched on top of the brooders, absolutely fascinated by her chicks, and without any intent to injure them. My husband says she and I watch the chicks with the same expression on our faces.

I steered away from Buff Orpingtons due to their apparent lack of healthy fear (they were the two fatalities) and instead leaned heavily on Ameraucanas and Light Brahmas, and also added a few Delawares. McMurray Hatchery threw in three freebies for the total of eighteen chicks. What fun. I split the Brahmas and three Delawares off from the Ameraucanas after the first day or so, since the latter were all on the smaller size and I wanted to avoid picking. I used the same brooder setup as before, made from large Rubbermaid tubs with screen inserts in the lids, but was able to get by very easily with one heat lamp for the two brooders, rather than one lamp each.

The chicks have done really well over the last two weeks, without any losses. One chick, who has been named “Little Betsy,” or “Little Bee,” for short, one of the seven Ameraucanas, got some hand feeding for about five days due to her small size. She took readily to the egg yolk on a Q-tip and loved feeding time. She’s still petite and does have a slight cross beak, which doesn’t seem to be affecting her ability to eat, and gives her the funniest quizzical expression. She’s a gentle little bird.

Today was moving day and the chicks, just starting to reach their awkward adolescent stage with pin feathers and scruff, were graduated from the nursery brooders to their grade school brooder, made of an old Lumix feed tub, about 4×8 feet in size, with plenty of room for them to spread their little wing stubs. The two mini flocks had shown a little schoolyard hostility over the last few days, when one chick would manage to get into the other brooder, but they combined rather well this afternoon, without any issues. The warm summer weather will be to their advantage, only needing supplemental heat at night, and they will enjoy all the extra room. It really is amazing how fast chicks double and triple in size!

At least now Pearl can do her chicken chores without running back and forth from the house to the barn and back again. Maybe she’ll even take up her old hobby of bunny hunting. Meanwhile, I can try to figure out how it is that 18 chickens – 2 chickens = 34 chickens. Math never was my strength anyway.

Nesting

In spite of a beautiful set of heirloom nesting boxes, compliments of my husband’s grandma’s chicken coop, my chickens are determined to lay their eggs in a certain corner of their coop on the ledge of the floor sill, tucked behind the bin I store their feed in. A few days ago, I didn’t find any eggs and assumed they all just took a day, but the next morning I found a stash of four eggs in this choice corner, three of which were broken, with a chicken getting ready to deposit another in the same place.

I took away the feed sacks they were clumsily using as a sort of nest, tried to block the corner off, with the only end result that two chickens still managed to squeeze into that space and lay their eggs, one of which rolled off the floor sill and cracked. Foiled, by a critter with a brain the size of a lima bean.

Since they were insistent, I played along, if for no other reason than to keep the eggs from getting broken. I was also suspicious they were then eating the broken ones and was eager to nip that unsavory proclivity in the bud. So I made a makeshift nesting box with a 5-gallon bucket tipped on its side, and also did the golf balls in nesting box trick to try to con them into laying where I wanted them to lay. A few hens have seemingly caught on to the nesting boxes, with a little encouragement (i.e. actually placing them in the boxes and then babysitting them) and have used the nesting boxes without supervision since then, but there are apparently four hens that literally wait in line for that special corner, since all the eggs today were placed oh-so-nicely in the bucket, not in the nesting boxes.

I’ll keep working on getting them in the nesting boxes, but as long as they aren’t cannibalizing their own eggs, I honestly don’t really care where they feel compelled to put them. And if they’re patient enough to wait in line until their friend is done in that special corner, well, bless their little hearts.

Thankfulness, Like the Rain

We were sitting down for supper last night after a busy Sunday, listening to the sound of rain on our roof. Our weekend was a blur of county fair busyness, fire department busyness, hot weather, and lots of people we don’t get to see very often.

It was a hard week. Not a bad week, just long, hot, and dry. We could gripe about a lot of things. We could gripe about the hot and dry weather we’ve been having. The pastures that are so sparse they almost look grazed out even though they haven’t been grazed yet. Dry dams. Politics. Sturgis rally traffic. Or any other number of things we humans are great at coming up with to complain about.

Or we could find something to be joyful about and thankful for. Thankfulness breeds thankfulness, and once you start finding things to thank God for, it really just keeps going.

Like the rain.

Like a repreive from the heat.

Like that first full dozen eggs I got from my chickens.

Like all of our crazy, loveable critters.

Like getting the chickens moved into their new coop.

Like a weekend full of those once-a-year county fair festivities that wear a person out, but also fill a person up.

Like the community we are so blessed to live and work and worship with.

Like faithful neighbors.

Like a loving, God-provided spouse.

Like a wonderful Sunday evening supper of homegrown steak, zucchini, and dill cucumber salad, a meal entirely harvested from this ranch.

Like a million other things.

So we sat listening to the music of rain on our roof, watching the downpour so heavy we lost the horizon, thanking the good Lord for a much needed wetting-down of this parched piece of earth, thanking God for friends and neighbors and cows and chickens and thanking God for each other.

What a good end to a hard week.

I Become a Chicken Farmer

My first week as a chicken farmer is successfully in the books! This is a brand-new little venture for me, and I’m excited to learn and see how it goes. I’ll be sharing lessons learned, tips, and tricks, so follow along and learn from my mistakes and successes!

I decided, with my man’s go-ahead, to order chicks back in January, not wanting to count on the availability of feedstore chicks this spring. The timing was very intentional: Get them in mid-April, they’d be pretty well-grown by our wedding, and we’d have eggs by the fall. Chicks were ordered in January, and within a week I had the bulk of my chick supplies purchased! Eagerly anticipating that order getting here this week, I got a little excited last week and went to Runnings for a few last-minute chick supplies (my chick order was set to ship the week at the beginning of this week). Yep, I came home with four chicks, two Prairie Bluebell chicks and two Sapphire Splash chicks. Oh my goodness. I’m not sure how many hours I spent watching those four chicks.

It was actually nice to get a few days’ headstart to finetune my brooder setup, and gave me a chance to think of a few other things that I wanted to have on-hand for when the big order arrived. So when Tuesday evening rolled around and I got an email saying my McMurray chick order was on its way, I was thrilled! I gave the post office a head’s up on Wednesday, and Thursday morning got a call that the chicks were in. Oh my goodness (favorite phrase when dealing with baby animals). The sounds coming from that little box on the drive back home were precious. And this is what I found when I got home:

I had ordered fifteen chicks: two Black Australorps, five Black Stars, five Red Stars, and three Buff Orpingtons. I was looking for breeds that were good layers, docile, could free range well, and were cold/heat hardy. Boy, they pack those little things in, and even threw in a tiny little silkie bantam as a freebie. I later told my man that I really expected to be productive Thursday morning, but sat on the floor for a full three hours, just watching the chicks. Oh, well.

One by one, I took them out, checked them for pasty butt, and made sure they found the waterer in the brooder box. Only a couple needed to be cleaned up, and one was the tiny little silkie bantam chick. He had a pretty pasted up rear end and seemed to have a minor vent prolapse, but is actually doing really well. He indisputably looks better now than he did when they arrived. I’ll write a little more about that later. As soon as they tasted the water and found the food, those little rascals came alive! They were constant motion for a couple of hours, some of them pretty scrappy, and gorging themselves on food, occasionally almost falling asleep in the water, at which point they had their fill and settled down. There hasn’t been any further picking or scrapping.

So far, I have nothing but good things to say about McMurray Hatchery and would definitely order from them again. The Runnings chicks have done well overall, except for one which died more or less without warning after about 3 days, and for no apparent reason. The other three are completely healthy and I’ve had no issues with them. Every couple of days, the older three get vitamins/electrolytes and prebiotics/probiotics in their water (the new chicks have that constantly, as well as sugar in their water), and I’ve ground their feed down a little bit as well, since they waste a lot of it picking past the big pieces. They’re absolutely hilarious to watch, and they’ve tamed down a lot and are pretty friendly, especially the older three.

The Runnings chicks initially needed regular attention to prevent pasty butt, which stopped being an issue after a few days, while the mailorder chicks have barely needed attention at all, other than the silkie. Considering pasty butt is made worse by stress, those feedstore chicks are definitely more stressed than mail ordered chicks. First, they get shipped in the mail, just like mail ordered chicks, and then they sit in bins at the feedstore until they are purchased, at which point they’re transported again. That’s a lot for a little critter to go through! I’m definitely impressed with how well the McMurray chicks have done and how healthy they seem overall.

So right now I have 19 chicks in my livingroom, peeping up a storm, and couldn’t be happier. My dad jokingly called it a fulfillment of a lifelong dream, and he really is rather correct. Stay tuned for more chick adventures!