At the beginning of April last year, I was nervous. I had no idea what I was doing and how to take care of little fluff balls. The memory that kept circling through my mind at the time was a late evening years ago when we walked into the house and the kids started yelling, ‘Jurassic Park!” “Jurassic Park!” They had seen the movie many times and apparently what Zuzu had done to a wandering mouse she had found in the kitchen brought back memories of the dinosaur flick. It wasn’t pretty. The baby chicks could not come in the house to warm up and grow like other people’s. Nine cats, ten chicks, lots of cat toys.
In true mothering fashion, I worried. We bought a red light to warm them. Our friends who were moving lent us their little chicken feeder. We used a little china saucer for water (couldn’t think of anything else…these are fancy girls!). We found a plastic storage tub and lid. We went to work. We set up the plastic tub in the chicken coop. We put pine shavings in it and the little chicken feeder with chick starter in it. We chose organic. We did not feel we need medicated, genetically modified feed in our chickens any more than in our children! We put a little bowl of chick grit in there to help the little floofies process their food. The water went in and the light hung over one side of the box, very close to the top. The lid would cover the rest of the box and towels would be on top and cover drafty openings. Don’t want the darlings to get chilled.
Then we went to get the little ones. Andy was home from college and went with me to the feed store to pick up our chickens that we had chosen. I had waited too long to reserve the breeds I had read about so I had to choose who was left. Instead of Buff Orpingtons I got Golden Buffs (who are wonderful layers and very sweet). There were two little California white girls there that I thought were cute in a cage unclaimed. In the box they went. The two black girls were irresistible. Jersey Giants; I couldn’t wait to see how big! In they went with the six Buff girls. We were on our way home with a cardboard box of chirping cuties.
In the coop, we took each baby out and dipped her little beak into the water so she would start drinking. They immediately took to it to my great relief. We placed them one by one in the box after their drink and several kisses. One of the wonderful things about baby animals is how they can make tough men melt. Seeing an almost nineteen year old kissing and cooing at baby chicks was heartwarming and I wished that I had raised the kids out here with farm animals. But better late than never I guess! The kids kept disappearing to the coop. If Shyanne were depressed we could find her out talking to the chickens. Emily didn’t stay away for long and each girl had named one of the chickens and deemed her their own. Friends came over to see the petite chirpers and much joy was spread from ten little chickens.
We learned that we should raise the light up a few inches each week for eight weeks. If they were cold, they would huddle under the light and I knew to lower it a bit. If they fled to the outer reaches of the box, they were too hot and I could raise it a little. But most of the time, it was just right. The girls thrived.
The reason we took extra chickens home is because a few people bit their lip, sighed, or otherwise gently let us know that we should take more than six home as we are certain to lose a few. For no apparent reason than what I deemed “Sudden Chickie Death Syndrome” one of the buffs was dead. We mourned and took her out of the box. Laverne and Shirley, the black Jersey Giants were doing wonderful, but then one day the smaller, Shirley, was dragging her head on the ground. It seemed to be a broken neck and I panicked at the idea that I would have to put her down….somehow. She only walked backwards and her head hung low. She came inside with me under watchful supervision. I made her a little neck brace with cotton balls and tape and held her on my lap to watch “American Idol.” Two other cats joined Shirley on my lap and no one was the wiser of what I held in my hand. We placed her in a shoe box within the plastic box that night. Fully expecting her to be dead come dawn, I snuck out and noticed an empty shoe box. She had busted out of the neck brace and jumped out of the box to rejoin her sisters! I may have a new business on my hands. Neck braces for chickens! Weeks later everything seemed to be going well. The chickens were bigger and they were not staying in their plastic box much anymore. One day when Doug went in to feed them, another buff girl, limp and lifeless, lay near the box. It was sad. Still, many people were surprised that we only lost two out of ten.
Shirley succumbed to the rath of the evil four year old neighbor a few months ago as well as one of the white girls (Lucy…Ethel is still here flying out of the coop!), and one of the buffs, Violet. I had prepared myself for coyotes, foxes, and raccoons, never a child and his dog. So, left with five we are anxious to bring in ten new little velociraptor to join our team. I will still use the box technique but I need to figure out a way to keep the big girls away from the new babies. Without a mother hen there, they could be as detrimental to the babies as Zuzu. I need to set up some kind of barrier, but what? Any ideas from other chicken people out there? I need some creativity, folks.
Well, a family of super sensitive, vegetarians survived our first year of loving and losing chickens and are ready for another group. We are hooked. Chicken farming seems to be our future. Crazy chicken antics, the delicious eggs and Laverne and Peep wanting lovin’s all the time and to be picked up make it all worth it!