My husband and I have two white leghorn chickens. The path to owning chickens has never come our way, and this time started out to be no different. We were not intentional parents...until now.
Here is our story.
I work in an elementary school where my classroom is next to a 1st grade room, and this was my first year at this school. Apparently, every spring the 1st grade does a unit on hatching chicks from an incubator. I didn't pay much attention until it was time for eggs to hatch. Being an animal lover, I was curious of what was about to happen.
Two of the eggs hatched very quickly and were placed in a box with shredded paper. They were just the cutest little things!
Another egg had a decent sized crack in it, and it seemed like the chick was close to being set free from its egg. It was Friday afternoon, and the teacher and kids and I waited and waited, but nothing more happened. The teacher stated that it would probably hatch later that night, and she said she would come to the school over the weekend to check on this one egg and all the rest that had not hatched yet.
My husband and I were out and about on Saturday, and I thought it would be fun to go to school to show him the chicks that had hatched and to check on the one with the crack in it. He became a bird lover when we had our beloved cockatiel that loved him to pieces. We lost her about a year and a half ago and he still misses her. We have a cat now and I am not wanting to put a pet bird in potential harm’s way, so we have decided against birds as pets. Of course I thought this little jaunt to school would be a harmless meeting between the chicks and us. Was I ever wrong!
My husband watched the two little chicks interact in their box. After a few minutes, I showed him the incubator, and explained that I was hoping the cracked egg would have hatched by now. He studied the little egg, and we realized we heard chirping coming from it. I told him the teachers were not to mess with helping a chicken hatch. If they couldn’t come out on their own the egg was supposed to be trash.
Hearing that was all my husband needed to take matters into his own hands. He carefully lifted the incubator top open and gently picked up the cracked egg. He decided right then and there that he was going to take the shell apart. We had no idea what to expect; I was anxious because I knew what the teacher told me and that we were going against her rules by messing with this chick.
Little by little the shell was coming apart. The shell did not remove easily. It seemed as though it had dried out and the little chick was stuck to the coating from the inside of the egg. We surmised that because the chick had started to hatch the day before, the egg coating had dried up and was now like glue and there was no way for the chick to have hatched on her own.
The poor thing looked so....well, deformed kind of. Her neck was completely bent over her wing and her feet were in unusual positions. I hoped that this was normal, because otherwise we had a chick that was not formed completely and we had helped her hatch. My husband managed to get her fully free from the egg shell, and began to use q-tips and water to unstick all the body parts that needed unstuck on this new arrival.
While this was happening, another egg began to hatch. The first chick was put back in the incubator to get warm, and the other chick broke free on its own. We kept these two together in the incubator for a bit while we went to a birthday party of a friend. The kids had named the two eggs prior to hatching, so the little chick who could not get free on its own is named Diamond, and the other who hatched by itself on its own when Diamond was walking freely in the incubator is named Jayhawk.
After the party, we returned to the two incubator chicks, and proceeded to add them to the box of the other chicks already hatched. Big mistake! The older chicks were picking on the new, grabbing hold of wings and chasing them around. We immediately put a divider between the groups and let it go at that.
All would have worked out fine after that, because I explained to the teacher that the two groups needed to be separate because of what had occurred over the weekend. She said that wasn’t a problem as she had two different parents that wanted to take chicks home with them once it was time. Then a new problem started.
It seems as though shredded paper is not ideal for chicks to walk on. Diamond immediately started having difficulty standing up, and her poor little legs were straight out to each side as if she was doing the splits. She sounded very scared as she tried to get around, and her flutters and frightened chirps were making the 1st graders nervous. The teacher knew we had an interest in Diamond and Jayhawk, and asked me if I could take Diamond. I told her that Diamond and Jayhawk had bonded, so to take one I would have to take both of them. I took them that night and called my vet, (avian trained as well as cat and dog) for an appointment.
I had read about splayed leg, and from what I learned it could still be corrected, as she was young and the problem had just started. My vet made a little brace out of athletic tape, and in no time Diamond was up and walking fine with the help the tape gave her. Knowing what I do about my husband, I knew these two birds were not going back to the classroom. Whether they went to one of the kid’s parents still lingered. It would be determined by how well Diamond leg corrections took. We couldn’t send her away knowing she would likely die when put among other chicks.
By the end of the week, the brace was taken off and Diamond was walking perfectly. While shopping at our local Orscheln’s store, we found an employee that has chickens on his farm. His knowledge was very helpful. We knew we were probably going to have the chicks until they were ready for a farm. What farm? Would they still go to a parent? We didn’t have those answer. We just knew that the two had to stay together.
Jayhawk had become very protective of Diamond, and they chirped a “Where are you?” kind of chirp when one is out of the box and the other is not. We really found out how bonded they were during the first couple of weeks of having them at our home. Diamond was being held by my husband and began to settle in and rest in his hands. Little Jayhawk fluttered with all her might and tried to summon enough flight to get out of the box to find her precious friend. We were both quite surprised by this show of concern. I picked Jayhawk up and showed her Diamond in my husband’s hands. She immediately saw that Diamond was fine, and she proceeded to fall asleep in my cupped hands.
Diamond started showing signs of crooked toe. We took her to the vet twice, but no splint would stay on longer than a couple of days. At this point, the parent chose not to take the two chicks since one had leg and foot problems. That part was now solved. My husband, on the other hand, was really torn between keeping these two little friends, or them finding a suitable home. It turned out that he wanted to try keeping them. I was not sure what our cat would think, but I read that adult chickens and cats usually are ok together, and that adult chickens would be a formidable foe as opposed to a skittish parakeet or cockatiel.
So, here we are. The chicks are 6 1/2 weeks old. Diamond’s right toes are still crooked. We don’t know if it is now too late to try new options. We bought a coop at Orschlens. My husband has said they are going to be indoors (we have a room still designated as an avian room, as this was the room where our cockatiel was). I don’t know if solely indoor chicks are ok or if they need to be outdoors some? I would like to keep the free of mites, fleas—all those fun parasites. We have thought that we could get eggs from them when they start laying, but we don’t know much about that process either.
They are on pellets and I just bought some chick grit. Do you mix that with the food? I also bought live mealworms at the pet store, and they gobbled them up like candy. Suddenly the two sisters were pushing each other away to get a crack at the worm in my hand.
Now I have read that not just any mealworm will do (illness or disease?) and one should never let any escape in the bedding. Next time I will get freeze dried. Is there anything particular I need to know about those?
And water. Oh how I hate the water in the dish with holes in it. They stand on it, knock it over, and add droppings to it. I saw something about a nipple feeder. Why can’t those come already assembled?
We are using pine shavings for bedding. They seem to like to burrow in it and kick it around, but it does a nice job of keeping away odor. We are working on keeping it more contained!
My main concern is their happiness. I have heard that chickens are quite intelligent. With that being said, I don’t want them to die of boredom. Are there things one can buy that help to stimulate the mind or give them an activity to pursue?
Sorry this is long, but it helps to show the amount of knowledge we don’t have about raising chickens.
Any help is much appreciated. Thank you! Sheri