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The Chick Diaries by Wendy Harford
For those of you with no Chicken experiences (other than barbecue & eggs…)
Preface: The best way to raise chicks is to hire a nanny, a full fledged (or should I say feathered) chicken nanny, preferably a nice broody banty. A banty true to her nature can raise over 12 chicks all on her own and oh what a site in the coop at night when all those mixed, standard size chicks as big as Mom, try to fit under, around and over her. My dear, sweet, brood, banty used to have only her head showing from the mass of multi colored feathers at night. PS, while broody she was only dear & sweet to her chicks, if necessary she was fully prepared to take on a grizzly to defend those chicks, so watch out.
The second best way to raise chicks is from egg or day old chicks, both needing several weeks of infra red heat, and I do mean heat. What they are loving and stretched out in dreamland to I am sweating thru just to change their bedding, food and water! Speaking of which, second hand towels work well for keeping the broody box/pen clean with good footing for the babes, you don’t want them trying to waddle around on legs that won’t stay under them! I change them kinda like diapers only not as often! And food… prepare to have it spread all over, mixed with poop etc for the first couple of weeks anyway, even raising it doesn’t always work, especially with a mixed batch like mine. The banties need to reach their food as easily as the standard size chicks! So I change the bedding and food twice daily until they can be relocated to their outdoor coop.
Know what and why you want to have chickens! Banty’s are tiny things, thus, tiny eggs (if you are into baking duck eggs are truly the best). Araucana can still have a bit of the ole, wild and flighty chicken in them sooo be prepared to haul them out of tree’s and from under bushes if out free ranging, and plan for lotsa non-easter egg hunts! Banties too!!! I am already imagining my wee flock at night enjoying the highest, thorniest branches of my mesquite trees right at penning up and roosting time, been there, done that. Leghorns are bred for laying and can be high strung and not the best of ‘pet’ chickens. So like I said, know what and why and research your chickens.
You think you want a rooster too??? Think again, and again, and again! Go visit a chicken farm similar to what you think you fancy and watch the rooster(s) with the chickens and chicks, they can be ruthless. Me, I love my roosters but they head straight to the stew pot if any of my hens or chicks are damaged in the process. Have you ever met a banty rooster that wasn’t feisty? Them’s fightin’ words! My wee ‘teacup’ size rooster ‘Banjo’ used to love to attack the tractor wheels in my neighbor’s asparagus field (and the neighbor, good thing he had a sense of humor) and everything else that moved, pretty scary for kids. Come to think of it, he often tried to attack me too, right when I was hunkered into the side of my milk cow milking, he wore a few streams of steaming milk at those times! He and his hen (my favorite, somewhat bigger broody banty) were also escape artists and survivors, spending many a night roosting in one of the cow or chicken stalls and occasional with the goat, only flying into the coop when something tasty wasn’t available elsewhere. Those were the days before fencing over the top of the pen.
Then there was the story of the neighbor who got and raised her surviving day old, mail order chicks only to find one very large and MEAN rooster in the batch, by the time she called me for help he was fully grown and several of the hens likely brain damaged with literal holes in their heads! And if a person went inside he attacked! Their pen was only about 4’ high then and the coop just a sorta rabbit hutch so getting inside with him was not a very comfortable thing to do. I armed myself with a large and sturdy cardboard box, walked in with it open in front of me and when he attacked with spurs flying I dropped him right to the ground with the box on top, slid another piece of cardboard underneath and tied it up with baling twine. I’m sure he made a nice stew and a happy ending for someone.
You’re thinking, maybe ‘meat’ birds. Well think that one thru, do your homework and watch some footage on how those poor chicks are raised and bred. As chicks many of them are so heavy and soft muscled from ‘meat’ breeding, they can’t support their own weight and it can be a very sad experience leaving you with a bad taste in your mouth and mind for chicken pot pie. On the other hand, some ‘free range’ organic breeders can likely provide you with some good meat chicks and advice, or buy and raise the flock to breed your own!
In the past when my banties went broody and raised several chicks, a good percentage were roosters and right about the time they figured that out they too found the stew pot or canning jar. Home canned chicken is very tasty seasoned just right!
So just remember before getting chickens, know why it is you want them. That will give you a better idea of what to look for and research with neighbors, local chicken farmers and backyard chicken farmers, in other words visit and interview some chickens before bringing them home to meet the family.
Day 1 was not the day the chicks arrived, as a matter of fact Day 1 went on for several weeks while I hoed and hummed about even having chickens again and doing the mail order thing! At any rate the good ole ‘world wide web’ sucked me right in with ‘My Pet Chicken’ and Day 1 was the day I pulled out the credit card and ordered 11 assorted standard and banty chicks, I had never owned before, to arrive about 2.5 months later. Plenty of time to build the coop and the pen, NOT.
Day 2 was several weeks later when I started counting the days to their arrival, rushed out to get an oversized guinea pig cage, spent an evening lining it with cardboard, cut up some old towels to fit the bottom for changeable bedding. Still no coop or pen built…
Day 3 was, oh yeah, they need food and feeders and water’rs etc etc etc. Coming home from the local feed store with medicated chick feed (yeah ok I cheated, in the past I had banty hens to do all that for me and no known chicken diseases in our immediate area…) so medicated chick feed, electrolyte powder for poultry for those first two stressful weeks of being born under a bright light, poked, prodded and shoved into a box for 3 day delivery, while the yolk of the egg sack remains to nourish them. Still no start to coop or pen…
The Official Day ONE finally arrives, kinda like the wife calling the hubby at work, ‘could you come home now dear…’ NOW! The Post Office calls your chicks are here (in this case special delivery for a small order of 11), you take the day off, arrive early at the back door for deliveries, find your way in and are introduced to a peeping cardboard box with holes in it, now cooling down way more than it should for new hatched chicks. You sign papers and then rush out the door with 3 standard size Welsummer hens and 1 rooster (I hope…) 2 standard Golden Lace Wyndotte, 2 buff brahma banties, 2 easter egger (araucana cross) banties, and 2 Seabright (rooster and hen, I hope) ‘teacup’ size banties in a box not knowing what shape they are in, except that the majority of them are really upset and voicing it.
Oh, I forgot to mention, that at least 2 days before you have set up the broody lamp and tested it all out, keeping it on and ready for all that time, just in case… They have arrived, but oh my gawd I had forgotten how small new hatched chicks are, especially the ‘teacup’ size banties! Do I dare touch them. Yep, no worries, been here and done this too. 1st one up and outa the box, check it over, into the broody pen and dip its wee beak into the water and leave it close by to drink, # 2, 3, 4 etc all the way to #11, and, Oh Dear! # 11 is a wee golden brown, fluff ball stuffed in a corner too weak to stand or drink and chilled, into the brooder, a quick wee dip of the beak into the water and then directly under the lamp for her! Chicks are sooo tiny they dehydrate very quickly and chill even quicker without their 95 degrees! I watch the chick. I watch them all for about 5 minutes cause that’s all it took before they all settled in directly under the lamp and slept for about 40 minutes undisturbed. From raucous peeping to complete silence.
At 40 minutes as they all started to stir again, I tried the wee golden brown fluff ball with the water again, still no go. At the same time I notice that one of the two buff brahma banties, is clumsy with a splayed leg… but getting around OK and very energetic so I just keep an eye on her for now and only rescue her if she really needs it. I go and hunt down my glass eye dropper, fill a small cup with some of the electrolyte solution with agave nectar added and pick up my wee golden brown fluff ball (one of the two, banty easter egger chicks I figure out later that same day) Not doing so good, barely holding up its head the first try, but I get a few drops down her and she swallows, so back under the light for another half hour. This goes on for 4 hours total and suddenly there she goes up and around, eating, drinking and holding her own with the crowd, never looking back! Yeah we made it so far. The buff brahma banty seems to be getting stronger too and the leg more supportive, I can handle a gimped hen if she can handle it.
So, yep, that was pretty much the Official Birthday you might say, they were actually hatched out on Monday the 20th of June 2011 and arriving Wed the 22ndat 7a and home and all tucked in by 7:45a
That night of course was another story… I had bought a timer for the brood lamp as its moving right along into summer about now, cool nights (cold for chicks) and hot days (even too hot for chicks who like it 95 degrees!). I bought the wrong timer so the 1stnight and 2nd day were a bit iffy on knowing when to turn it on and off. I have 1 garden thermometer at the cooler end of the pen and one terrarium thermometer right under the brood lamp area (half the time they are sleeping on it…) At any rate I was up and down 3 times that first night checking times and hanging the light lower and lower until I got it just right for them! I had to ask the neighbors to come in and check the next day at noon as I had to get back to work (day old chicks do not qualify for maternity leave). The light did turn off, but it still got a bit hot in my un-insulated art studio/chick brood room…
Actually that first night basically repeated itself until this Tues eve, June 28th. So needless to say I have been a bit lackluster from broken sleep, but all doable. The reward is they are finally moving further away from the brood lamp (even the wee SeaBrights) so it can now be raised to the same height most of the time and the timer is now set to come on at 10p when things finally start to cool off and off at 11a when the day starts to heat up. They are at least in a room without a draft of any kind.
Day 3 some character is starting to develop but the most interesting thing I have noticed for now is that at night fall, when the room grows dark, even if the temp is still at 95 degrees they start peeping and getting upset??? My chickens always got up at dawn and perched quietly at dusk… so whats with that. I decide its cause they are hatched into this infrared existence so that seems natural for them. For now, not wanting to waste energy and over heat them with the brood lamp I use my camping headlamp with wee infrared bulbs on top of the pen, believe it or not, they all stretch out and head into dream land from that wee bit of red light! Sounds like I am spoiling them right, no worries there, this is just to get them thru their most fragile state and a stressful adjustment. Interestingly enough it was a very hot day yesterday right into nightfall and they all fell asleep before dark without a light, however when I checked on them about 8:30p I woke them.. duh and had to go get my headlamp again. LOL I did get to sleep right through from 10:30ish pm to 2:30p and then until 5:30a when its time to get up.
BlackJack and Bandita (my 2 rescue pups) have been curious, but so far mind their manners so are allowed in with me. Ms Ruby Kitty is not allowed to even look in the direction of the studio door, however! And I think I have the heat and space game beat for now, no more up 2 times a night to adjust the lamp... The timer I got worked find, but it was too hot even at 10p to have the lamp as low as it needed to be by 2a... But more to come on that, for now they have taken over a whole corner of my art studio, walled in with cardboard about 2' high, though I wonder how long that will last without a lid! They are loving the space and rock anchors holding the cardboard in place, and I put a long snakey piece of desert wood for a practise roost! So far so good with still 11 chicks in good health. Now begins the fun watching kamikazee pilots jumping off rocks and wood right into the middle of the other quietly milling chicks, challenges, wings flapping and you would be amazed at how quickly these chicks can run and jump! Neccesary for catching flies etc and grabbing pieces of food out of other chickens beaks.