The Chickening: Chronicles of a Chicken Lady and Her Flock

tuesdaylove

Songster
8 Years
Mar 3, 2012
376
289
216
Georgia
Hello, BYC!

In this thread, I'll be sharing with y'all the story of how I got into chickens, and sharing photos and stories of my birds thus far. I'll try to make personal stories short and keep the focus on the poultry. All photos used here are mine, unless stated and credited otherwise.

Let's get started! Follow along to learn about what I call The Chickening, when my life changed forever, and all of its aftermath.

Table of Contents (updated as posts go up):
Part One: The Chickening Begins (page 1)
Part Two: The First Flock (page 1)
Part Three: Rescuing Gracie

Part One: The Chickening Begins


I never knew that I would be a chicken person. I have been an animal person my whole life - mainly, a cat person, but I have grown up with many dogs, and many other pets of many different species. It never crossed my mind that chickens would become one of the biggest parts of my life. I never planned on this happening. By fate, by God, by every star in the universe aligning, something happened that I can only refer to as The Chickening. It just happened, and it started with one single tiny chick.

(About four years ago, I started an introduction thread for my chickens, but never got past the first post. Below, I'm copying and pasting the first post I made there. Posts after this one will be brand-new!)

February 16th, 2012. I was still in high school, and the agriculture class had some leftover chicks from some project they were doing, and decided to give away those birds to whoever wanted them. I rushed over and found that the students and teacher had actually taken all but one chick and killed them, and were grilling them on the class's big grill out back. Mortified, I asked about the remaining chick. It was apparently too small and skinny to be eaten (as if any day-old chick is big enough for food!) and one boy had claimed it, saying he was going to take it home to his dogs and throw it to them as bait. I begged him to let me rescue it. I knew nothing about chickens or their care, or if my mom would even let me keep one, but I sure as heck wasn't about to let it die without a fight. It took the only nine dollars I had on me to get the chick from the boy, and I scooped it up and went back to class.

Not knowing how to tell its gender, I gave it two unisex names, Darcy Taylor. I would later find out that it was a she. Darcy was a regular yellow chick, but her feet and toes were a little curled up and she couldn't stand. I was given some chick food to take with her and she barely ate. I took the cap off of some body spray I had, washed it out in the sink, and filled it with water to make a tiny cup for her to drink, and she drank. I called my mom after school that day to say, "Come pick me and Darcy up!" "Who's Darcy?" my mother asked, assuming I had made a new friend. "A chicken!" Needless to say, my mom was a little upset at first, but once she heard Darcy's story, she quickly came around.

Darcy slept in a little rodent carrier with a towel that night, under a lamp for warmth. I wasn't sure she would make it.

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She did though, and with love and care, she looked brighter the next day. We played, we cuddled, she walked over and fell asleep in my hand, she tottered around my bedroom floor, and then pooped on it. I was in love with the little bird already.

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And she certainly knew how to strike a pose for the camera! She was always a little diva.

Darcy grew quickly, and as I knew nothing about chicken colors and breeds then, I wondered what she would grow up to be. A few weeks gave me my answer.

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She grew really big, really quick. Ate like a big and gained weight like crazy. Bits and pieces of research and some members of this forum told me she was likely a Cornish cross -- a meat bird destined to have a shorter life than others. As she grew, she confirmed my suspicions, but I was determined to give her the best life I could. I got a flock of baby bantams to raise as her companions (more on them shortly), and she acted like a mother hen to them.

Darcy kept growing.

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And growing.

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She was huge!

She lost her cuddliness as she grew older, and was content for me just to pet her and collect her eggs. As the bantams grew, she treated them less like her chicks and more like her equals. She was still boss, though, and didn't tolerate any of their nonsense. I loved Darcy, and I would go so far as to say she loved me. I read to her. I brought her treats. I built her and the bantams a big run for them to live in.

It was August of 2012 when she passed away. She acted perfectly healthy but I came home from school one day to find her lying in the run, gone. I assume because of her massive size, she may have had a heart attack. She had, in her last days, begun to have trouble holding her weight on her legs. I cried and cried and cried. Darcy Taylor was not just my first chicken, she was the one who began it all, who inspired my love and fascination with these intelligent, beautiful animals. I buried her just outside of the run and promised I would never forget her sass, her personality, her wisdom.
 
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tuesdaylove

Songster
8 Years
Mar 3, 2012
376
289
216
Georgia
Part Two: The First Flock

When Darcy was a few weeks old, I figured that if she'd come that far, she was probably going to make it, and I needed to get her some friends. Can't have a young chicken alone, of course! I was still a kid, unaware of the deep, long-term effects of The Chickening that were already starting to take hold. I should have done research before I jumped headfirst into getting more chickens, but of course, I didn't.

I was out running errands with my grandparents when they pulled into a Tractor Supply parking lot. I saw the sign out front - the sign that gets the blood of us chicken folks pumping, the sign that tells us that we are about to go inside and lose every ounce of our sense and self-control. The sign said, "Chick Days."

Going inside, I was filled with an awe and wonder that I still feel to this very day when I hear that delightful peeping and see a metal tub full of fluffballs running all about. I knew I going to leave with chickens that day. I gave my grandparents a quick summary of why I needed to get chicks for Darcy, and (without calling my mom to ask, oops) I was ready to pick out Darcy's new friends. Now, I knew that Darcy was a large fowl breed. I knew that she needed friends the same size as her. I also knew good and well that I had zero knowledge of roosters, and not the slightest idea of a backup plan for if I ended up with even one rooster, let alone multiples. All the good sense in the world would have told me that I needed to pick some chicks from the large fowl, pre-sexed pullet bins.

So, I did not do that, because I had just seen baby bantams for the first time and I was in love. Who knew chickens could be that tiny? The chicks were breeds that no one but the Lord above knew. The chicks were completely unsexed. It was irresponsible, and I went for it. The store purchase minimum was six, so me and an employee got to picking out six baby fluffs. Since the breeds were all unknown, I decided to just get chicks that all looked different from one another, so I could tell them apart. I had the lady fish out a gorgeous silver chick, a little white one, a classic-looking yellow one, two black ones with little flashes of whiteish-tan (one was smaller than the other and I felt sorry for it), and lastly, a yellow chick with a reddish-colored back. This reddish chick was very feisty, hopping around the other chicks, and was very hard to catch. The employee warned me that this had been their most mischievous chick. Looking back, I now know that that was a warning I probably should have heeded.

But teenagers don't care about warnings or responsible choices, as I had thoroughly demonstrated that morning. I headed home with my six new friends. The little silver chick began peeping frantically when we got in the truck, and it broke my heart. I took it out of the box and held it, where it slept in my hands. This was the beginning of a fantastic friendship with the little silver bird.

On March 3rd, 2012, as I laid on the living room couch with fluffy chicks climbing all over me, the realization washed over me like a tidal wave. I knew I could not escape my destiny - it was already happening, and I knew deep in my subconscious that this was only the beginning. I was a Chicken Person.

Darcy was much larger than these new chicks, and they couldn't live together just yet. Darcy had her own enclosure in the house, and my chicks were living in a homemade brooder, a small kid's-type pool with towels in the bottom. While I waited for them to grow, I got to know them, and named a few of them.

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The white chick, the two black chicks, and the reddish-yellow chick had names before I knew their genders. The white one I called Alaska - not after snow, or the state of Alaska, but after my then-favorite book, Looking for Alaska by John Green. The two black ones were Penguin and Raven, with Penguin being the smaller one. The reddish one was Georgia, after the locally famous "red Georgia clay." Looking back, I also think that giving Georgia a feminine name was me desperately trying to influence the little one not to become a cockerel.

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Sadly, young Penguin was my first chicken loss, at only about a week or two old. I'm not sure what happened, but it was the smallest and weakest from the start. I never knew its breed or gender, but Penguin was important, and I will never forget its role as one of my founding flock members.

The other five thrived, grew, and soon, it became apparent that I had both genders in my flock. And that my fear was possibly coming true: it looked like I had two little guys.

I turned to BYC members to ask about genders and breeds in a couple of posts, and by the time my bantams were a couple of months old, I knew a lot more about who they were.

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My clingy and loving silver chick (who I admit was my favorite from that bantam flock) was the first to grow a little masculine-looking. As his first grown-up feathers came in, he stayed the same gorgeous silvery color. I decided to name him Dixon, a nice Southern name, and similar to Dixie, my beloved childhood dog that I'd just lost the summer before. I found out that Dixon was a booted bantam.

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Alaska, the white one, turned out to be a pullet, and a gorgeous young Belgian d'Uccle. She didn't change color either, and still to this day, I think about how most white adults start out as yellow chicks, and I wonder why Alaska was always white, even as a chick.

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The surviving black chick, Raven, also was a pullet. I learned that she was a Rosecomb bantam.

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The feisty reddish chick grew brown feathers all over his body, leaving him with a hilarious small yellow head for a little while. He turned out to be male, as I had feared, but his name had already stuck and he remained Georgia. He was a Cochin bantam.

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The last chick grew at the same rate and feathered out in the same way as Georgia. She had the same color and features, being a Cochin bantam herself, and so I really like to think that she and Georgia were siblings. She was named Ruthie.

Georgia warms up very quickly in the spring, and soon enough, I felt that my baby bantams were big enough to live outside in their brand-new home, and I decided it was time to introduce them to Darcy. My grandfather and I had just build a big pen from bamboo poles and wire, and it seemed like a small chicken paradise.

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Introductions went well, thankfully, and there was no violence. In the above picture, you can see that there was a hilarious size difference between Darcy and the bantams. She was only about three weeks older than they were. All of the chickens thrived, and they were soon one big, happy family. Darcy was the boss and sometimes a bit of a mother figure to the bantams.

The flock was peaceful in its early months. Things would be shaken up a little in June 2012, but just before then, I had a teenage flock with its first pecking order. Dixon was the dominant cockerel, and he was particularly close to Alaska. Georgia respected Dixon, and hung around mainly with his supposed sister Ruthie and with Raven. Raven was at the bottom of the pecking order, and Alaska and Ruthie put Raven in her place several times, but nothing too terribly violent. I think Darcy must have known that she was entirely too big to be fighting with anyone else, and she never tried. Besides, who would she need to fight to prove that she was in charge? She probably could have sat on and crushed those poor baby bantams.

I adored my little flock. I sat with them for hours, I practiced my earliest chicken photography with them, I read books to them, and I simply spoke to and learned about them. Darcy was my best friend in those days, and Dixon was my little baby. I didn't yet know of the chaos soon to come, however...
 

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