Tag Archives: chicks pecking

stretching their wings

I was always perplexed by the way a bitch (as in, female dog) will eventually turn on her pups — snarling as the little ones (who are, by then, not so little, with not so little teeth) try to continue nursing from her. Some dogs, it seems, will simply run away to leak milk in private somewhere the pups can’t find them. Other mothers growl and snap at the pups, sending a crystal-clear ‘it ain’t gonna happen, sweetheart’ signal.

It seems cruel — after all, what could be cuter than a puppy? — but it makes sense. Eventually young creatures outgrow the need for coddling, and past a certain point, coddling actually hinders them.

So it was with the chicks. Since we picked them up from the USPS that fateful August day, they’ve been kept in the garage in boxes. At first, thirty chicks fit handily in one 90-quart Rubbermaid container. (At this stage, for a sense of scale, three chicks also fit handily in the palm of my hand.) But after a week, they needed two boxes. And after two weeks, they let their dissatisfaction with their two-box living quarters be known by pecking one another. More space was needed: I started putting chicks in cardboard boxes, Jasper’s cat carrier, whatever I could get my hands on. And let me tell you, thirty chicks in six different containers is a heck of a lot more work than thirty chicks in one container.

That’s twelve dishes constantly in need of refilling — because as the chicks have quadrupled (maybe quintupled!) in size, they’ve developed the klutzy-teenager habit of knocking over anything that contains something useful. Water dishes are a particular favorite, and knocking them over can create a serious chicken health hazard.

People talk about toxic mold growing in wet litter, but I didn’t find any visible mold. No, my biggest problem with constantly upended water dishes: Wet chicken litter smells not like manure, but like ammonia — a component of their excretions, and a known lung irritant. Given birds’ sky-high rates of respiration, they’re especially susceptible to lung irritants. (In fact, pet parrots can die just from being exposed to a hot non-stick pan, which releases toxic gases during cooking. Word to Polly: don’t cook the cracker in Teflon.)

The chicks’ propensity to knock things over meant that I spent a good portion of the last two weeks scooping out wet, ammonia-rich litter, drying it in the sun, replacing it, and then watching the chicks — the moment they had fresh litter — knock over another water dish and wet the litter again.

So, the point is, I can empathize with mama mutt. I promise: I didn’t growl at the chicks, bite them, or even run away from them, exactly — but it was quite gratifying to drop twenty-five of my not-so-little brood off at the coop this morning. And even more gratifying to watch their delight and terror at suddenly finding themselves in so relatively vast a space. We started them out in the top level of our two-level coop condo, and it was hilarious to watch the first pioneer — a bold little Leghorn — press into the undiscovered territory of the ground floor. (She alternated between curiosity, bravado, and abject terror at suddenly finding herself alone, without any of the protection afforded by her flock.) Eventually she was joined by an Araucana. After an hour or so, I tossed a few ears of sweet corn onto the ramp between the levels; about half the flock took the plunge and followed the corn onto the ground floor.

Also gratifying: the chicks’ waterer is now a large five-gallon bucket. (Good luck knocking that one over, guys! Er, knock on wood.) Their feeder is also a five-gallon bucket. This means I have just two vessels to refill for twenty-five chicks — and hopefully I won’t be refilling these large containers that often.

Okay, so I mentioned that I only moved 25 chicks this morning. The other five are still here, but they have the run of the brooder: one large box houses just two birds, the other just three. They’re still under mama-watch until their peer-inflicted scabs heal — at which point they, too, will get the boot. And I’m trying to keep them outside as much as possible, where they seem to revel in the sun, spreading out their wings to luxuriate in it, dust-bathing in the pine shavings, and eying the yard’s greenery with considerable curiosity.

It’s 5 p.m. Now, the only question is: can I resist the urge to drive over to the field and check on the little ones just one more time before morning?

Ducky, the biggest Araucana (named after the uber-happy character in The Land Before Time who says “Yupyupyup!”) surveys the brooder box.  You can see she’s almost as tall as the box itself.

Ducky surveys her new home — and, presumably, deems it quite satisfactory.

A pioneering White Leghorn is the first to explore the coop’s lower level.

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Filed under Farm Philosophy, Farm Tales

a day to preserve

Emmett and I reserved today as Pickling/Canning/General Preservation day — little did we know that we’d find ourselves pickling late into the night!  It’s 11 p.m., and the last jars of applesauce are finally filled and sealed — but still boiling away on the stove.

Today, we harvested apples (=applesauce) and blackberries (=jam).  We pickled market-leftover Armenian cucumbers, green beans and — new to us — jalapenos & cherry tomatoes.  (NB:  WEAR GLOVES when pickling jalapenos.  My fingers still burn.  And I had quite a nasty surprise when I dipped a finger into a blackberry crisp for a little taste, and instead got jalapeno blackberry crisp.  Blech.)

I’m intrigued, though, to find out how the cherry tomatoes will turn out.  The recipe called for basil, which will be, um, interesting paired with apple cider vinegar.  It could be really tasty, or it could be utterly horrendous.  Only time will tell.

In other bizarre pickling news, something strange happened to our Dilly Beans this time around:  they shriveled.  The skin looks wrinkly now, and every single bean jar ended up a “floater,” despite the fact that we packed them very tightly.  (One of the books suggested using sterilized pebbles to weight pickles down — maybe next time I’ll have to try that.)  I wonder if it’s because these beans weren’t fresh-picked  today; they were a few days old.  I’ll have to taste-test tomorrow, and see if they taste better than they look…  I also wonder how they’ll keep; they all sealed, but they’re definitely poking up into the ‘headspace’ (air part) of the jar.

In bizarre non-pickling news, our chicks have turned into little cannibals.  Well, kind of.  Maybe it was getting too crowded in the brooder:  they started pecking at one another.  This morning, I noticed one Rhode Island Red who’d been pecked — a small patch bare of feathers on her back, with some irritated-looking skin showing — so I put her in a separate cage with Runt (one of my favorite chicks) for company.  Emmett and I went out for a couple of hours to water and harvest, and when we came back, several more chicks had gotten the same treatment.  Two were actually bleeding; one had a rather nasty-looking open wound, and even Nurse Runt seemed to want to peck it.  Now the wounded one’s in solitary confinement with some Neosporin on her back.  Hopefully she’ll be okay.

We also separated out the chicks into four different boxes — hoping that this would alleviate the pecking problem.  (At the very least, if there’s just one cannibal in the flock, the damage will be limited to one box of four.)

Anyway, more updates on the chicks to come.  In the meantime, here are some more photos from our Day of Preservation:

mmmm… smushed blackberries…  we strained out some of the chunks to make the jam a little smoother, and used the leftover chunks for blackberry crisp.

cucumber pickles cooling, post-processing, in a chilled water bath — no room on the counter, so they went on the floor.  cooling them down more quickly allegedly keeps them more crisp.

also, think we picked enough apples?  I got a little carried away.  half a bag yielded one full soup-pot of sauce (about 4 quarts).

blackberry jam!  we just follow the recipe on the pectin box — easy as pie.  except really, pie’s harder.

dilly beans & armenian cukes & (ouch!!) jalapenos…

bizarre pickled cherry tomatoes…

the last batch of the day (errr, night)…  applesauce!


Filed under Farm Tales