Tag Archives: white leghorn

a new start, a miracle, and a funeral

Above: red roses for the Reds, a white for the Leghorn, and an orange for my Buffy.

After listening to some advice that we get back in the chicken-keeping saddle, yesterday I made a call to Belt Hatchery to order more chicks. They happened to answer the phone when I called (which doesn’t usually happen). They happen to ship on Wednesdays, and they happened to have exactly the chicks I wanted right then and there. Would I like them shipped out this afternoon? Feeling a bit emotional (and hence impulsive), I said, Sure, why not?

And, like clockwork, a bit before 8 a.m. this morning the post office called.

It was decidedly surreal driving to the post office this morning to pick up new babies when the others weren’t even all buried — and when I was still ready to cry at any mention of my lost chicks. But it was also good, in a life keeps on sort of way, and also in a holy cow, did the other chicks really start out this small? sort of way. Looking at the six remaining older chicks, and then at the itsy-bitsy day-old babies, I was halfway convinced that perhaps the hatchery had made a mistake and sent us bantams (miniature chickens) instead.

Emmett assured me that the other chicks had, indeed, started out this small. And that’s a miracle in and of itself — how quickly creatures can go from tiny, helpless things, into fully-feathered, sassy, full-of-personality teenagers, from generic little imps into birds you know and care about.

But the true miracle of the day came when Emmett and I drove over to the coop to bury the chicks.

Now, yesterday, both Emmett and I had separately made several visits to the coop just to double-check… just in case one of the babies had managed to make it back home, and was huddling, lonely, in the empty structure. Each time, we walked up, hoping to hear a little cheep-cheep and see one of our little ladies fluffing her feathers, scratching in the hay, or wandering around in search of her lost sisters. But each time, the coop was empty.

And then, this morning, when we were only thinking of funerals, what should we hear when we pull up but a little cheep cheep cheep.

I admit to a moment of delusional denial: for a second I thought, maybe most of them are back, maybe this was all a bad dream, maybe the fox just took a few of them and the others had hidden in some tree and found their way back home. That’s how it would have happened if life were like The Incredible Journey, or Homeward Bound, after all.

It wasn’t exactly like when Shadow ran into the arms of his waiting boy — but still, when Emmett and I walked up to the coop, incredulous, one little Rhode Island Red ran up to the door to greet us.

Somehow, this little miracle chick not only survived a fox attack, she also survived two nights outside, and one full day, all by herself. We couldn’t believe it.

A new start, a miracle — and a funeral. Emmett and I buried the last of the chicks — two Rhode Island Reds, and the lone wing of my favorite little Buff Orpington, which was the hardest by far — later this morning. We promised to make the coop into a steely, impenetrable fortress, so that something like this would never happen again.  Many tears were shed. (In fact, I’m tearing up just thinking of Buffy right now… the way she would always fly out of the brooder as soon as the lid came off, just to get a better vantage point, and the way she’d come right out to the edge of the coop as soon as I opened the door, and step up onto my hand. The newest little Buff Orp has a lot to live up to.)

But it’s pretty hard not to smile, even through tears, when you find yourself watching day-old chicks, and one little Rhode Island Red picks up a piece of poop and starts running around with it the way chickens do when they’ve got a tasty morsel they don’t want stolen by anyone else. This particular little one was darting all around the brooder, pulling out all kinds of evasive maneuvers, all so nobody would rob her of… her poop.

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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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