Thursday, April 25, 2019
Nobody seems ambivalent about living with chickens; folks either love or hate the birds. When I decided to obtain a few, and reflected on what I’d heard about caring for chicks, this step seemed big and doubtful. There’s little resistance to baby chicks that arrive annually at feed stores, they’re the cutest things. I started my backyard flock with ten day-old chicks.
Appropriate space for them was no issue as the babies were too small and helpless to put outside. Plus, springs are very cold here in the northwest. For several weeks, my chicks lived in the garage–in a large horse trough on layers of absorbent bedding and under a heat lamp. Meanwhile, some friends with experience in housing chickens helped design and build my coop and outer-fenced area for the little ones.
When the weather warmed and babies were stronger, they went into their new home. Soon, I acquired three other day-olds–frail and with doubtful futures–segregated from healthier chicks in a farm store. These babies went into a terrarium, under a rigged-up heat lamp, in my living room. The two littlest typically crawled under each wing of the biggest, she barely bigger than themselves, and generous about offering shelter. The weakest chick didn’t make it, but the two that survived eventually joined the outside flock.
Most of my babies were certified as hens, but it’s impossible to be certain about bantams, and a couple turned out to be boys. To my disappointment, when the prettiest bantam chick began crowing, I recalled rooster stories and watched him closely. Eventually, when this fellow could breed, he saw me as an intruder and attacked with energy when I entered his chicken yard. Finally, it was him or me, and he went to a new home.
Life in a hen house is brutal. Within a flock is a pecking order and those lowest on the totem pole get picked-on. The low-ranking birds can become almost featherless, but loyally stay near their companions. I used purple-dyed medicine to cover bare red-hued skin that attracted more aggressive birds. During the hens’ young lives, my unending battle was helping low-rankers maintain decently-good skin and feathers.
Aside from the work required through many seasons, I learned to appreciate and admire chickens, enjoying their presence and individual personalities. It didn’t take long to recognize that they’re smart birds, in contrast to common opinion, and it’s always was fun to observe their habits and responses to new inputs.
Dear Friends, future blogs will say more about my adventures with chicks. Diana