Uncertainty

Spring showed itself today in the form of a warm, breezy afternoon. With the new season, comes the longing for chicks. I keep stealing glances at the Tractor Supply, and searching baby chick pictures on Google. Its an addiction. No, really- there is something called “chicken math” which is basically a giant excuse chicken owners use to get more chickens. For instance, if I had 20 chickens, but three of them were roosters and five were no longer laying eggs I would reason that instead of 20 chickens, I had 12, because roosters and old hens don’t count. So really, I need 8 more hens.

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I find that this way of thinking is extremely tempting as pictures of fuzzy chicks fill the screen. And I think. What kinds would I get? If I could of course… I go onto hatchery websites and fill up my online “cart” with different breeds, pretending that I am chick shopping. Then comes the scheming… If I just got three more, and expanded the coop slightly then I could…

You get the point. You also probably think I’m crazy.

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But something besides chicks eats at the back of my mind. Mr. Edith has been mating with all three hens for the past few weeks. As you know, he is a large beast. I observed (its not as creepy as it sounds) him mating with Mary, who is quite a big hen, and he completely pinned her to the ground. A gust of air seemed to whoosh out of her, followed by horrified squawking. Mabel, a very small girl, has a bare patch on her back, exposed to the air. So does Cora. And his spurs are developing right before my eyes.

Edith is becoming a real rooster. Not the cuddly buddy he was earlier this year, though he still lets me pick him up and pet him. And he is doing some damage to my hens. Or, his hens, rather. I know he would die for them, he is gentle with humans, and even does the mating dance for Cora. But I also know that he would be better off with more hens to mate with- more than three.

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With these thoughts in mind, I feel immediately guilty. How am I supposed to tell if this is just greedy me trying to make room for more chickens, if this is cruel me getting rid of an animal for doing its purpose, or if this is practical me looking out for the safety of my hens. My mind is certainly troubled. The very last thing I want is for him to end up being processed and butchered. He is such a fantastic animal! And he is so very good to me and his girls. Mr. Edith has even grown on my parents, and his crowing is music that soothes my soul. Any advice from my fellow chicken owners?

Once again, I am at a loss on what to do.

On the bright side- I’m now getting three eggs a day! Mary, the new egg layer, produces a gorgeous light brown-shelled egg

 

In Sum

I think I should do a brief recap of the content in this blog. In May 2014 I ordered five small chicks- three standard brown egg-layers and two easter eggers (all supposedly female).

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A few days later two chicks passed away (RIP Aida and Elvia). I was left with Sybil, Mary, and Edith, with which everything went splendidly until about 10 weeks in. At this point I realized that instead of “three little hens” I had two roosters, and one hen. Thus, Sybil/Sid was sadly sent to a nearby chicken owner. Edith is still in the picture, though his crowing and aggression is increasing every day. We will have to see.

My three little hens

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On Friday, I bought two new chickens. One Rhode Island Red hen named Cora, and an Easter Egger whose name I have not yet thought of. An hour after these chickens entered my life, the Easter Egger squeezed through an opening in the fence and took off. For three days she lived in my backyard somewhere, coming back to visit every so often. Finally, yesterday I managed to trick her into entering the run.

Before I put the chickens to bed yesterday, I noticed that Mary’s face was bloody from a bite wound (courtesy of Edith). I separated her for the night and got help with her wound care from my mother and neighbor.

As of now, my blog title finally makes sense. I can proudly say that I am the owner of three little hens.

Waiting for that First Egg

…proves to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I mean, come on Mary! I think its time you contributed! Sing the egg song at least please

They are 21 weeks old and two days as of today. Which means it’s about time for the egg laying to begin! Every morning I search around the coop and inside it for a hidden egg. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I’m getting a little tired of this un-yielding easter egg hunt. Her little face is quite red, but I haven’t heard the raucous egg song, nor have I seen her squatting. She hasn’t even ventured inside the new nest box I got her. That’s right. I bought her a nice little wooden nest box, and filled it with straw so its nice and cozy. Now she has no excuse. What’s frustrating is that the egg could come any time from now to three weeks from now. That’s a big range.

So that’s what’s going on in my life right now. That, and a whole lot of homework, and working. But, I have finally mastered the art of making a soft-serve ice cream cone. At least, they don’t look as terrible anymore…

Also, before I forget, I visited my neighboring farm two weeks ago to look at available chickens. They were scuttling around everywhere hidden under fencing and maple trees, dust bathing in the pig pen or roosting on some milk-stands. I asked for a Rhode Island Red pullet, an Easter Egger pullet, and a little fluffy bantam hen mix. I’m so excited, I can barely talk about it without jumping up and down. She hasn’t been in touch since, but she will have to sneak into the coop at night and grab them, placing them in a different coop until I can come and get them. As I passed the baby goats and snorting pigs, I saw a tiny little bantam with a lavender tinge to her feathers walking along the fence line. I looked again and saw five-day old chicks running behind her, cheeping and hopping, tumbling through the dirt after their mother. Leading the pack of chicks was an older chick, about a week or two. She explained to me that the older chick’s mother had abandoned it, and this little bantam accepted her into her brood. My heart almost melted.

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Picture updates!!

Lessons Learned

The chickens are already 6 weeks old! I can’t even bear to look at their little chick pictures- they’ve changed so much! When I got them they were tiny rolling, peeping balls of fluff and now they are sleek, feathered, and huge! They also have a very strange resemblance to dinosaurs. They continue to be cooped up inside their tiny little brooder box, much to my disgust. My poor father only has time to work on the coop during the weekends, so naturally it simply isn’t getting done. First it was the foundation, than the walls, last weekend it was the roof frame. Its frustrating! I feel so utterly and completely useless- I’m just a teenage girl, what am I supposed to know about building things? All I seem to be good for is painting the siding, and even with that I am slow. As you can see, I’ve a lot to  learn, and little time to learn it all, but I have learned so much in just these six weeks!

Things I Have Learned

  1. Ordering chicks via mail is way more trouble than its worth- the Express Shipping costs a ridiculous amount, and its so stressful for the birds! It would be better just to find a good breeder nearby where I can select my own. Besides, I believe I lost two birds from the shipping stress!
  2. I should have given the new chicks electrolytes as soon as they got here in addition to their water. They needed to replenish all those nutrients they lost from three days without food or water! It was because of my ignorance that I lost two precious chicks
  3. Have the coop ready BEFORE the chicks arrive. NO PROCRASTINATING!!
  4. Chickens grow way faster than I had ever expected or would have believed. Its really quite disturbing interesting….
  5. Don’t get so attached to your chicks. I love my Edith more than anything, but she is turning out to be a rather handsome… rooster, and that my parents will not stand for they’ve assured me
  6. Chickens fight. A lot. And then they snuggle together. And then they go back to fighting. Such is the way of the chicken life.
  7. Chickens like eggs and yogurt. They like them quite a bit.
  8. At a certain point chickens should stop sitting on laps and arms, because those legs and arms will be covered with scratches and bruises and people will get concerned.
  9. Chicks do not smell. Six week old chickens do. Very bad.
  10. Don’t hold chickens close to your eyes. Enough said.
  11. Give them the best life they could ever want and have, and let that be enough.

The Good and the Bad

My chickens are four weeks old now. Their fuzz is being replaced with shiny new feathers, and their former peep greeting has been replaced by flight to my head and shoulders whenever I make the mistake of lifting the netting of the brooder. Often times they spill their water all through their shavings, and yet I can’t stop loving them. There is something incredibly therapeutic about simply being with them.

My seedlings, on the other hand, have been the definition of disappointment this year. The ones that are not withered and dying have stayed the same height since I planted them, (about the size of half my middle finger). I think its because we’ve been using normal white lights for them instead of “Grow Lights”, so they can’t thrive. I suppose I’ve learned my lesson. Thank goodness the tomatoes from last year have been reborn! I just went out in the garden, and while swatting away an obscene amount of mosquitoes, I spotted a clump of weed-like plants squatting next to my lettuce. I pulled them up with annoyance, and brought them closer to my face for another look. But then I got the subtlest hint of tomato. And sure enough, in my hand was a clump of tomato seedlings that survived the cold nights and soil overturning. Simply amazing. It just makes me so much more grateful for heirloom vegetables- people think they are “too fragile”, but these things can survive the winter! If I had ordered seeds from a GMO organization, I’d be looking at a tomato-less year. Nature is the best.

A lot has happened since I last posted. My chicks have been outside every sunny day there is. Yesterday I dragged the fence over to rest on some dirt in the sun, and Mary immediately began to dust bathe. It was the sweetest thing! But then a hawk swept by, its humungous wingspan casting a shadow over the babies, and no more outside time for that day. My dad has begun toiling away at the coop- the floor frame is all done! Pretty good for only having been at it for a weekend.

Despite these pleasant news fragments, an unfortunate event has begun to occur. I’ve noticed a comb beginning to form on Edith’s head. Sure, this is a perfectly normal occurrence for female chicks. But not this young. Not this big. And not this red. I Iament, as I won’t be able to keep her if she starts to crow. Reducing me to just two little hens.

 

The First of Many

This post is the first of many, if all goes according to plan. I hope to share my experiences with gardening, chicken keeping, coop building, and everything else that comes my way. Stick around, and keep checking back for more posts! I suppose its only fitting that I talk about the first day of my chickens on the first post of my blog… So lets start there!

At exactly 5:45 in the morning, the post office called my home phone. It was a Wednesday, and I had school in an hour and a half… I had gone to bed at 11pm. Normally, if anyone attempted to wake me up at this hour, I would not be a happy camper. But as soon as my father swung open that bedroom door, and called my name, I couldn’t stop grinning. I threw on a pair of jeans that I found lying on my bedroom floor, along with a tshirt, put my hair up, and splashed my face. When I got downstairs the EcoGlow was plugged in, the shavings spread, and feed and water prepared. We hopped into the Subaru, and drove down to the post office in the town over. I waited by the little half door, rang the button, and tapped my foot. Soon a faint peeping got louder and louder, and the top of the door swung open. An older woman held out a squarish box full of highly disturbed birds, and asked for a signature as I took the scissors and swung open the top. The birds sprinted over to the sunlight, peeping their little hearts out. I counted four, which was strange, because we had ordered five little female chicks. I shrugged, and was thankful for receiving any! We drove on home, opened the box once more, and I carefully picked each squirming chick up and dipped her beak in water. And there I sat for the next five or so hours, just watching and smiling and being happy. 

So there you have it, the first of many stories about my little hens… 

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