Raising Chicks: The Agony and the Ecstasy

I have collectively owned and cared for a small flock of backyard chickens for the last four years. Each year one of us in the collective (there are four families) agrees to brood chicks. Each year we swear that we will never do it again.

Scratching for insects.

Why? The drama.

I brooded the chicks the first year, which was (in retrospect) the easiest year because we suffered no casualties nor did we have to endure the complex social engineering involved introducing young hens to an established flock.

Loony and Dinky

Loony and Dinky

Michelle brooded checks the next two years and each time presented its own challenges that she handled magnificently, but it  was hard on her.

“Let’s just buy pullets next time. This chick business is bullshit,” was the common consensus. But no one said bullshit because I’m pretty sure i’m the only one who swears uncontrollably.

Last year we gave away our flock to a lovely lady with a large farm and a penchant for retired birds. “They keep my goats company.”

No, that’s not an euphemism for “the pot” or some such. They actually go to a farm.

This is Natalie and her son. The retired ladies go to her farm by Haystack Mountain

This is Natalie and her son. The retired ladies go to her farm by Haystack Mountain

We replaced the ladies with a mix of Orpingtons, Jersey Giants (which are not giant, FYI) Auracanas, Brahmas, Sex-links (WTF?) and other good layers. But no Silkies.

silkie-bantams

I miss my Silkies. They are the Toy Poodle of the chicken world: fluffy, sweet, friendly and they lay tiny pink eggs.

The little pink one is a Silkie egg

The little pink one is a Silkie egg

I decided I had to have some this year so despite my resolve to never brood chicks again, I went on a quest for Silkies.

They usually are an easy breed to find at the local feed store, but this was a bad year for Silkie hatches. The hatches failed and Murdoch’s never got any … meaning I had to turn to Craigslist.

I found a nice lady in Colorado Springs who buys bulk lots of chicks and resells them in smaller quantities. So I packed my lunch, loaded up podcasts, and hit the road.

I was so psyched to return the conquering hero with my chicks. I got an assortment of white, black, splash, buff and blue chicks. I only need three but I assume some will be roosters.

The kids were excited, natch.

I blew up my Instagram feed with pictures of chicks because while everyone wants to see pictures of fluffy little chicks, no one wants to see pictures of random penises. Get it? Chick pics, like dick pics only better?

Marlo and Ken came over for dinner and believe me, these two would not have been as psyched to see random pre first-date genitalia. Or maybe they would, but I kinda doubt it.

Sorry. I’m stuck on this word play, I’m way random right now and on a crusade to end dick pics which means that JT will probably text me a picture of his.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 7.59.38 AM

If you don’t know what a dick pic is, by all means, Google that shit.

Unless you are Shorter Sean and thinks that Dick Pics are songs that someone named Dick has picked for the week.

Anyway, everything was going so well despite a near disaster with Mr. Bates who got into the chicks when the door to the shower was left ajar.

I'll be here if you need me

I’ll be here if you need me

Mr. Bates managed to get Splash in his mouth but he was too busy trying to figure out how to get ALL THE CHICKS in his mouth that he didn’t manage to kill her and Loony got her away in time to save her life.

She escaped with a mere sliming. Nothing a bath and a blow-dry couldn’t fix.

Who me?

Who me? I wouldn’t hurt a fly.

We almost lost Dinky to vent block our first time around so the boys kept a close eye on the chicken butts to make sure they were doing okay.

Fluffy butt ... um ... Tuesday

Fluffy butt … um … Tuesday

When Scratchy brought one of my white girls to me with a very swollen vent, I worried that she had a bad case of vent block.

I did what I thought was best. I did what worked in the past. But then I read (too late) that you should NEVER bathe a chick unless you want to kill it so maybe it was my fault. My other chicks survived warm baths okay but what do I know?

I tried my best.

I constantly changed her bath water so she wouldn’t get cold, I dried her carefully under low heat, I put her in isolation (after I saw that her siblings started attacking her) and watched with heartbreak as she desperately tried to get back to the other chicks that were ready to peck her to death.

It’s true, chicks who sense illness or blood on another one will peck it to death and eat it. It’s such a paradox. When they are well they sleep in a tight cluster, endeavoring to get as close as possible to each other. But when one gets sick, the weak are killed and eaten.

I kept her warm and gave her space to rest. But still …

IMG_4548Poor thing. She didn’t last long. I don’t know if it was my fault or if it was destined. She appeared to have a prolapsed vent and while I got her too wet, I did everything I was supposed to do. I kept her warm, I applied ointment to her tiny vent, I isolated her but allowed her to see the other chicks. She was only a few days old and couldn’t take it.

As many tender feelings I have for this little creature, she was of a kind that shows no mercy at any sign of weakness, even at a few days old.

Itchy didn’t want to look at her dead body, but Scratchy wanted to bury her. There were many tears.

And now there are four.

I remember now why I never want to brood chicks again. You get so attached to the little babies yet they are so fragile. They can be fine one moment and gone the next.

I really hope the other girls make it.

Wow. What a fucking bummer. Do you want to see a picture of my new favorite cats? I met them on Instagram.

Izzy and Binky. I'm in love with Izzy's giant face

Izzy and Binky. I’m in love with Izzy’s giant face

And here is Blue eating Stephanie’s tiny treats.

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Who is Stephanie? I’ll save her for next time.

9 thoughts on “Raising Chicks: The Agony and the Ecstasy

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