Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Getting Chicks

How does one get cackleberries?  First, do any of you need a definition of said berries?  Have you ever heard a hen laying an egg?  Enough said.  So, back to the first question.  Many of you just go to Super-Target or Wal-Mart, maybe even Costco (I bought Costco organic eggs for years!) and that’s how you get cackleberries.  Well I think there is a difference between eggs and cackleberries.  A happy hen chatters; an unhappy one does not.  At least that’s what I’ve been told.  We have no personal experience with unhappy birds.  

Did you know that in commercial egg production they will reduce their feed bill by keeping the birds in the dark until they are old enough to lay full-sized eggs?  This means that for months a bird is kept in the dark where they will eat less and they skip the pullet-sized eggs altogether.  I guess if I was a chicken I’d like to learn on something smaller than a full-sized egg.  Besides, who wouldn’t miss the sunshine?  Wait, I said kept in the dark.  Many chickens just get lights; they never get real sunshine and never see the outdoors.  They get ornery and pecky in that dank environment so their beaks get cut off.  It’s a never ending horror story.  Our birds are happy.  They cackle.  

At the post office.  The chicks came on Jeremy's (my husband) birthday.  

Do I need to explain how excited everybody is?  Really?  This photo needs a caption?

You may not have met my oldest children, our son is Nolan (13).  Next is Elsie (18 months younger than Nolan).  And Aislinn, my 8-yr old chicken whisperer.

Step one to getting cackleberries.  First you buy the chicks.  We mail-ordered ours from this great company in Iowa called McMurray Hatchery. 

We got our email notification at 2 a.m. on the 24th of February, our chicks had hatched!  At 9:30 a.m., the same day, the post office called.  
Please come get your chicks!  

Wow.  Turns out chickens CAN fly! 

Step 2., Increase odds of survival.  We dipped all their beaks in the food and specially treated water.  We use probiotics (organic of course – but more on that later).  This tells them where to find stuff in their new home.

Next year we will be able to skip these steps as our hens should hatch their own brood.  We carefully selected different breeds based on their desire to go broody.  We'll certainly keep you updated to the success of that experiment and whether or not it's worth the roosters!

The chicks above and to the left (looking at you) are both Araucana/Americana's, aka Easter eggers.  We can hardly wait to see what shade of blue/green cackleberries each one lays.  These birds are the only non-heritage breed in our flock. They have puffy cheeks and are easy to identify by the chipmunk face and grey legs.

Step 3 is keeping the feathered pigs alive until they are old enough to leave the heated broody house.  This is pretty consistent monitoring of their food, water and temperature.  Also such lovely things as checking for sticky bottoms.  Really?  Yes, really.  

Since we use probiotics I had to do this less than some people.  However, these little fuzzy butts can get covered in pooh.  If their vents get stopped up they'll die.  So what, you wipe chicken bottoms?  Yup.  You wipe little chicken bottoms.  

If it gets hard you have to drizzle with olive oil and make your mother hold the chick while you pull most of its bottom feathers out cleaning around the vent.  Yeah, I know that story real well.  You (and your mother) survive and so do they!  It's a win-win. Well kinda, you're still stuck with the memory of pulling pooh off of fuzzy butts.  And one poor chick runs around with a bare bottom for weeks.  That poor bird.  He just stayed ugly the longest time!

So we turned on the lamp and proceeded to integrate these birds into our lives.  And you know one just had to die of failure to thrive.  
It was sad.  
We had to have a burial.  
It was a formal affair complete with mourners, kleenex,
 and a concrete birdie headstone.
It was a sweet little Silver-laced Wyandotte.
Just the most precious little thing, dead, all dead.  
Not  a breath of air left.
Just a little sack of feathers.
It was so sad.

A full grown sister of our dear departed chick.
Of course, this happened when the children were home from school and the girls (only the girls?)  were devastated.  Oh, and I was 6 months pregnant.  That may have contributed to the crying jag - maybe.  But we tried so hard with that chick!  I used a dropper and for 3 days around the clock fed it with a honey-vitamin solution.  According to the experts, a certain percentage (less than 3 percent) is considered a normal death rate.  I didn’t know that.  So we ended up burying this tiny little bundle of feathers and having a nice boohoo-orama. 

 It takes a full 20 weeks to get full sized eggs. 

That’s a lot of care and feed for no return.  
Urban farming rule = don’t expect immediate results.  
Your ROI may be LOOOOOONG delayed!

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