Friday, May 18, 2012

Peeping Deliveries

The chicks have arrived! Wednesday morning just after 7:00, the Davidson Post Office called to let us know that there was a peeping box waiting for us there. Could we come and pick it up as soon as possible? You bet! The girls and I rushed to finish mucking out the stalls and the coop and dashed to the car. Within minutes, we were at the post office's back door, ringing the bell as instructed. (Did you know there is a door bell at the back of your post office? We felt awfully in-the-know and official, standing there waiting for our special delivery and watching the early-morning shift sort and stack packages. To think that, just yesterday, we were still front-room-only citizens.)

The gentleman who came with the box smiled empathetically when he handed it over, wishing us luck and hurrying back inside. Oh my, I thought. They must have gotten our order wrong. There's no way twenty-eight chicks could be crowded into this tiny box! We tried our best to peek through the holes in the cardboard but couldn't see much, so I gently bent up the top panel to get a better view and found that not only was the box surprisingly small--they were only occupying half of it! The other half was blocked off with a divider. But there sure did seem to be a lot of them. "Yikes--those critters are TINY!," I muttered. That quick look assured me that they were all alive (baby chicks sometimes die in transit from hunger, thirst, or cold). It also assured me it was not going to be possible to do an inventory until we got home. So off we went, chirping and peeping our way back to the house.

My husband, G-P, had been kind enough to set up and prep the brooder, so when we arrived it was already warmed to the prescribed 95 degrees and waiting for us on a utility table the Discovery Room. The sugar water and food were in their respective troughs, ready for the hungry travelers dig in.

"They're in that box?!" G-P exclaimed--assuming, like me, that the hatchery had only sent half of our order. Once we got the box open, we were able--though not without difficulty--to count their pecking, dancing, scurrying little bodies. Twenty-five. Well, that was close. We soon decided that it was three of the eight Ameraucanas that were missing. I soon got on the phone, and the kind folks at Stromberg's (the hatchery from which we ordered them) went to work making sure we got replacements for the missing chicks--and then some! This morning (Friday), we received eight more female Ameraucanas and eight "filler chicks" (males from less popular breeds--sent with the Ameraucana pullets to insure that they stay warm enough to survive the trip). So instead of going from nine chickens to thirty-seven chickens this week, we've gone from nine chickens to fifty! The gentleman at the post office wondered, "Did you eat all of those already?!?"No, we assured him. And no, he needn't worry; we won't be back for more--at least not until next spring.

But let's get back to Wednesday morning. Once we had the chicks counted, the girls and I began lifting them out of the box and putting them one-by-one into the brooder. We were careful not to skip the all-important step of dipping their little beaks in the water trough before releasing them. This teaches them both what and where the water is (without a mama hen to lead them to a water source, chicks sometimes don't figure this out). A couple of the particularly squirmy ones managed to hop out of our hands and get a quick bath--not good for tiny chicks. Fortunately, we were able to get them dried off before they got chilled. Then we started introducing them to their "chick-starter" feed. It didn't take them long to figure that one out! Within seconds they were happily pecking away, peeping and chirping excitedly.

And that's what they've been doing ever since. Only a handful have managed to escape so far, and the rate of breakouts is rapidly decreasing. The tiniest of today's shipment has managed to make it all the way to the floor (several feet down!) several times, but even she seems to have given up her flight fantasy during the past couple of hours. For the next 4-5 weeks they'll live in the brooder--eating, drinking, running about (where are they going in such a hurry?), peeping, and pooping. Then they'll move to the extra stall in the barn, where we'll set up perches and a heat lamp to help them transition to free-range living.

All the chicks belong to heritage breeds--that is, "traditional livestock breeds that were raised by farmers in the past, before the drastic reduction of breed variety caused by the rise of industrial agriculture" ( Here's the breakdown of the breeds we now have:
  • Splash Jersey Giant
  • Dominique
  • Buff Plymouth Rock
  • Rhode Island Reds 
  • Delaware
  • Barred Plymouth Rock
  • Ameraucana
  • Buff Orpington
  • A few mysteries (stay posted!)

Together these chicks will provide our little farm with a veritable rainbow of color, shape, personality, and history. And many healthy, delicious eggs! Indeed, all of our current chickens and almost all of the new ones are pullets (females), with a handful of males (cockerels) thrown in so we can have a few to eat and a couple to fertilize future eggs. (Like the males of most farmyard species, male chickens tend to be louder, more aggressive, and generally more high maintenance than the females, and thus are much less populous and shorter lived than their sisters. Poor little devils.)

Which brings up the biggest challenge we face now: trying to keep the girls from naming each and every one of these babies. We keep explaining that we'll have to eat some of them and will be giving away (and possibly selling) several as well. But they just can't seem to help themselves! And as we all know, once you name them, you love them. But that's a topic probably best left to another post . . .

Late-breaking news: It looks like we have a chick-count update! Crystal finally managed to hatch one of her eggs, so now we're up to fifty-one. We were especially happy to see this little one. In fact, we were beginning to wonder if all these weeks of sitting would pay off for Crystal at all. Much to our dismay, she and/or the other hens started pecking at her eggs early in the week and managed to wipe out nearly all of them within a couple of days--except this one. It's evidently as tough as it is cute. We'll have to find an extra-special name for it. Oh, wait. The girls have already taken care of that. It will be Lou Lou--the nickname of my feisty, lovely older sister. Let's hope it turns out to be a pullet.

These past few days of listening to the musical chatter and watching the energetic antics of these tiny creatures has indeed reaffirmed our love for, and fascination with, chickens. There's truly nothing like a good dose of chicken time to lift one's spirits and perk up a dreary day. Try it sometime--I promise it'll do wonders!

For more information . . .
  • On heritage breeds of poultry and other livestock: the website of The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
  • On raising chickens:
    • The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers, by Harvey Ussery
    • Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow
    • Keeping Chickens, by Ashley English
    • The Joy of Keeping Chickens: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Poultry for Fun or Profit, by   Jennifer Megyesi and Geoff Hansen.

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