The little ones, Bess and Dolley, fell asleep in the palm of my hand today. Am considering giving them coffee and cigarettes to stunt their growth so they will always be this small.
The issue of the day has been whether to add pine shavings to their bedding. We have three chicken books (OK, we really have four or five, but three primary sources) and they mostly say to keep them on newspaper covered in paper towels for the first few days of their life, then add pine shavings once they’ve gotten used to eating chicken food and will eat it rather than the pine shavings.
Apparently the newspaper is hard to walk on and can cause leg problems. The paper towels are supposed to provide a little more traction. On the other hand, the pine shavings, if swallowed by baby chicks, can cause them to “paste up,” meaning that their little turds get stuck to their butt and they basically become constipated and can die pretty quickly.
Sorry. I should have warned you that the turd talk was coming. But we’re almost done now.
So now that the little ones are at least 4 days old, we thought we’d try the pine shavings. It would give them something to scratch around in and prevent these dreaded leg and foot problems. But little Bess, the tiniest (and presumably stupidest) one, got into the shavings and just started eating it as fast as she could. We went back to the books and only one of them said to wait longer before adding shavings. The others suggested starting it within a few days and had lots of photos of happy, healthy chicks on pine shavings.
I said, “Hmmm. I’ll go check on the Internet and see what I can find out.” By the time I came back down, Scott had covered the shavings with paper towels. Watching Bess eat the potentially constipating shavings was too much for him. Plus he’s a little tired of me checking their butts for paste every few minutes. Like all new babies, the status of their poop seems to be a source of endless fascination.
Bought some fresh eggs from the farmers market today, all different colors. They are small eggs from young layers. A preview of things to come.
The chick lit we are relying upon:
Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow–comprehensive, geared towards farmers more than backyard hensters, and a little too matter-of-fact about sending underperforming hens to the stewpot for my taste.
Living With Chickens: Everything You Need to Know to Raise Your Own Backyard Flock by Jay Rossier–also quite comprehensive, more for backyard types, and great photos. Unfortunately, some of those photos are in the “butchering” chapter, which I have to keep clipped closed so I don’t accidentally flip through it.
Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces by Barbara Kilarski–much more my speed. Old, non-laying hens are pets, not meat. Great photos of hens and coops.
We also have an old chicken book that one of my favorite writers, E.B. White, provided the introduction for. He was quite a henman and is widely quoted as saying, “I don’t know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.”
It’s our lucky day–the feed store had Araucanas today. These are the chickens that lay blue and green eggs. Their feather colors vary slightly, although they are mostly brown and black, and apparently each hen lays a specific color egg–in other words, one might lay pale green eggs and another might lay blue eggs.
These chicks are only 2 days old, as opposed to Abigail and Eleanor, who are about 10 days old. What a difference. The babies drop off to sleep with no warning at all, just falling to the ground, all sprawled out with complete abandon, and then wake up 3 seconds later, ready to eat. Sound familiar?
So far the older ones seem to be getting along with the younger ones. I’m glad we were able to get them so soon, so that they’re fairly close in age. You’re supposed to start day-old chicks under the heat lamp at 95 degrees and lower the temp (by raising the lamp) 5 degrees per week. So if they were very far apart in age, that would get awfully complicated.
The chicks, day three. Almost all the down is gone off their wings, and today they started doing this half-run, half-fly across the brooder thing. Ah, how quickly they grow up. Today Scott got them to eat out of his hand, and also managed to turn Abigail over on her back without too much of a fuss. (We’re trying to get them very comfortable with us handling them.)
In response to various hen-related questions:
Q: Why hens?
A: Eggs, manure, pets, garden ornamentation, and further proof that we’ve managed to slow down and get out of the big city. Also, it’s always good to have someone to torment the cats.
Q: Only two?
A: Nope. The plan is to get three or four. We really had our heart set on some Araucanas because they lay blue or green eggs, and we also wanted a couple of brown egg layers. We couldn’t wait to get started, so we took these two home from the feed store, and as soon as they get some Araucanas (or a related breed, Americaunas), we’ll increase our flock by two.
Q: Where are they going to live?
A: We’ve converted half of the old shed out back into a henhouse, and built a small enclosed run outside. They’ll also be allowed to free range in the garden. Photos coming soon.
Q: When do you get some eggs?
A: Usually at about 4-5 months of age. August, maybe. They lay the most in their first year. Send your egg recipes!