one hundred chicks
March 29. We’re in the calm few days after two batches of mail order chicks have arrived and all our incubator chicks have hatched and everybody’s settled in. Chicks are easy at this stage, the way babies are easy – they don’t take up much space and as long as their very definite needs are met they’re happy. Lin even delivered two chick orders already, to Sonoma County and to Berkeley, leaving us with a mere one hundred chicks at home.
The day before the first chicks arrived, our new Farmtek hoop house was delivered while we were away. We came home to find the giant box at the side of the road by our driveway. We had to empty the box into the truck to move its contents, all the sectional poles of the framework and the roll of plastic to cover it – and what remained, the 8-foot-long, 40-inch wide cardboard box reinforced with 2x4s, was perfect for the chicks. It just fit into the newly emptied and cleaned hen pen (even though I spent the time it took to drag it there complaining that it was too big). It will keep the chicks out of dark corners, and separate them from the broody Shamo hen on the turkey eggs in a corner of the same room.
On Wednesday we picked up the first batch (from Sand Hill Preservation Center) at the post office at 8 a.m. when the truck pulled in, 80 chicks in a loudly cheeping box. The chick nursery was ready with newspaper carpet, chick feed (grain ground into smaller pieces than the adults get), waterers (too shallow for drowning), and 2 heat lamps on adjustable chains set at 18 inches from the floor. We unpacked the chicks one by one, dunked each one’s beak in the water and watched to be sure they swallowed, then set them down under a light. One chick was dead on arrival and one more died within an hour. The rest, after a few minutes of amazed gazing, began to rip around the box like tiny maniacs, and kept it up all day. Every time we’d look, three out of 80 would be trying to sleep, only managing a few seconds at a time before a chick ran them over. Finally when I looked in at 10 p.m. the ratio had reversed, with three chicks kicking up the grain, running to the water and then zigzagging full speed across the pen, while all the rest lay in a solid mass of feathery pelts in a circle under the light.
That night the first incubator chick peeped all night, and the next morning another box of chicks arrived (Ideal Hatchery). By that night the incubator sounds were so constant I remembered why I refused to do the incubator last year. Apparently it takes 2 years for the memory to fade to the point that I don’t object. In this case harmony and sleep were restored simply by moving the incubator into the bathroom and shutting the door. Brilliant.
No losses in the Ideal chick order, but one severely spraddle-legged chick. Lin located excellent directions for making an assistive device from a band-aid to help the chick pull her legs together. She was immediately able to stand up with the band-aid in place – now we’ll see if she’s able to recover, or if there are other problems, as is sometimes the case.
Between chick care and starting the summer vegetables like tomatoes and peppers (in flats on heat mats, on the floor beneath our south windows) on top of the usual farm activities, we’re a bit on the exhausted side, so chick TV is totally absorbing. If only we could fit a comfortable chair into the chick nursery. Watching chicks run across the pen and make a flying leap for the center of the circle of chicks who are trying to sleep, landing on top and then quickly burrowing down into the warmth of the fluffy pile. Earnest gatherings around the water. Chicks in the food tray, already kicking with the vigor of full-grown hens. From morning to evening, seeing 3/4 inch of wing feathers emerge from the fuzzy down. (Wing feathers grow in first, so even as tiny puff balls they’ll be able to fly. If they had a demanding mother, say a Sumatra or Ameraucana, she might make them fly up to roost within 2 weeks of hatching.) Plus with 2 dozen breeds represented in our 100 chicks, we can spend hours trying to figure out who’s who.