One Knee and Thirty-Two Baby Chicks

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The caller I.D. read “U.S. government” which would bring out a cold sweat on most citizens. It was our local post office. He said “We’ve got a package here for you, take a listen.” Hundreds of tiny little peeps came over the phone. My day-old chicks had arrived from a hatchery in Ohio. The hatchery was supposed to have alerted me as to when they were going to be shipped. I suppose they didn’t remember. Unfortunately, I had just had knee surgery 3 days earlier and was barely ambulatory (not to mention that I was concerned that maybe I was bleeding to death…but that’s another story). Anyhow. All the equipment I needed was here at the house and my son set it up on the back porch: a 200 gallon stock water tub, heat lamp, electrolytes for their water to strengthen their little immune systems, and chick starter feed.

Said son wasn’t available to chauffeur me to pick them up. So, bloody knee and all I drove to fetch them home to their new habitat. It is extremely important that the chicks be freed from the box as soon as possible. They are so fragile and need food and, most especially, water immediately. At the Post Office the box was sitting on the counter peeping like crazy. I felt like a new mother; slightly teary. All the way home I talked soothingly to the box and the peeping got softer.

Once back home on the porch I opened the box. There were 32 mini-chicks. They are so small and vulnerable. One chick was dead and that’s not unusual. It happens but still it is sad. We had to dip their tiny beaks into the water to accustom them to drinking. Try that with a one- ounce speedy little fluff ball. That’s exercise! I turned on the heat lamp and covered the tank with two window screens weighted down with bricks – ( I have two curious cats), had a glass or two of wine and went to bed. Next morning one more chick had died, but I had not bled to death. Sometimes when chicks huddle for the night a weaker one can be suffocated. They were warm enough (92 degrees) so it wasn’t the cold that caused them to pack together. Their little chicken brains were probably telling them that there is safety in numbers. Again, a death can occur when they’re so young and delicate.

I chose four different breeds: 6 blue Splash Marans, 9 Barred Rocks, 10 Amerucanas, 1 Delaware White and 6 Pearl keets (that’s what you call baby guineas) who will grow up to be black and white, speckled guinea hens. In this case “pearl” does not mean white. The hens were chosen for being sturdy, brown egg layers and the Amerucanas for laying blue, green and dusty pink eggs. The keets will lay brown eggs with extremely hard shells when they mature, but their eggs taste the same as the hens’. They’ll begin to lay in about 6 months.

Now they are 5 weeks old and living in a large bunny hutch on my friend’s farm in the hens’ enclosure. My son is building a “chicken tractor” for the young ladies to live in. Next week will be move-in day and I’m really excited to see how they adapt to the real world of bugs and grass, sunshine and rain.

Later that month: The “chicken tractor” is finished. Imagine a Quonset hut the size of a VW Beetle with plastic pipe ribs and covered with chicken wire. There is a door at one end. The bottom is also covered with chicken wire so predators can’t dig under and up. There are also wheels so that it can be easily moved; either with a real tractor or 2 strong humans. The idea is to move it around the property daily. The chicks devour everything under the bottom wire, clean out weeds and crab grass and then move on to “greener pastures.” It’s a wonderful invention and makes a lawnmower obsolete.

I have wondered how mothers with 20 children remember all their names and if they love all of them equally. With my chicks I know the answer is “Yes”!

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