Sometimes They Live
By Jen Ubelaker
Thirty-one weeks into Operation Peep Show, and it’s been quite an enlightening experience.
I decided to add chickens to our urban farm after a lot of thought and research. I do a lot of baking and use a lot of eggs, and I also care about the people I bake for and want to use the best ingredients whenever possible. Adding eggs from my own chickens would give me the hands-on knowledge that another one of my ingredients would be healthy and locally sourced. How much more local can you get than your own backyard?
But I am also a pragmatist, a worry-wart who analyzes everything and compares it to the comprehensive list of pros and cons that I have created prior to any project. So, for several months I read every book, blog post and Internet article I could find about chickens to make sure that I would be giving my chickens a fair shot at life. Would they be safe in our neighborhood? Would they thrive in a small yard? Would our dog be a chicken-killer? And on and on she goes ….
I studied the lists of chicken diseases and possible causes for fatalities in chicks, and came across a statistic that stuck in my mind. About half of all chicks hatched in factory setting will die due to disease, mishandling or poor husbandry. That seemed logical. I have been to the co-op before on “Chick Days” and seen the number of chickens leaving that one store, and there aren’t that many roaming the streets, so it must be right. Pasty butt, scissor beak, spraddle leg, dehydration and coccidiosis all seemed to be lurking ready to pounce on any unsuspecting chick. But, what the books and articles fail to tell you is: Sometimes they live.
Armed with my preconceived notion that half my chicks would die, I set about building a coop for three chickens and then purchasing six. Meaning: Hubby built me a coop and I fawned over chicks at the co-op before bringing six home in the poultry equivalent of a happy-meal box. They were precious, and they were mine.
During the first week, I came into the office to check on the brooder and found one of the Leghorns flat on her face, wings spread out, and I thought, “Well, there’s the first one gone” only to see the chick wiggle, dust herself off and go get a drink. Turns out Camilla likes to sleep on her face in the pose of an accident victim. She still does it to this day.
Fast forward to 15 weeks old. I realized that I had inadvertently beat the odds and was the proud owner of six fat and sassy hens who would be laying eggs in a few short weeks. In a teeny coop built for two or three hens. Family meetings had topics like “OK, no one died, what do you think our chances are of some of them being roosters?” which quickly evolved to “We need a bigger coop” and a weekend spent making a portion of our shop into Peep Show II. The hens transitioned easily (of course, I can’t lose one or two to “shock”) and began laying in their happy new home.
We’re gearing up for winter now, and I am reading a whole new set of articles and websites about how to best prepare the flock for the chilly days ahead. Gotta keep those cluckers happy!
Dexter and the peeps.
The Peep Show
Read this editor’s letter about her new chickens and their lively personalities.
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What tools do you need to raise and process meat chickens? Killing cones are humane, and promote a complete bleed, scalding tanks, plucking machines facilitate easy feather removal.
Integrating Chickens, Dogs and Cats
Introducing the pets to the chickens has been a little more challenging than originally anticipated.