Our first bump in the road

Several weeks ago, my family and I got home late one evening, after dark.  My husband was out of town on a work trip so farm duties had been left solely to me.  (Luckily my parents are close by and could lend a hand to watch the kids when needed.  Thanks Mom and Dad!!)

This is when our now free ranging Sicillian Buttercups and Orpington chickens were still in their large brooding box on the back porch.  As we walked up (my parents were with me), we peaked in on the little ladies.  We happened to notice one not walking.  Concerned, I took it out and put it in a box in side with its own food and water.  Perhaps it was just being picked on by the others and was weak and needed a rest.

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In the morning, it was worse.  The chick’s legs were weak, and couldn’t put any weight on them.  It was lethargic, tired, and wouldn’t eat or drink when prompted.  As is par the course for me, I immediately start worrying and having anxiety.

Is the chick in pain?  Am I going to have to cull it?  When do I know where that line is?  HOW would I kill a baby chick?

What caused this?  Does it have a disease?  Is it just a birth defect becoming present now?  If it DOES have a disease, does the rest of my flock have it?  Is it treatable???

You can see how my mind freaks out.  This and a million other questions gnawed at me continuously.  So I turned to the world wide web, as you do.  I got a lot of great suggestions of what to do.  There were several suggestions of things it could be, from something benign (dehydration), to concerning (Coccidiosis), to fatal and contagious (Marek’s Disease).  Of course my mind jumps right to fatal, and now I’m concerned my entire flock has it and all of my poor birds are going to die.  Just my luck after getting meat chickens!! Maybe I wasn’t meant to have chickens.  Maybe I wasn’t meant for this lifestyle at all.

(Okay, so you see how my brain works.  I get anxious easily, and over worry at the drop of the hat.  I realize a lot of these things are irrational, and panicky.  NOW.  But in the moment, I was on the verge of a breakdown.  If ya have anxiety issues, ya get me.)

So first, I treat it with electrolytes in the water. Because that will help regardless of whatever little chick had.  I had to pick her up and dip her beak in to force her to get at least a few drops in her.  I tried the same with the food but she wasn’t having it.  I finally was able to get her to eat a little bit by having her eat out of my hand.

Next thing, vitamins.  This isn’t quite as simple as one might think.  You give the medicine in an eye dropper or syringe type thing.  You wrap them up in a towel, then pry their beak open, holding it so you can put a couple of drops in.  However, this is a little trickier than it sounds because you have to be careful you don’t get it into their lungs as they can easily aspirate.

More anxiety around that.

After a day or so of this (3x a day) she started to perk up.  Not as lethargic, but still not walking.  I still feared Marek’s and checked on my other chicks for similar signs like you would a newborn baby.  So far, no other symptoms.

I decided to go ahead and treat for Coccidiosis, since, at this point, that was the only other thing that I knew to do.  I bought the medicine and put it in the water of both the chick and the others, just in case.  This went on for two days.  On the third day, I woke up and as had become my routine, went to go check on my chicken, preparing myself to find a dead bird.

SHE WAS STANDING!!!  Not walking around well at all, but STANDING!  This was HUGE.  I literally squeeled.  Then of course I snapped a picture and sent it to basically everyone I knew.  (Because obviously they were losing sleep over this as much as I was, right??)

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Over the next few days, she got stronger and stronger.  I put her out in the day time with the other chicks, then back inside at night.  She grew a liking to me, and whenever I’d sit outside she would hobble over and jump in my lap.

Now she is back with the other chickens full time, and is too cool to come over to me most of the time.  But that’s okay.

I don’t know for certain if it was Coccidiosis or if she just needed some TLC.  In the end, I made it through my first “crisis”.  (Even if it WAS little chick sized.)

Chickens – Learning curves

Chickens.

First, let me tell you I’m a person who has never cared for birds.  I didn’t really “get” them as pets.  (I had a finch, in college, and it was by far the most boring pet I’ve ever owned.)  And frankly, they kind of creeped me out.  Their beady eyes.  Their scaly dinosaur legs.  Their pecking beaks.  I don’t know, I just wasn’t a fan.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of chickens though.  They seemed to be a country staple, and of course DELICIOUS eggs.  So, of course, we had to get some ASAP when we moved here.  Our property came with two chickens (by came with, I mean, the previous owners left them here, so they were thereby now “ours”).  But a measly 1-2 eggs a day wasn’t gonna cut it for us.  So, when chicks came in at our local tractor supply, I woke up bright and early and made a purchase of 6 leghorn chicks.  They were little yellow fluffballs and completely adorable.

When they were about 4 weeks old or so, I posted a chicken question (I can’t even remember what it was) on a chicken facebook group.  Yes, I am part of MULTIPLE chicken groups now.  So that’s who I’ve become.  Anyway, a fellow member pointed out to me that my chickens weren’t leghorns.  They were cornish cross birds.  “NO!” I protested.  I googled Cornish Cross birds immediately so I could show this poor uninformed chicken owner of her mistake, and that I was indeed correct.

….. nope.

I was WRONG.  They were Cornish Cross birds.  MEAT BIRDS.  My heart was broken.  Not only would these birds not EVER lay eggs, they also wouldn’t likely live much past 8-10 weeks.  They are bred to grow super fast for meat.  My little chickens, who ran/ waddled out to me when I went out to the coop, would need to be processed.  My husband has ademately refused to help in this process.  But after the initial shock wore off, I figured it would be a good skill to have.  Or at least something to experience?  I watched videos.  I asked questions.  (By the way, googling chicken slaughtering is not something I thought I’d ever be researching a year ago.)

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Seeing as I’m too much of a *chicken* to just do this myself, and the fact that my neighbors are trying to sell their property (I’d hate for them to have viewings on processing day), I have enlisted the help of another girlfriend of mine and we are scheduled to tackle the deed this week at her property.  The amount of “chicken slaughter” videos on my youtube video search is shocking.    I’ll update you as to whether or not I faint.  Or vow to never eat chicken again.  Or decide we are getting another freezer for all the meat birds I’m gonna process next year.

Luckily, Tractor Supply got in another supply of chicks before the season ended.  So off I went to go purchase more chickens, despite my husband’s rolling eyes.  I MADE DAMN SURE these were laying chickens.  I didn’t even purchase yellow chicks JUST IN CASE.  I came home with 11 chickens.  6 straight run Sicillian Buttercups, and 5 Buff Orpingtons.

 

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These are the prettiest damn chickens I’ve ever seen you guys.  They are old enough to be out of the brooder and free range during the days now, which is quite entertaining.  It makes my heart happy to see them roaming around our property and go out there several times a day just to watch them.  They haven’t warmed up to me too much as a whole (except for one chick that got sick, and had to be cared for. More on that in another post).  But they are starting to get a little less flighty.  I’m hoping bribing them with mealworms will eventually endear them to me.

During all of this, one of our original chickens disappeared.  I’m guessing something got to her and made her dinner.  Shortly after, the other hen, Henny (as my son named her), went broody.  For those who don’t know chicken terms, (I sure as hell didn’t a few months ago) when a chicken goes broody it means she wants to hatch some babies.  She sits on the nest day in and day out, rarely leaving to eat and drink.  Now, this would have been a neat experience, except… well first of all we don’t have a Rooster.  Like any other animal, ya need both sexes to procreate.  And secondly… she wasn’t even sitting on any of her OWN eggs!  I started to really fret about her, and so asked around as to what I could do to help her.  I was seriously afraid she’d starve to death.  Luckily, a lady who lives RIGHT DOWN THE ROAD has a ton of chickens, and offered to give me some fertilized ones to put underneath her.  (Ironically, we have 2 kids in the same classes at school as well!  Score!)  So, in the school drop off line, we exchanged the goods, and that evening I carefully placed them under Henny.  3 weeks later… and BABY CHICKS!  We had 5 eggs, but one was a dud.  All the 4 other chicks that hatched survived and are completely healthy though!  It has been really neat to watch Henny with them.  She has no idea they aren’t hers, even though 1 is yellow/white, and another grey. haha!  Maybe chickens are colorblind?  Who knows.  I do know they are notorious for being very motherly, even to different species!  Watching her take her chickens around the yard, point out tasty treats, and call to them when they stray too far.  I go out and watch them several times a day.  It’s quite fascinating!

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Also, I pleaded with my husband to take the old pallets filled with roofing supplies that were in the coop (which is really a barn stall) and relocate them so there would be more room.  Yesterday he tackled that, and even made them a roost!  It looks like a proper chicken hotel in there now.  I’m so pleased with it!

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Who’d have ever thought that this much of my mental and emotional energy would be spent on birds??