by Corrine Zawaduk, Production Manager
Our chickens, 40 of them, arrived in a box in the mail on May 12th, 2 days after hatching. We ordered a Heritage pack with 4 different unsexed breeds. Chicks can survive for up to 72 hours in the mail without food or water. That morning, the post office called us early, chirping in the background, with the announcement that our little fluff balls had arrived. We were instructed to ignore the opening time and knock on the door – they’d let us in early to collect.
We rushed our little package home to introduce our chicks to their new home. Chicks need a heat lamp in the absence of a mother hen. We carefully unpacked our brood. There are white ones with feathers on their feet. These are the meat birds. We hope to get a rooster and some hens so that we can breed them, and continually eat fresh chicken. There are red ones that are great layers, but flighty, brown ones with feathers on their feet, and Aracanas, who lay blue green eggs. The males will end up on our table, except for a chosen few. Having a rooster around also makes the chickens lay more eggs.
Our hen house is a small shack, which we made smaller for their first week. We put an inside/outside temperature thermometer near where they sleep. When you look at them, you can tell if they are warm or cold by how far away from the light they are. But when it’s night, and cold, we worry about them. It is easier to look at the temperature gauge inside than trooping outside to check on them several times in a night.
The farm does not have a power system to it. We create our own power. We have a system where the generator powers a bank of batteries, so that we do not have to run a generator all the time. But the power draw from the heating lamps required us to keep the generator going. Without the lamp, our little birds would die.
We made it through May and the frosty mornings. After a couple of weeks, their real feathers start to come in. The fluffy feathers are replaced by their adult, sleek and sex determining feathers. This is the awkward stage for a chicken. Some patches are still fluffy, others are slick, and the overall effect is funny looking. As soon as the majority of the adult feathers are in, they can go outside and the heating lamp goes in storage.
At about 3 weeks, we opened the door to the chicken run. Our run is a long stretch of fenced in forest. We dug the fence down into the earth and lined the base with 1 x 6’s. Chickens will scratch the earth until they escape. The whole thing is covered in chicken wire, including the roof. There is a nest with a Red Tailed Hawk in it. We hear the cries and know that our little chickens would be their perfect meal. Best to keep them safe.
Every time the environment changes, some of the chickens worry. I am starting to believe the phrase about being ‘chicken’ may have merit to it. It takes them hours, or even days, to adjust. We thought opening the doors to the great outdoors would be thrilling to our chickens! Instead, they cowered in the corner and refused to step through the door. It took a brave chicken to first step into the great outdoors, and then all the chickens followed.
At 5 weeks now, they entertain us daily. They look like the adult chickens they will one day become, but they are miniature. In the morning we open the door to the run. They stampede out, racing to the back of the run, flapping their wings like they are going for a morning fly. We are growing sunflowers around the coop and beans, both which they like to eat and are very good for them. They love to catch the ants and bugs, jumping in the air.
Our chickens are a constant form of entertainment as well as a source of food for us. We care for them and spend quite a bit of time with them. Our daughter will go into the run and play with them, dragging a blade of grass across the earth while they chase it. The white ones with feathers on their feet like to be pet, and will sit on her arm contentedly.