Getting Chickens

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I have been dreaming of getting chickens for years now.  Last weekend we were invited to our awesome friends Amanda and Erick’s house and were lucky enough to adopt 4 baby hens.  They had received their chickens through the mail the week before.  Having ordered 16 baby chickens they were looking to thin their herd a little and we were really excited to start one!

I have always wanted backyard chickens for eggs.  They are an amazingly sustainable solution to a homestead.  They can give you eggs, their manure is easy to convert to garden compost (which I desperately need for my large garden), they eat every bug that is bad for gardens and people including ticks, they can eat kitchen and garden scraps that would end up in the garbage, and they are fun to watch!  Not to mention I consider eggs my favorite food.  So we started our chicken adventure!

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The chickens Amanda had ordered were an assortment of breeds (all brown egg layers) so we really aren’t sure what we have at this point.  Seeing 16 baby chicks scurrying around was a treat for the maniacs (and myself of course).

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Spencer was allowed to pick first.  Their daughter Lexi patiently taught Spence how to hold a baby chicken.  This is him meeting “Spicy” for the first time.  Immediately after the chicks little feet hit his hand he quickly passed the chick back to her and ran away screaming “Run for your life, he is really spicy!”  He meant spikey of course but we all got a good kick out of it and the name Spicy stuck for this chick.

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The little maniac pretty quickly got used to holding the babies and a happier kid you couldn’t find at this point.

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On the drive home I held the chicks in a little box with shavings in it.  I couldn’t stop opening the box and talking to them.  I was really excited!  Then one hopped a bit and I was ordered to keep the box closed by Em.  The fun was over.

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At home we setup the brooder. A large tub with wood shavings in it.  A water jug and feeder for the chick food.  Attached is a heat lamp to keep them warm.  Norah rounded up the neighborhood kids to come and see them and soon we had a large gathering of kids trying to name the chickens.  We ended up with Spicy, Coco, Lemon, and Teaspoon.

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Unfortunately it wasn’t all happy times.  One chick,  Coco (the one above) died the first night we had them.  She was the smallest brown striped one we had gotten and it was really sad.  That night around 8pm Em noticed she was almost panting but not making sound.  We watched her for a few hours and thinking she was too hot we re-positioned the heat lamp farther away from the chicks and I kept taking her to water to make sure she was drinking (which she was).

I was pretty concerned going to bed.  Amanda had warned me that baby chicks sleeping can look like they are dead so when I got up the next morning I was scared that I was going to see them all asleep and think they were dead.  I turned the corner and there was no mistaking that site.  Three chicks were laying together sleeping and poor Coco was on her back feet straight up in the air, dead as could be.  I felt and still feel, really awful about this.  I think if we hadn’t changed her home, or if the brooder had been cooler she would have survived.

Hearing me get up, Norah had come racing down the stairs too.  I quickly grabbed a cardboard box and scooped Coco into it and broke the news to a devastated little 8 year old (she had picked out Coco).  So on Mother’s Day we also had a backyard chicken funeral.  Spencer not understanding the gravity of the situation stated “Now more chickens grow” upon seeing us “plant” the baby chick in the ground.  At least I’ve taught him something about gardening!

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With our first chicken tragedy behind us we have fallen into a routine of caring for them over the last week.  The maniacs spent countless time staring at them run around their little home, eating, and jumping on each other.  Lemon is the yellow one and Teaspoon is the brown striped one, and Spicy is the little black and gray girl.  I wanted to name two of them Teaspoon and Tablespoon but Em made fun of me for that.  We ended up keeping Teaspoon out of sheer lack of other names.

So onto our chicken misadventure #2…

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Watching baby chicks run around is awesome. So the plan was to close our hallway doors and let them run and jump around the hallway.  I thought this was a great idea.

Let me layout my expectations for this adventure…

The chicks would be thrilled with the large space to frolic in.  They would chirp and run and play.  They would be so happy with me for letting them run wild.  Maybe even one would jump into my lap and while making eye contact raise up their leg to give me a high five for being such an awesome chicken dad. It could happen, I told myself.

The reality…

I set them down and they hurried to a corner and starting machine gun firing poop on the floor.  They started pecking at the wall trying to find a way out of the nightmare.  Em was now hollering at me about the poop and I jumped up to go to the kitchen to get paper towels.  While dampening one towel Em shrieked again for me to “stop what you are doing and get in here!” Mildly annoyed at how mad she was over a “little” chicken poop I paid little attention until she again screamed… “DOG!”

While I was in search of cleaning materials our Springer Spaniel, Lexingtion, had sprung (imagine that) over the make shift hall blocker and made a run for the chickens!  Em had a choice to save the actual baby sitting on her lap (Alice) or the chickens and I am not sure she was successfully doing either based on her screams!

The dog didn’t hurt the chickens she had been introduced to them multiple times before but it was enough to scare them into pooping even more and officially end what I thought was going to be happy family fun chicken time.  Despite Lexington being a bird dog I was not worried about her and the chickens.  The game had been bred out of her a long time ago.  These days she won’t sleep on the couch unless there are also pillows on the cushions. A single cushion not being luxurious enough for her (she will actually rearrange throw pillows with her paws).

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So the next half hour was spent hollering at the kids to not walk in the hallway while Em sanitized the floors and calming our baby chicks and getting them back into their home.

Needless to say the reality did not live up to the expectation.  Looking back on it, I might have had unrealistic expectations.

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We certainly learned a number of things in our first week as chicken parents.  The one thing I am really happy about is teaching our kids to care for animals even when things go wrong.   Along with giving them the idea of where our food comes from and how we can use chickens to create a stronger homestead.  I believe these are lessons that will instill a positive ethic in them towards people, animals, and our environment.




Jeff McIntosh

About Jeff McIntosh

Jeff's family lives in his childhood home on a 1/4 acre in town lot. Despite the small space to work with, they have challenged ourselves to produce as much of our own food as possible — and cook it! They document their journey at Blogging with Apples.