Rebuilding The Flock
(Part 1 of 3).
Having lost two chickens this Spring, and realizing that my surviving chickens are two years old and nearing the end of their egg-laying days, it seemed like maybe it was time to expand the flock a little. The old guard is free to continue to mooch off me until the end of their days, but I’ve gotten used to having a constant supply of fresh eggs on hand. If that’s going to keep happening, we have to get some new birds on the scene. With Boss Chicken in her own enclosure due to her inability to totally use her legs, and the two recent deaths, I knew I could fit three more hens in the coop comfortably.
Why Boss Chicken can’t use her legs is something to consider, however. About 7 months into her life she went from being an almost rooster-like aggressor to the sweetest chicken you’d ever met, who also just happened to have a really hard time walking. What brought about this change? That’s the real mystery here. The first thought is that it’s Marek’s Disease, which is a horrible disease and can kill a chicken, but there are also mild cases, where it only maims them. The thing about Marek’s is that there’s no way to know if this is it without her being dead. They can look for it in a necropsy, but that’s the only way to know, and she’s still kicking, so to speak. We keep her in a rabbit hutch, otherwise the other chickens will peck her mercilessly. She was kind of a tyrant in her day, and perhaps this is payback. Or you know, she can’t just fight back or run away like you’re supposed to. The guy who sold us the rabbit hutch had had a chicken with a similar story, and they believed that their hen had had a stroke. So I suppose that’s a possibility too, but again, no way to know.
Not knowing if it’s Marek’s is a big problem for getting new chicks. They would be susceptible to the virus, and there’s a good chance it would be worse than Boss Chicken’s experience. The feed store I got the current flock from can get you chicks that have been vaccinated against Marek’s, but they ship to the store mixed in with all the others, so that’s no help. You can vaccinate them yourself, but the vaccine takes two weeks to kick in, and in all likelihood the virus is everywhere in our house. I found a mail order hatchery that would vaccinate the chicks and mail them to you, but again, that two week window of vulnerability was going to be a problem. I couldn’t keep them outside for two weeks, since they need to be kept warm, and also, everything in the world that wants to eat them lives outside. I was stuck.
But then I had an idea. My mother had been very intrigued by my chicken dealings. She’d been saying she’d like to try it at some point. This was some point. Why not try it now? I brought this up with her, and probably way over-explained the reasons why I needed to have these chicks sent to someone else’s house. She seemed mildly into it, but non-committal. I kept checking the availability dates of the breeds I was interested in online, and they seemed to be selling out quickly. I would press for a solid answer, so I could set a date, but then there there were vacations and work schedules to work around, which took out a bunch of possible days, further complicating getting the breed I was hoping to get.
After a couple of weeks of nagging, I got a solid “yes” out of her, but she mentioned that my father was not excited about this idea. This is a man who once brought home a lop-eared rabbit with a broken leg he found in the street, and would adopt all the dogs if he could. All the dogs. Why was he being difficult about chickens? Nobody knows, but we decided to ignore him. I’d go ahead and order six chicks to make the minimum order, then I would keep three, and my mother would keep three.
When I went to place my order, I hit a snag. There were only three chicks of the kind that I wanted left. I had done a bunch of research and picked Silver Laced Wyandottes because they seemed perfect for our part of the world, and they were really pretty. But now I needed three more chicks that would ship on the same day. I started frantically looking for birds available on the date I needed, and then cross-referenced that with reviews online. Yes, people review chicken breeds online. This should really surprise no one. I finally found ones that looked cool, could deal with New England winters, and allegedly even were good winter layers. Eggs get scarce in winter, so this is a good trait. All in all, even with the vaccine added in, the price wasn’t so bad. Then I moved to the part of checkout where they add in the shipping. Now it was bad, but that’s overnight shipping for you. I had gotten a lot of other people involved in this, so there was no turning back.
I completed my order, and forwarded the email from the hatchery on baby chick care to my mother. Then I read it. It mentioned how sometimes chicks’ butts get plugged up with poop when they’re little. It’s called “pasting up,” and it can kill them. I had forgotten about this. Did I mention my mother likes to worry? She was already worried, and that was before the possibility of breaking up doodoo plugs had been introduced. I sat and waited for her to reach that part of the email.