Archive for the ‘Baby chicks’ Category

You Know The Drill . . .

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Too Many Homeworks! So no new podcast this week. Just wait until summer when I’m taking three classes!

In the meantime, here’s a lovely short film about two boys raising a couple of chickens in Belfast during The Troubles. (There’s a bit of salty language, but it’s in an Irish accent, therefore charming.)

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 1st, 2016

May the Force be with you in 2016. New episode next week!

Introducing New Chickens Part 3!

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

At the end of last week, I was thinking that maybe it was time to get the new chickens sleeping in the coop with the old ones. There had been an incident in which the alpha hen attacked one of the n00bs when I tried to put her in the coop, and so I began a slow process of acclimating the two groups of chickens to each other. This involved leaving the new chicks in the run in the protection of a dog crate, and then building up to leaving the crate door open during the day so everyone could mingle if they so chose, but the teen chickens could hide in there if they felt threatened. I also threw in a hearty dose of group free ranging. The free ranging really seemed to be helping. The old guard was surprisingly tolerant of the new school when they were out in the yard together, and so I knew it was only a matter of time before they began to accept them in the coop as well. Just how much time was proving to be the big question.

bad clock

I really wasted money on this clock.

After a week or two of the free ranging togetherness, I decided that this was it. They were getting along fine, or at least ignoring each other, out in the yard. If they could do it there, they could do it in the coop too. So finally one night, when the grownups were in the coop and the youngsters were roosting on top of their crate out in the run, I decided to try putting another youngster in the coop. I picked one up, hoping it wasn’t the same one who got pecked so badly the first time around, apologized quietly for what might be about to happen, and put her right inside the door. There was what amounts to the chicken equivalent of a growl, but there wasn’t an attack. Seeking to capitalize on this moment, I put another one in there. Another chicken growl, but peace. Going for the hat trick, I put the last new chick in there. Still just squawking. This was the moment I had been waiting for. Except that the chicks all piled on top of each other with their heads sticking out the coop door, rather than hunkering down inside. It was a start, anyway. They were in the coop.

heads out the coop

In, but out. Very Zen.

My original group of chickens took under a week to figure out that I was going to put them in the coop every night so they might as well just go in on their own. These new ones either weren’t so fast to figure it out, or were too afraid of what might happen if they went in on their own. After a week of putting them in every night, I decided it was time to take the dog crate out of the run. That would get them to mingle even more with the adults, and would take away their default nighttime roosting place. So I took it out, and that night I came out and found them all roosting on one of the roosts I set up in the run for daytime use. So I continued to put them in by hand, and they continued to stick their heads out the doorway. I guess this was like sticking their heads in the sand. If they couldn’t see the adult chickens, they weren’t there, right? And if they’re not there, they can’t peck you.

head in sand

Their necks are too short to actually stick directly in the sand, so they make do.

I didn’t mind leaving the coop door open at night when it was warm, but it was getting colder. There were several nights in the 40s being forecast, and I wasn’t going to leave the door open for that sort of cold. So the night before the first cold snap, I put the chicks in, and then pushed them far enough into the coop so I could close the door. They made agitated noises, but the grownups were silent. The next morning, everyone was in one piece.

That day when I went to check for eggs, it was already getting dark. As I approached, I noticed that Henny Penny was actually herding the babies up the ramp into the coop. She had finally taken them in as members of the flock, and was making them sleep in the right spot. Or, sort of. They still sat in the doorway, but at least they were going in on their own. I crammed them in and shut the door again.

That Saturday I cleaned out the coop, and the youngsters came in to watch me. They were very curious about what I was doing, and then they saw the roost, and that seemed even more interesting. They all sat on it and made excited chirping noises. I think they had been so intimidated by the older chickens that they were afraid to even try roosting in there. But they gave it a shot when the grownups weren’t around, and they seemed to enjoy it.

on the roost

The thrill of the roost!

The next night when I went to check for eggs, it wasn’t quite getting dark, but when I opened the coop door, the youngsters were all in on the roost, ready for bedtime. I sometimes want to go to bed really early too, so maybe they’d also had a bad day at work. Or maybe they were getting there early to get a good spot. Either way, after attempting a lot of different techniques for getting everyone together, it had finally worked. At last I had a happy chicken family.

Visual evidence that I had achieved my goals.

Visual evidence that I had achieved my goals.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Little Nemo Selection by The Victor Herbert Orchestra.)


Introducing New Chickens, Part Two

Friday, September 26th, 2014

When we left off last week, I had let my new chicks get to know my old chickens by putting them out in the run in the protection of a dog crate. I figured after a while, everyone knew each other, so all I had to do was show the chicks that at night they went inside the coop, and then we’d just have one big happy family. When night fell, I went out, took one of the chicks out of the dog crate, and put her just inside the coop door. Within seconds there was a loud squawk and a blast of feathers, and that poor little chick came running out at top speed with my alpha hen right behind her. Henny Penny, the leader of the flock, stood in the doorway making unhappy noises as I put the hopefully not too scarred chick back in the dog crate. This would take some more work, it seemed.

getting the boot

Well that’s a fine how-do-you-do!

I decided to return to the idea of letting everyone free range together and see if that helped. The coop was like the big kids’ clubhouse, and maybe the little kids needed to hang out and show that they were cool before they’d be allowed in. With humans, this means proving you’re not going to tell mom what they get up to in there. With chickens, I wasn’t so sure, but I figured there was less smoking and fewer dirty magazines. What I did was let the grownup chickens out into the yard, and once they were on the loose, I opened the dog crate door so the babies (well teens, but they’re still my babies) could stretch their legs a little. Just like the first time I opened the crate door to let them out, the first to the threshold took a triumphant leap into the outside world. This time, she stayed out though, and then she and the others began to explore the run. More importantly, they began to explore the run without the older chickens there to bully them. They checked out every corner, and after they felt they had seen it all, one or two of them even made the trip out of the run and into the yard. Nothing too crazy, though, they kept to around the doorway, or hung very close to the edge of the run. But this was huge for them.

chicken trip

A hero’s journey awaits

Even more interesting was that one of them wandered up to two grown ups, including Henny Penny, Queen of All She Surveys, and everyone pretty much shrugged it off. “Maybe there’s something to this letting them free range together after all,” I thought.

You’d expect that at this point I was setting you up for someone pecking the chick within an inch of her life, but that didn’t happen. They continued to peacefully co-exist the whole time. I was as shocked as anyone.

Eventually I ushered them all back into the run. I decided to not press anyone’s luck, and put the chicks back in their crate. The next day I let everyone out again. There wasn’t quite as much hobnobbing, but there also wasn’t any aggression, so I figured this was real progress. I still had learned my lesson though, and didn’t put the chicks in the coop yet, though I wanted to.


Pollsters were on the scene.

After two days of milling around together, I felt it was safe to leave the crate door open during the day so everyone could continue to get to know each other. If there was any bullying, the chicks could run back into the crate to safety. That was my thinking anyway. When I got home each day, everyone seemed happy, if a bit weirded out by the new arrangement. But weirded out is better than covered in blood, so I didn’t let a little avian awkwardness get in the way of my new system.

A less than happy development I noticed was that the grownup chickens learned about the chick food in the dog crate, and that is apparently the donut of the chicken world, because they gorged on that like you wouldn’t believe. I would chase them away whenever I saw them eating it, but since I’m gone all day, I could only do so much. I ended up putting the food up on top of the dog crate. I don’t know why, but I figured it would somehow stop this. And the weird thing is, it sort of did. The adults did go up on top of there, and I had anticipated this by putting cardboard over the top, so as to prevent them from pooping on their new friends. That’s a bad first impression. But they didn’t go up there as much as I thought, and so the food got eaten less.


This stuff is marketed so shamelessly to older chickens.

After a few days, the chicks went from sleeping inside the dog crate to sleeping on top of the dog crate. I’d fill their food up each night, so they could get access to it first thing in the morning. Once they got hunkered down, I figured they weren’t going to eat much, but it was there for breakfast. This way I at least knew they were eating. Eventually, I decided they couldn’t just sleep on top of the crate out in the run every night. It was getting colder, and they needed to be inside. But just how to get them into the coop?

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Naughty Marietta by The Victor Herbert Orchestra.)

Introducing New Chickens, Part One

Friday, September 19th, 2014

As summer was winding down, I had three chickens out in the coop, and then I had three baby chicks that eventually grew into three teenage chicks. What next? Seeing as how I didn’t have any extra coops lying around, it seemed like I had to figure out a way to get these two groups together and have them form a united front. I had space in the coop due to a couple of chickens dying in the spring, but it wasn’t really the space I was worried about. I knew that chickens get territorial, and I knew whose territory the coop was. My older chickens, while generally docile, were going to have to meet their new roommates, and I was bracing myself for it to go poorly. Better to be prepared and surprised than unprepared and en route to the vet.

not good at mingling

Not good at mingling.

I knew the best way to ease new birds into the flock was to do a slow period of getting familiar. Since I was keeping the chicks in a dog crate, I figured the easiest thing to do would be to put the dog crate next to the run and let everyone say hello. However, I had forgotten how much chickens freak out over change. The mere sight of the crate anywhere near the run sent the old guard into freakout mode, where they hid inside the coop and made unhappy sounding squawks for at least an hour. They eventually wandered back out, but were still quite vocal in their disapproval of this new object. Imagine the 2001 monolith scene, but with chickens. After a while, I brought the dog crate back inside. I began to bring it out every day for a little while in the hopes they’d get used to it. There was still a lot of angry squawking, but I worked on it. I would have left it out there all day, except that it’s totally not a secure device, and there are lots of clever varmints around who would really be excited about an easy to obtain chicken dinner. The thing that was killing me in this whole process was that I had used bricks to prop up the chicks’ food and water to keep shavings out, and these made moving the crate a very heavy endeavor. I could have taken them out each time, but that would have made it a very time consuming endeavor. So I went with back pain instead.


doan's pills

I sure could have used these.

I had heard that letting chickens free range together would sometimes help them accept one another, so I put the dog crate in the yard and let the other chickens out. Then I opened the door to the dog crate. Immediately one of the chicks took a majestic leap right out the door into the yard. This seemed great. Then she realized she was in an unfamiliar place, and immediately ran back into the crate. Each of the three of them took little trips just outside the door, but always went right back in after a second or two. Meanwhile, the adults were steering clear of everything because they still didn’t trust the dog crate. Didn’t matter where it was, that thing was trouble, so they avoided it.

flying chick

Like an airship of yore.

After a couple of weeks of putting the crate next to the run, I decided it was time to put it in the run, and let everyone get a little closer. The rungs in the crate are big enough that someone could stick their head in and get a good peck at someone else if they wanted to, but I figured there was just as much of a chance that the chicks would stay away from anyone who approached the side, so I put it in there. I lugged it out in the morning, listened to the adults angrily yelling at it, then brought it back inside at night, since I was worried it would be too cold outside for the chicks just yet. I did this every morning for about two weeks, and my back would have made angry chicken noises if it could have. Everyone was getting used to each other though, which was good. The squawking happened less and less, which seemed to indicate some level of acceptance had occurred.



At around their 10 week birthday, I decided the chicks were ready to stay out all night. They were feathered out, and the nights were pretty warm, even though it was the beginning of September. This saved me a lot of time both in the morning at night, and it really relieved my back. After a week, it seemed like they were getting along well enough that maybe it was time to even let them sleep in the coop. All I had to do was move them inside, right?


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Down On The Farm by Pryor’s Orchestra.)

Chicken Sitting

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Almost as soon as I got my mother to get chickens, my mother called upon me to chicken-sit. At that point in time, it wasn’t actually that big a deal, as they hadn’t been put out in their coop yet. They were still in a cardboard box in my parents’ house. Of course, they had been in that cardboard box for about 10 weeks, and that box had seen better days. My mother complained about how often they knocked their water over, and I had visions of the 200 year old pine flooring under them being destroyed, and me taking the blame. Happily, when I went to pick up my charges, I saw that my mother was smart and had put a tarp under the box. Crisis averted.

It's a tarp!

It’s a tarp!

I was not only chicken sitting, I was chicken sitting at my own house. Which meant I had to get these chickens to my house somehow. My mom had a box she thought would be perfect for transporting them. It was a nice box, formerly home to a microwave. However, not the most compact microwave, and I have a fairly compact car. Could we make it work? Yes, we could, but barely. The box filled the whole cargo bay of my car (if you can call it a cargo bay at this capacity), but it fit. That would at least keep them from sliding around. Or it kept the box from sliding around. The chickens were free to slide around inside the box as much as they wanted, or didn’t want to.

chicken car

If my car were any smaller, they could drive themselves.

We loaded them in, and I told my son that he was in charge of monitoring the chickens on the ride home. This meant I got a report any time the chickens made a noise, or anytime the chickens didn’t make a noise. Many reports were generated on the two hour ride home. I would get nervous if there were no noises. If these things died on my watch, I’d be the next dead thing, and if I couldn’t even keep them alive on the car ride home, this was going to be a bad week. But thankfully the noises would always start right back up, because chicks don’t like to be quiet.

We arrived home fine, if a bit freaked out. Well, the chickens were freaked out. I was mostly just tired of driving. Right as I got home, my mom let me know that the original box they had been in had basically disintegrated when she moved it to clean under it. This put a lot of pressure on the microwave box. It was like their home planet was destroyed, and now they were colonizing the moon, or something. Except that they have a nice coop waiting for them once my parents get back from vacation, so maybe this is much less sci-fi than I’m making it.

chicken problem

Houston, we have a chicken problem.

I brought them in the house and wasn’t even sure where I was going to fit them. Have you seen my house? It’s a mess, even in the non-chicken parts. So I suppose sticking a box full of chickens in any available free space is not a big deal, so that’s what I did. It was near an outlet, so the heat lamp was all set, and in front of a door, so if I wanted to move the whole works outside, that was almost easy enough, except for the part where you had to lean over the chickens to push the door open, and then had to move the box out before the door automatically closed back on you.

When dealing with baby chicks, my plan is always to prop the food and water up on bricks to try to limit the amount of shavings that get into the food and water. My mother commented on how her chicks liked to sit on top of the feeder and poop down into it, and I haven’t figured out a fix for that yet, but raising things up at least handles the chips.

I figured I could beat the chicks at the knocking over the water game by putting a brick in the corner of the box, putting the waterer on said brick, and then taping the waterer to the corner of the box. It worked like a charm in the sense that they couldn’t knock the water over. It worked like a curse in that they somehow managed to splash water all over the side of the box, and every day the hole this made got a little bigger, and I put a little more tape over it. It then began to spread along the bottom of the box like a lava flow. I continued to apply tape to the weak spots.  I assumed that soon they might just be in a giant cube of tape. I decided to focus on silver linings, and hope that all that tape would help catch some of the dust they kicked up. No one said silver linings had to be realistic.

My water bottle tape experiment was not to last though. About two days into their stay with me, I went in to check on them, and one of them had something weird on her foot. I picked her up to see what it was, and it turned out to be the tape I had used to hold up the waterer. And it was no longer in a nice strip like when I had applied it, it was now a knotted mass wrapped around her foot like someone had tried to mummify it. This was the worst mummy movie ever. Holding her in one hand, I slowly peeled, pulled, and cajoled the tape until her foot was finally free. She had managed to even poke one of her toes through several layers of tape. This would have been hard to undo if I had two free hands to use, and I only had one, but I finally did it. It was a miracle of patience both for me and the chicken. From that point on, the water stayed untethered, and I would keep the tape to the outside of the box, trying to contain the inevitable collapse before my parents returned.

mummy chicken foot

Hollywood is out of ideas.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Clarinet Squawk by Louisiana Five.)


Rebuilding The Flock – The Thrilling Conclusion!

Friday, September 5th, 2014

At the end of last week, I was worrying about whether to bring my chicks home a few days shy of two weeks, and risk exposing them to Marek’s disease (the vaccine needs two weeks to be effective) or to leave them at my parents’ house for another week, since I can only get out there on the weekends. What I ended up doing was leaving them at my parents’ house for another two weeks, since at that point I was bringing my son out to stay with them for a week. I didn’t want to be making a trip out there every weekend for a month, as much as it pained me to not get to hang out with the chicks at their cutest. But I could at least rest easy that they would be safe from Marek’s.

When I did finally get out to see them, they had gotten pretty big. They weren’t babies anymore, they were more like teenagers. Teenagers in their weird, awkward stages. Some of their real feathers were coming in, and their necks were getting long. They weren’t the little fuzzballs they were when they arrived, but it’s not like they were hideous monsters or anything. I was just happy to have them.

nerd chicken

Portrait of the artist as a young chicken.

My mom had really become fond of the little brown ones, which were Speckled Sussexes, the breed I had ordered at the last minute to make the minimum order. My father, who all through this had been complaining about not wanting chickens, was especially attached to the smallest of these. Of course, at this age, they grow fast, so the small one one day might not be the small one the next day. However, it was still important that they got to keep the small one. I decided they could have two Speckled Sussexes, and I would get one. They could then have one Silver Laced Wyandotte, and I would get two. That part was easy. The hard part was figuring out which one was the “small one,” and making sure I didn’t take her, which would break my father’s chicken-hating heart.

My mother stood over the box and grabbed the first “brown one” she could get. “I think this is it,” she said, looking the chicken in the eye.

I looked at the ones in the box. “I think that one is smaller,” I said, pointing at one in the box.

“I think you’re right,” she said, and put the first one down, and grabbed another.

“Wait,” I said. “I think that one is definitely bigger than the other one.” Then I grabbed one. We compared them. They seemed about the same. Then we looked at the one left in the box. It seemed small. “Is that the one?” I asked my father, motioning towards the box.

“Yeah, maybe, I think,” he said.

chicken rules

So many rules.

I ended up taking one of the ones we were holding, and two of the Wyandottes. I picked the Wyandottes at random, since my father had no allegiances to them. I put them in a box to transport them back to our house, and it seemed like we were more or less ready to go.

My father, in spite of the scene we had just created involving his favorite chicken, was still putting up a front like he wasn’t happy about having the chickens, but cracks were beginning to appear in the façade. “I don’t know, the chickens are cool,” he said, “but I don’t know why your mother wants to do this.”

“Well, you did decide to name them the Andrews Sisters,” I said. “It’s not like you’re totally not enjoying it.”

“No, I changed my mind,” he said. “Now I want to name them Britney, Madonna, and Cher.”

Meanwhile, my mother wants to call them Gladys Knight and the Pips. I would point out that Gladys Knight and the Peeps might be funnier, but even though I kind of created this situation, I’m not sure I want to be involved.

chickens at home.

They did make it home safely, in case you were wondering.


(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Cacliz March by Athenian Mandolin Quartet)

Rebuilding The Flock

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

(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.

room to let

Not to be confused with “Room Toilet.”

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.

crystal ball

Scrying techniques are of no help in diagnosis.

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.


All you can eat, if all you can eat is three.

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.

all the dogs

How do you undo this choice?

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.

paste you up

An early version of Dress You Up was about Madonna’s experiences with baby chicks.

(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Homestyle Mandolin by Lucas Gonze)

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