You’ve all heard of the crazy cat lady who owns way more cats than any sane person would ever dream of? Yes. Well, I’m allergic to cats, so I have a feeling I’m going to become that crazy chicken lady. Today, our little flock showed up in the mail. I’m thrilled!
I ordered a straight run of 25 Black Jersey Giant chickens. They are all of the black chicks. They are good dual-purpose chickens, laying about 260 eggs a year on average and getting 10-13 pounds at maturity. They’re BIG chickens! I also ordered 15 straight-run hatchery choice guinea keets. They are the brownish striped and buff colored ones. I’m pretty sure they sent me half and half of Royal Purple and Lavender. Two keets died in transit, and one of the survivors is a bit crippled – he’s got one lame eye and two curled feet. He’s a trooper, though. I splayed his toes and taped them in place, and he’s zooming around eating and drinking like the others. Why were his toes curled? I have no idea. It could have been some trauma he suffered during shipping, trouble during hatching/incubating, or it could be a vitamin B2 deficiency. In any case, the treatment is the same – splint the toes straight with whatever you can, and keep the splint on until the bones have set right. It takes 1-3 days in most cases, and doesn’t hurt the chick at all. Like I said, he’s running around with his taped feet just fine.
For those of you not familiar with ordering chickens, you can either order pullets and cockerels (girls and boys) or what they call a straight run, which is a random mix of sexes usually working out to about half and half. I counted at least four little roosters as I was playing with them. I wasn’t thinking, or I would have checked each one as I took it out of the box. Oops. Some hatcheries also do what is called hatchery choice, which is when they take whatever breeds they have on hand and mix them up to complete an order. This is a great way to get discounted chicks, as it uses up their “leftovers.” With the guineas, I wasn’t very concerned about which breed to get – they’re all hell on ticks. With chickens, however, I plan on breeding my own flock, so I only want one breed.
This is my fourth or fifth time now starting chicks, so I like to think I have most of the kinks worked out. Usually I use a big plastic tote as a brooder, but with 40 chicks, it was a tight squeeze. Instead, I converted the bottom shelf of my grow shelf in the living room. Pretty fancy, eh?
To line the bottom of the brooder, I have come to trust towels more than anything else. I tried newspaper, but ended up with several chickens in need of hobbling due to splayed leg from the slippery surface – never going to try that again. I tried pine chips, but holy man what a mess! And it made my allergies go nuts. I tried straw… messy again, and the chicks had a hard time mashing it down enough to make walking easy. I tried regular towels, and the chicks’ toes got caught in the loops making walking a difficult proposition. The last couple times I’ve brooded chicks, I’ve used extremely worn towels or flour sack towels. There are no loops to catch toes, and it’s a snap to clean. I change the towels out for fresh ones once a day. The dirty ones get shaken outside, stuffed in a pre-soak bucket, then washed at my next earliest convenience. Kind of like cloth diapers. I like this method because I’m not wasting anything and it gives the chicks a perfect surface to walk on. If I didn’t have flour sacks or old worn out towels, I might use paper towels layered on the bottom instead.
These birds are so darn cute. I wish everyone could experience raising chicks in their living room just once. It’s magical watching them learn how to eat, drink, preen, run, and explore. They’re constantly stumbling over their own clumsy feet, falling asleep standing up and toppling over like drunkards, and plowing into each other in their eagerness to get to that very interesting spot two inches away. I watched them all fight over pecking at a single dot of sunlight on their floor for a good ten minutes. They are dumb as rocks, but so stinking cute!
I’m a feather Mama again. It feels good. 🙂