Big chickens, little chickens

So, the chicks — no, the chickens — are still in our dining room and close to eviction. The fluffy little chicks morphed seemingly overnight into half-size chickens with lots of adult feathers and even more attitude. They no longer huddle together under the heat lamp but instead run around their kiddy swimming pool like they are training for a marathon. They are eating four times what they did when they first arrived and hopping high enough that not only did we have to bring the walls of the pool up to 36″, but now we see them jumping over that too. The chickens need to go outside!

Yet, when I look at this group of young chickens, there are big chickens and there are little chickens. Like with our lambs, there are babies who have barely grown in two weeks, and there are others who look like adolescents, ready to find a nice hot rooster and settle down. What makes for the difference? The feed is the same, and the water is the same. When looking among our lambs, we tell ourselves that the milk is not the same, nor are the genetics; but here with the chickens, there is no milk. It makes me wonder about those genetics — is that the real reason for the difference?

We notice that some of our lambs — those born early in the lambing season — generally grow better than those born later. My personal explanation for this is that the early-born must eat more to stay alive. The temperatures are cold, and the lambs burn lots of calories simply staying warm and alive, and their appetite reflects that necessity. Those born later, in warmer weather, burn fewer calories and have the luxury of eating less. For the early-born lambs, they don’t need as many calories when the weather warms, but their eating habits have been developed. I think that this explains why they generally grow better.

But back to my chickens. These chicks were all hatched on the exact same day — probably just hours before shipment, and maybe within minutes of each other. They have all lived here in the same environment. Yet some of these chicks are still small with a lot of “baby-fluff” while others are big and lanky with adult feathers making an obvious sleek appearance on wings and tails. Are the little ones simply late bloomers? Are the big ones just eating more than their share? I don’t know, but I watch with fascination each morning as some seem to have grown even bigger and older just overnight.

As I said, this very close chick-watch is likely to come to an end soon. By late this week, we are looking at temperatures in the 70s and possibly even the 80s, and that means the chicks will likely find themselves residing in our chicken coop in the side yard. I will still see them each day as I make my rounds of chores, but that transition will mark a milestone in their lives. No longer will I be checking their temperature every couple of hours as I pass our dining room nor will I be talking to them as I heat Olive’s bottle or get the dogs’ meals ready. They will be out in their own home — and mine will happily return to a quiet, peaceful place where feathered friends are outside where they belong and enjoyed primarily from my windows!

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