A couple of years ago, we left on vacation for a week and returned to find our entire flock of chickens eaten by a raccoon that had moved into the loft of our storage barn. Not only had it eaten all of our laying chickens, but it had also eaten many of our barn cats and chased away the rest. Needless to say, we relocated the raccoon and all of her kits (and there were many!) to a park near the Cedar River in hopes that they would find enough food there to make a new home and leave us alone.
Because we weren’t sure they would stay away, we replaced the cats but we didn’t replace our chickens last year. As I went about my chores each day, I would pass the empty chicken yard and coop, and I’d wish we had chickens again. With no chickens to eat the vegetation, we had to pull weeds in the chicken yard last summer, making more work for us. Besides that, there is something very rural and farmlike about hearing the rooster crowing in the yard. I was honestly quite sad about the whole thing — including having to buy eggs at the grocery store (they just aren’t the same as farm fresh!).
This past Christmas, I was surprised to open one of the gifts from our son and daughter-in-law to find… no, not chickens, but a gift card for Murray McMurray Hatchery where we normally order our chicks! I was really excited since I knew it meant that this year we wouldn’t have to pull weeds in the chicken yard and we would once again collect fresh eggs and wake up to the crowing of our own rooster! In February, I ordered our fifteen newborn chicks to arrive the weekend after Easter, and marked the date on the calendar. Life got busy with new lambs and such, and I almost forgot all about it until I turned the calendar page to April, and there I saw the arrival date circled in red. The chicks were coming!
We got the call from the post office on Saturday morning, so we finished our chores and went to pick up our chicks. They come in a small box in the mail, and if we hadn’t gone to pick them up, they would have been delivered to our mailbox on Monday. I didn’t want them to have to spend so much time in transit, however, so we ran down to the post office to pick them up. Even as I rang the bell next to the post office door (since it was already closed for the weekend), I could hear our chicks peeping somewhere within!
For those of you who have never ordered chicks, they’re boxed and shipped at the hatchery immediately after they hatch. Our fifteen babies hatched on Friday the 10th and arrived at our local post office the next day. They arrived in a small cardboard box, all squished together for warmth. We had ordered fifteen laying hens, which also brought us a bonus rare-breeds rooster for free with the order. As I opened the box to peek inside, I could see the rooster immediately; all of the girls were various shades of brown, while he was a very dark charcoal. I have no idea what breed he is, but I hope to figure it out as he grows and gets his adult feathers.
Once we opened the box, we had to “start” the chicks. We had mixed some powdered chick starter (full of sugar, vitamins and minerals) with a half gallon of water and poured it into two small chick waterers. I placed one waterer into their pen (a child’s swimming pool on our dining room table with a heat lamp above) and set the other on the table to “start” the chicks. I carefully removed each chick in turn, dipped its beak into the starter, and then placed it into the pen under the heat lamp. Dipping their beaks gets them thinking about water and then food — or at least so I’m told. It seems to work that way, though, since as soon as I dipped them and placed them into the pen, they took off towards the food and water that were waiting for them.
They are growing bigger each day, and it won’t be long before they outgrow the swimming pool on the dining room table. At that point, we will cover the pool with a net to keep them in so that Lisa (our border collie) won’t eat the escapees. During this first week, we must keep them between 90-95 degrees. We can drop the temperature by 5 degrees each week, and by four weeks of age, they can go out into the coop next to the house. I will admit that I love hearing the cheeping and peeping coming from the dining room! How wonderful to have chickens again — even if they are only a few days old and still in the house!