Tuesday, April 12, 2016

We're doing it again: chicks

It's that time of year:  we bought chicks from a local breeder just over two weeks ago.  We had a rocky start, with a couple fatalities, but now have six chicks in our kitchen.  Like last year, we will be keeping the hens and eating the cockerels, but unlike last year, we don't know which is which just yet. 

We have three big chicks and three little bantams, and the big ones are growing quickly and getting some good feathers now, at nearly 3 weeks old.  The bantams are much smaller, but all have grown a little since we got them.  Our biggest chick is about four times bigger than the smallest!  And has lovely feathers and markings, and I suspect may turn out to be a boy...But everyone is presumed female until proven otherwise, so we refer to them all as "she" and have given them girls' names.  I just hope at least two are hens!  Actually, Partner thinks he might know someone who wants a cockerel for breeding, so we shall see if one gets a reprieve after all.  We simply can't keep cockerels because of our neighbors. 
three day old chicks
Though we don't know the reason for our early fatalities, we believe the first one got chilled (it died the first night).  For the others, I suspect the chick feed--it may have been too big for such small beaks, as further observation showed the little ones having real trouble picking the pieces up and swallowing.  But it may have been something else entirely (Partner's not convinced it was the feed);  we changed to a different feed (smaller pieces), gave them grit, and have been monitering their brooder temperature closely.  We haven't had any more deaths since (knock on wood);  it was certainly very distressing to lose them so early, and not even know the reason.

By getting new chicks I want to ensure a regular supply of eggs--produced most reliably by young hens.  I hope to make a yearly addition to our flock with new chicks, to keep our egg supply constant.  Of course, there will come a time when we are at capacity;  when this happens we plan on eating the oldest hens, to make space for new layers.  This will also give us a source of healthy, naturally raised meat.  I anticipate this happening in another three or four years.  I also anticipate it will be difficult, even more difficult than killing our young cockerels.  But that's life:  everything dies someday, and everything becomes food for something else. 

I would like to note: all our adopted rescue hens will be allowed to live out their natural lifespan and will not be eaten.  Though not explicitly stated, this is implicit in our agreement to adopt them from the hen charity.  We currently have 7 rescue hens;  they typically live around 1-3 years.  

But back to our new chicks!  They're all very cute, very curious, and all different colors and markings;  it's easy to tell them apart.  We don't know what breeds any of them are, other than big and small.  They don't like being picked up, but all willingly jump onto our hands if we offer them food;  I was hand feeding them earlier today, and a small one jumped onto my hand and promptly fell asleep!