Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Birfday

This weekend was my birthday, and also the birthday of a chicken! It is the birthday of the chicken that concerns us here.
Early this morning we checked all the eggs, and found one that had pipped, meaning it was smooth all over except for a tiny crack at one end. The little crack had been hacked from the inside with only the teeniest of tools: a baby beak about the size of a pencil lead, wielded with all the wet-spaghetti force of a baby chicken's first movements. The chick was resting after its efforts; the egg was still and silent. We carefully replaced it under Mama Orpington.Later in the morning, we returned to find that the little chickie had made a lot of progress! Its whole beak was out and it was cheeping and peeping. The outer shell was crackled, but was still attached to the membrane in most places. The membrane was kind of tough and rubbery, not papery as I expected. I could feel the chickie move and struggle around inside the egg. When the chick was resting, the whole conglomeration heaved in and out as the chickie breathed, HARD. (Speaking of things that were hard--it was really hard not to peel the rest of the shell right off! Or at least peel a bit back so we could see the chickie's face. But according should not help the chickie out of the shell.)

And right before we left for birthday lunch at Harney and Sons, we found that the little chickie had finally busted out of the majority of its shell. It was SO TIRED. We took advantage of its exhaustion to snap the iconic picture of "Baby Sleeping Peacefully In Giant, Tender Hands." Only in this picture, the baby is a little stuck inside its poo-encrusted membrane and shell. Baby photo faux pas!! I do like how it looks like the chickie is wearing one of those baby towels that have a hood, though. You know the ones; sometimes they have a frog or a duck face on the hood. Totally for babies and children. I certainly don't have a duck towel like that. (...shifty eyes...)
And once we returned from the Land of Teas several hours later, the chickie had dried out and gotten fluffy. It now looked straight from the Cute Factory instead of the Wet Little Alien Bird Factory. The craziest part at this stage are the wings. They are just little flaps, only about the size of Guinea pig ears. Check it:

Happy birfday little chickie!

Monday, June 15, 2009


Of all the chicks in the brooder, the Salmon Faverolles are the chillest little dudes. Little downy puffs under their eyes give them a relaxed, squinty expression. They are described variously as "docile" and "genteel." If there is a chick lying down while eating, chances are it's a Salmon Faverolle.

They other thing about Salmon Faverolles--besides being called "genteel" and enjoying breakfast in bed and sporting little eye puffs--the other thing is that they have crazy toes. This little guy and his buddy came inside recently to sleep through the end of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. (The movie is fascinating but a bit deep for baby chickens; I wouldn't recommend it for your own chicks unless you think they will sleep through it too.) Anyway, click to enlarge if necessary, and check out the multiplicity of toes in the background. Faverolles have five toes, giving them one up on their four-toed compatriots.

But I have saved the best for last: the MAIN thing about Salmon Faverolles is how they look when they grow up. Prepare yourself, if you can, FOR: The Minister of Silly FACE!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Where to pick up chicks:

The Post Office!
In fact the Post Office is the only place to pick up chicks; they can't be sent FedEx or UPS. Last week, the new chicks arrived at the post office, and were duly picked up in the wee hours of the morning. They looked like they had been out all night at a punk show.
The first order of business was to get everyone a drink of water. Chicks don't need to eat or drink for a day or two after they hatch, because they are still absorbing the rest of their yolk nutrients. It's a smart setup, because it might be 48 hours or so from the time the first chick in a nest hatches until the last emerges. Early hatchers can just wait around under Mama for their brothers and sisters to be ready to go. At the end of that time though--BOY are they thirsty.As each chicken was placed in to the brooder, we'd dip its little beak in sugar water to make sure it got right down to business. "Oh, wow!" thought the chicks. They'd glug some water down, toddle off, and hurry back for more. An hour or so later, the post office dropped off a whole nother box of chicks that some negligent person failed to pick up for more than 24 hours--and we did the whole routine again. Now we have a million* teeny chickens.

Once everyone was in the brooder, toddling and scurrying around, pecking and drinking, some chicks started to get tired. They had a tough time deciding what to do then: on the one hand, this eating and drinking was so exciting! "We've never done this before!" they enthused. On the other hand. . . so . . . so . . . tired . . . . Not yet knowing what else to do, they fell asleep right where they stood. Some of them managed to sleep standing up, or drooped gradually into a naptime squat; others slowly tipped over, startling themselves awake when they hit the floor. It was enthralling. A box full of baby chickens is better than a TV.

* a million = 52

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Splish Splash, I was takin a dirt bath

This weekend, we let Mama Chicken and her six chickies (four of her own and two fosters) out into a grassy pen for the first time.

At first, Mama followed her by-then standard procedure of scratching and pecking the ground, to find food for the chickies. There was great peeping and excited pecking. Foraging was thrilling--and much more successful in the grassy pen than it had been in their brooder box.

A big plastic-wrapped board was lying on the ground; it had been lying there in the pen since the previous spring. I lifted it up and rested it against the fence, hoping that the moist earth underneath would contain lots of good bugs for the chicken family. It was surprisingly dry under there, though, and no bugs were to be seen. "Too bad" I thought.

But it turned out I had given Mama the best present someone who hasn't left the nest for 4 weeks could want. "DIRT BATH!!!" she all but shouted, rushing over to the barren ground and elaborately proceeding to toss dirt all over. She hunkered down and scratched the dirt up with her feet; flapped it under, over, and all around her with her wings; rolled on her sides and rubbed her neck in the dirt; shook her tailfeathers and snuggled down into her dirt bath hole before starting the whole routine again. She kept it up while I went to get my camera, and by the time I came back was alternating between "DIRT BATH!!" and more foraging for the chicks from her comfortable position in the "bathtub." Keep an eye on the yellow and gray chick in the upper right--by the time I returned with my camera it had already learned to copy her. The whole scene was a big hit for the human "chickies" who were observing the scene closely.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Chickens don't drive tractors!

It is a well-known fact that chickens do not drive tractors. But for some reason, a portable, self-contained chicken habitat is called a "chicken tractor." And this weekend we* built one.

In Stage One, the chicken tractor just looks like a bunch of wood and triangles. This triangular, wooden theme will be maintained throughout the chicken tractor's construction.

In Stage Two, you can see the roosting area has been built. It opens at the back for human access, and at the front for chicken access. It looks like a house that is going skiing.

In Stage Three, the tractor has become incredibly long and heavy.

It is in two pieces: the heavy piece with the house, and the long piece with the chicken run.

Finally, Stage Four: Home Sweet Tractor.

*while I say that "we" built it, "my" major contribution was taking pictures.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Triple Nerd Score!

I would like to submit one more type of chicken expression (in addition to the two we have previously discussed). This hen looks neither outraged nor content. Not even "contentraged", an emotion that---let's face it--is probably apocryphal.

No, this hen looks like she is...brooding. Over her brood. Of chickens.

Turns out the chicken is the magic link between brood (the verb) and brood (the noun). This nerd-tacular insight is one of the most exciting parts of chicken-keeping so far.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The brood increases

Four eggs have hatched! Besides yesterday's fuzzy yellow hatchling, we now have a yellowish chick with gray chipmunk stripes, a darker gray one, and a black one with a yellow bottom. (That means "yield.")

Also, Little Chickie Yesterday has revealed its parentage! Those fuzzy pantaloons cannot tell a lie: this chickie's mama is a Brahma.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Unbearable Cuteness of Being...


Our Lace Wyandotte has been sitting on her (well, someone's) eggs assiduously for the last 3 weeks.  Yesterday afternoon the first chick struggled its way out of its shell.  Here it is!  What kind of chicken will it be?  Hard to tell. The only rooster is a Lace Wyandotte, so all we know for sure is that it's at least half Wyandotte.  The poor mama--who also happens to be a Wyandotte--got supplanted on a couple of nests before we set her up in a brooder box with some hastily-gathered eggs; only one of those eggs may have been her own.  So all we can say for sure is that their daddy is a Wyandotte, and their mama was a Rock N Roll Band. I mean, some kind of chicken. Barred Rock, Orpington, Wyandotte, Brahma, Rhode Island Red...

And here is the mama regarding me suspiciously once I have put her little nugget back in the brooder box with her. It is going "Ehnnn!  Ehhhnnn!" jumping up and trying to burrow back under.  Unfortunately, 'jumping up' and 'burrowing under' are mutually exclusive. It is borned with great cuteness, fluff, and surprising mobility, but some things (difference between belly and neck?) just have to come with experience.