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Friday, July 4, 2014

This is for the birds

We missed the first shipment of chicks so we started our brood a bit late this year. The nice thing about raising chicks in the summer as opposed to the spring is you don’t have as much damp chill and drafts to worry about.
In spring you have to hang heavy blankets over the windows and doors of the chicken coop and stuff feed bags in the gaps and cracks to keep out the weather. Then you have to hang a heat lamp over each bundle of chicks to ensure they stay toasty, warm and dry.
The chicks pile on top of one another to get closer to the lamp and inevitably some smother. It’s an art, hanging that lamp just low enough that everyone is warm but not too hot and squished.
This year the Farmer separated the chicks into five groups and put them in plastic half-barrels – each with its own water and feeder. The chickens were pretty hardy but the turkeys taught us right away that they still need the heat lamp – even when it’s thirty degrees outside. I think we only have about six turkeys left. I hope these ones make it to Thanksgiving.
The chicks will drown if you give them too much water to mess with so they have these upturned mason jars with bowl lids. These are set up on bricks so they are at eye level for the chicks. Still they manage to tip them over and get themselves all wet. And waste the water. By the end of a hot day the water feeders are empty and I have to go in and refill them.
I’m the kind of Farmwife that likes to plant and weed a garden and perennial beds, keep the dog walked, fed and clean, manage the cats, clean the house and feed cute baby farm animals. Thankfully the Farmer is used to doing most of the dirty work on his own and he is happiest working alone, because mucking about with manure in the summer heat, being attacked by mosquitoes and deer flies, is not my idea of fun.
And yet the chicks needed me. So I grabbed a bucket and went over to the other side of the barn, to fill it from the trough. The cows have full access to the barn, and the water room is the coolest refuge from the midday sun so they have totally mucked up the floor, as they do. I filled the bucket, lurched in the sticky mud trying to lift it, and stepped ankle deep into wet muck. Damn cows. Blasted chickens.
Of course, the Farmer pointed out later, it was my fault. I had my little gardening shoes on and not my rubber boots. It’s a good thing I didn’t fall right over into the mud or I would have been really mad.
I trudged back to the chicken room and started filling the water – my foot squelching in the wet muck of my shoe. As I finished the water and started pouring cups of chick feed into the feeders, the mosquitoes discovered me. By the time I was done five minutes later I had a half dozen bug bites and one deer fly sting. But the chicks were fed and watered and chirping happily to themselves.
When you stick your hand into a mound of chicken chicks to scatter them and save the ones that are being trampled, first they scream at you and then they start pecking your hands. They aren’t my favourite birds. Later, when they are full grown, I refuse to get into their pens because they literally peck your ankles. Again, boots are required.
The turkeys are much more pleasant to deal with. They coo at you and wander over to stand at your side and inquire as to what you are doing. They look you in the eye when you talk to them. They wait until you are finished filling their feeders before they start pecking – at the food; not the human. And when you speak, they all answer in unison. Turkeys are cool. I like turkeys.
Chickens are delicious. And ours will be especially delicious this year, raised steroid and antibiotic-free in the old lambing area of the barn, with free access to the fenced yard outside. They are going to be happy, and everyone knows a happy chicken is a delicious chicken.

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