By Lisa Brunette
As of today, all five chicks are still alive.
So, yeah, we haven’t garnered any losses yet, and the chicks look… healthy. Happy, even. They run around playing games with the “treats” I give them, with beet peels and red pepper bits standing out as apparent favorites.
Have I named them?
That’s, like, the first thing people want to tell me not to do. Folks assume I’m some naïve noob who needs to be cautioned away from thinking of these chicks as my pets. I am kind of a noob, of course, since this is the first time I’ve ever attempted to raise chickens, and you’re welcome to judge my naïveté as you wish. But I’m also a practical person, and I do my research.
That research includes a fair number of books, podcasts, Substacks, blogs, and YouTube channels, all devoted to the subject of raising chickens. One thing I’ve learned from people who’ve been at this a long time and are experts at animal husbandry is that… it’s OK to name them! Encouraged, in fact. Treat your animals with respect, give them good lives, and honor them when you harvest them as food for your table.
It’s an approach that resonates with me, after a lifetime of rumination on the issue, including a 13-year stint of vegetarianism, a diet that doesn’t at all work for my particular constitution, by the way.
So… we’ve got Queen Bee, aka “Queenie,” her sidekick, Widow’s Peak, twins Miney and Mo, and last but not least, Fudge Pie.
Queenie is the largest and most dominant, and I wonder if she’s not older than her sibs. As soon as we lifted her from her travel box the day we brought her home, I could see she already suffered from pasty butt. That’s a bad sign, pasty butt: dried fecal matter adhering to the chick’s vent. They can actually die from it, if it’s not carefully removed and the chick treated. I removed it with warm water and just a touch of Dr. Bronner’s soap diluted in the water when water alone just would not do the trick—the massive glob was seriously glued to the chick.
I’m a little pissed about this pasty butt thing. I also wasn’t thrilled with the setup at the store for the “display” chicks, with too many of them crowded into a glass aquarium that was too light on mulch bedding, the heat lamp too close. I’d preordered the five chicks from a store that in turn orders them from a hatchery. If I had to guess, I’d lay the blame for pasty butt on the storekeepers, who probably fed her after she arrived at the store. Chicks are shipped just after hatching, when they’re in a sort of fugue state in which they need no water or feed because they’ve just eaten their hatch yolk. But she’d clearly been fed, likely at the store, and whatever situation she found herself in resulted in pasty butt. It’s caused by poor feed and/or stressful conditions.
The chicks want you to upgrade to paid.
Anyway… it’s also pretty common, so don’t let me get all moral high-horse on you here with my first attempt.
Queenie’s doing brilliantly now. Not a sign of pasty butt since I removed it. I gave all the chicks a medicinal drink of apple cider vinegar, honey, garlic, and water the first day, with fresh water daily since then. I feed them only high-quality organic chick feed. They also get chick grit, which helps their gizzards digest food. And I supplement their diets with treats from our kitchen scraps as well as the garden.
Maybe you think I’m too precious about this, but you know, I have to be super careful with my diet because I deal with mast cell activation syndrome. I simply can’t afford for these eggs to make me sick, not after all the investment of time and effort. And I don’t want to lose chicks to bad animal husbandry.
The ‘Chickshaw’ Brooder
You might remember when I announced our chick project I also shared a sneak peek at the chicken housing we’d be using, none other than the ‘chickshaw,’ offered by homesteader Justin Rhodes. The chickshaw was designed for an adult flock of hens, but because we have a cat indoors (Chaco, if you’re new here), we also wanted to use it for our brooder setup. My other thought was that chickens are outdoor creatures, and raising them from chick stage outside would seem to be the best option, in terms of their learned hardiness.
So far so good. The chickshaw has performed admirably, outfitted with a cardboard box brooder filled with a deep bed (8”) of pine shavings and, of course, a heat lamp.
Anthony and I wish we could claim we built the chickshaw ourselves, but we possess neither the tools nor the talent. If you’re local to the St. Louis area and want a recommendation, look no further than Keith McKenzie (mhrwindows [at] gmail [dot] com) at McKenzie Home Remodeling. We don’t receive anything in exchange for this plug; Keith is awesome, and he also built our back porch.
I’d say the chickshaw has done its job so far of protecting the birds. One morning, I watched an enormous opossum trace a path underneath the chickshaw, sniffing around, and then when it found no entrance, it waddled off.
That Empty Nest Thing
When I call us empty nesters, I’m not just being colorful. Anthony and I saw the kid, Zander, off to Navy Nuke school last year, after the three of us had re-bonded over the six months he lived here full-time, preparing to enter the service.
Yeah, that was tough, though our pride in his accomplishment and excitement for his future outweighed our sorrow at bidding him goodbye. We enjoyed a fun visit with him in December, chronicled here with several posts: The churches of Charleston, Driving the point home, The cost of travel in the slowpocalypse, Atlas shrugged off, Charleston travelogue, and The future of travel is small towns.
As if it weren’t hard enough to see your one nestling off, Anthony and I recently had to experience empty nesting again, and this one was traumatic rather than celebratory. Over at our day job, Brunette Games, the tech collapse hit us incredibly hard, and we quickly had to lay off all three of our full-time writers. They’re a terrific bunch, around the same age as Zander. We miss them on a daily basis and are pretty well gutted over the whole thing, so the chicks have helped fill the void with their distracting cuteness and need for our care.
My heart grew two sizes the day their tail feathers popped out.
Yes, I know. It’s going to be rough on me when that first loss comes, as come, I’m sure it will.
Chick moms, gotta be chick moms.