Raising Chicks – Week 6

by Beth

Week 5 saw us weighing the options to move the chicks outside full-time. We now have 7 birds that look more than chickens than chicks living in our home. Chicks are fragile, fuzzy beings. Chickens are busy miniature dinosaurs who peck and flap and hunt bugs.

Our flock is right in between. They still need more feathers and warmth to safely live outside. Luckily, this week was even warmer and sunnier than expected, which was great for gardens, our moods, and chicks.

ChickenTractorwithChicks-5wks

Day 36

They can go outside again! The forecast had called for cold, cloudy weather until tomorrow, but today reached the mid-60s, so I boxed them up. They were ecstatic to be on grass again. Hey, BeBe!

5weekBlackLangshanPullet

They were less ecstatic to be in the chick chariot, even with mealworm bribes. It’s time to tweak their transport.

They’re starting to cluck. Every so often one of them goes to peep and it sounds deep.

Day 37

Another good day outside. At one point I sat on the ground to take pictures and realized Cogburn’s fluffy white butt was in the same spot in every shot. The chicks aren’t usually still. He was into something.

I trotted over to find him finishing a Calastoma mushroom, a “puffball-in-aspic.” It looks like a terrestrial jellyfish. Not something I would eat, but he was enjoying it.

CalestomaMushroom

I separated cherished chick from alien fungus. Cogburn would’ve been upset if he hadn’t immediately seen a fly to chase. After a few minutes, I closed the chicks in the tractor and walked back to the barn for another chicken-based internet search: “are mushrooms safe for chicks?”

Some people say chickens won’t eat things that hurt them. Others share stories of flocks that chowed down on wild mushrooms and died.

Sigh. Why did I even do an internet search? It’s not like we can pump Cogburn’s stomach. I’d love to trust him not to eat something inedible but have seen him eat packing tape.

The only recourse was to wait and observe. I’ll remove mushrooms from the run in the future but wouldn’t have found the Calastoma lurking under the grass. Cogburn did! And he loved it, and he was fine. As I edit this days later, he’s still fine.

There were no results for internet searches like, “chick ate Calastoma mushroom” or “can chickens eat puffball-in-aspic?” so if that’s a search that brought you here, know that our 5-week-old Light Brahma chick ate at least one, with gusto, and it didn’t hurt him.

Day 38

They literally grew overnight. I took the cover off, they hopped up to the brooder-bin rim, and I said, “Whoa.” Cogburn is the size of some full-grown bantam chickens. The rest are city pigeon sized.

CogburnLeadstheBrahmas

This morning, they were downright unsettled about being put in a box. It seemed like they might hurt themselves trying to escape.

The box had to go. It dawned on me that at the chicken show in Knoxville, people were transporting birds in wire crates (except the silkie chickens, which they carried like cats in their arms). A plan formed.

RoosterinKennel-ChickenShow

After lunch, with the chicks in the chicken tractor, we flipped on the electric fence and went for a rare outing to pick up the freezer at the storage unit so we can reduce grocery-store trips. The storage facility was empty and social-distance friendly, so we took the time to load up a few other treasures, like BamBam’s old wire crate. The new chick chariot.

Thanks to Coronavirus, this was the first time we’ve left the chicks alone outside. I wondered if I’d be anxious, but nah. It isn’t like we put them in the yard and said, “Good luck.” They’re behind 3 layers of fencing, one electric.

Not that we wouldn’t love to release them into the wild to explore, but mankind has domesticated most defenses right out of chickens. They’ll always need some level of security but especially at pigeon size. Survival will be less precarious when they’re full-grown, 8-11lb. It’s hard to imagine them that big.

BuffBrahma-PulletinGrass-5weeks

I cleaned the dog crate with vinegar and water and lined the bottom with cardboard. I sprinkled oats in a container with 6 or 7 mealworms. They ignored oats in week 2, when I thought the extra protein might help the Langshans with pasty butt, but I figured mealworms wiggling the oats would distract them long enough to wrangle everyone into the crate.

Not only were they excited about mealworms; they love oats now. They ran into the crate on their own. The ride back to the barn was great. They were more focused on the treats than their surroundings.

Day 39

The dog crate is great. I drop in treats and the chicks walk in on their own. Except for Donna, who’s on to me.

The main concern is when they stick their heads or legs out, but walking slowly seems to keep them from doing that. Overall, they’re much more calm, maybe because the crate gives them sovereignty to walk in on their own. I respect that.

ChickenTractor-DogCrate

The crate was open in the yard all day, and they ran in to explore many times. At dusk, they bustled in voluntarily for oats and mealworms, except for Donna, and were ready to ride. It’s not easy to walk very slowly with 7 big chicks in a crate held away from myself to make sure I don’t jostle them, but as they get used to it, this walk will be easier by the day.

Day 40

They popped out of the brooder bin and marched into the crate. I carried them to the porch and paused to sprinkle in a few more oats. Then the treat train rolled down to the chicken tractor full of happy chicks. No drama. I’m so pleased with myself.

6weekChicksDogCrate

Recent days have been similar enough to take on routine. When the mood strikes, Chris or I take a break, open the tractor, and sit in the chicken run to chaperone and socialize.

A hawk has flown by twice when we’ve had chicks out. BeBe’s eye caught one of them hundreds of feet up, and she or someone else must’ve trilled an alarm. The hawk was gone in 20 seconds, but the chicks huddled next to the tractor for 5 minutes. It’s comforting they’re aware of the risk, but until they’re a lot bigger, they’ll be in the tractor when we’re not around.

BuffBrahmas-BlackLangshanChicks-Tractor

Luckily, they’re content in there. They don’t even use the coop part yet. They perch on the ramp but don’t seem to realize there’s another place to explore above them. Chris reminded me our coop guy said they wouldn’t go up there on their own. We’ll have to train them. Treats will help.

At sunset, they ran to the crate for oats. When I open the crate in the study, they don’t head directly to the brooder bin. Instead, they preen and roost on the box village and fall asleep. It’s nice to sit with them; chicken meditation hour lives! Tonight, Cogburn, Donna, BeBe, and Eula napped on my lap while Peep, the disruptor, stepped on everybody on the way up to my shoulder.

The secret to getting them in the brooder? When I can get out from under the increasingly big pile of chicken, I tap the waterer. Popsicle dives into the bin to check out the sound. Her enthusiasm entices all but one or 2 chicks to follow her in. It’s easier to scoop up 2 stragglers than put all of them in the bin by hand.

Day 41

I ordered scratch grains, another classic chicken treat, so they won’t fill up on only oats on rides to and from the tractor. I also pivoted the chicken tractor so they have fresh ground to peck.

The morning warmed up fast. When I opened the brooder, everyone but BeBe ran to the crate. I leaned in for a closer look at BeBe, who’d made it up to perch on the rim. Her eyes were half closed…she was still napping. It was 3 hours earlier than they usually go out, and BeBe was sleeping in. My kind of bird. She joined everyone a minute later.

As they bobbled into the grass, it started sprinkling. Doh! They’ve never seen rain, and of course they shouldn’t be wet. Their feathers aren’t thick enough to fend off the cold yet. They didn’t freak out, but it was easy to shepherd them into the tractor. Then I had to decide whether to take them back inside or wait out the rain.

I chose the latter because rain wasn’t in the forecast, and it wasn’t falling sideways. I did make sure they had a couple shallow boxes of pine chips to nest in away from the damp grass. They love scratching pine chips on cardboard surfaces, so boxes of pine chips also keep them busy.

The rain stopped, but the wind picked up. It was a good day to teach them about the coop. I sprinkled oats up the ramp, and Popsicle, who’s always game, followed them up. A step from hopping into the coop, she turned and walked back down, but Cogburn walked up the ramp next and hopped into the coop. Half the others followed as I rained oats down for encouragement.

I worked with them throughout the day until all the chicks had at least tried the coop. Cogburn likes it. Others remain lukewarm. Hopefully they’ll learn soon that it’s the best way to stay out of wind and rain.

It was a busy day otherwise. We didn’t keep them company often. When we finally sat with them in the early evening, they were extra affectionate, flying to our laps. It was still in the 70s at sunset, so I thought I’d leave them out. They’re fine with wind, rain, and cooler temperatures, so I’ve been wondering if they’re hardy enough to stay out full time and I’m just not realizing it. Letting them stay out past dark would be a good next test.

I was working on a bunny fence around the garden boxes by barnbungalow, waiting for the moon to rise, when a forlorn chorus floated up from the chicken tractor. My first concern was that one of the chicks was hurt, but no. They were annoyed about having to ask to go back to the study. They still want to sleep indoors.

When they’re ready to be grown-up-outdoor chickens, they probably won’t be upset by darkness falling. As fast as they evolve, that could happen in a few days. Of course, in the next few days, the temperature will drop. In fact,there may be at least one cold day they can’t go outside at all, oy.

Back in the study, they stayed out for hours, roosting on the side of the bin, on the box village, and in the dog crate. They do stay within the perimeter around the brooder. Bam walked past at one point, and they barely ruffled a feather. This gives me hope that the one chilly day they can’t go outside won’t be too chaotic…

Day 42

Chicks are 6 weeks old!

LightBrahmaCockerel6weeks

And looking chickeny. Check out that comb and those feather legs.

6weekoldLangshanBrahmaChicksJPG

Today, was sunny and 70s, a great day to learn how to dustbathe. For once, Cogburn didn’t initiate a milestone. Brahma Donna, master napper and lover of comfort, started it. First she lay down on a rock in the sun. She looked cute, so I snapped a photo and watched as she went from napping to fluffing her feathers and kicking up dust.

BrahmaDonnaDustbath

There was no way the other chicks could resist investigating a commotion like that. Here you can see them start to gather…

…and join in.

They spent an hour dustbathing and napping. Pure joy.

We had a blast watching them. I didn’t have the heart to put them back in the tractor until they were done, so I settled in and took pictures of the pile of bliss.

ChicksDustbathing

Meanwhile, Popsicle likes finding treats in the grass away from the crowds.

6weekLangshanChickinGrass

The Langshans are still more aloof, and they watch the sky better. Here’s Pinkie eyeing a wild bird her Brahma napping buddy is oblivious to.

Pinkie-LangshanWatchesSky

Tomorrow, the weather will start to cool off, the wind will be gusty, and we’ll be bringing home 20,000 new neighbors: 2 colonies of honey bees. That means chicks will be in the brooder until 10 or later, but as much excitement as they had today, they’ll be fine sleeping in.

Rounding out week 6, I’m surprised they aren’t ready to live outside yet and equally surprised how peaceful the current balance is. They can be transported from one place to another with a handful of oats and are relaxed when confined in the study. From the beginning, chicken veterans kept saying, “The chicks will tell you what they need.” For now, nights are cold, and the chicks are still saying they need to sleep inside. It’s a relief there’s no problem accommodating that, despite the extra lbs they’ve packed on lately, making the brooder bin look small.

In the future, if we decide to brood another group of large-breed chicks, we’ll start later in the spring so they can move outside earlier. For now, we’ll take it day by day with this group and let them tell us when they’re ready to be full-time grown-up chickens. Let’s see what happens in week 7.

 

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