It’s been 10 weeks since we brought home our first chicks. Social distancing started in week 3, so while that meant the scenery stayed the same, every one of these 70 days has been different for the chicks.
That said, their milestones are starting to level off, and this week we’re finally starting to settle into chicken routine. When they saunter down to the run in the morning, I head out with food and a compost bucket to do a quick coop cleaning. Then I supervise while they stretch their wings in the chicken yard before work.
This is the time of day I used to write. I’ve been trying to sneak in journal entries while the chicks free range, but as you can see, it can be slow going. These 2 are preening before they nap on my lap.
That’s why the latest journal posts have been delayed, and after this week, I’ll shift from a detailed daily chick journal to a weekly chicken journal.
I thought I’d stop journaling altogether after they moved outside, but they’re still changing, and the reflection has been so helpful. These 7 birds will always be our first chicks, and I’m grateful for the record of raising them and grateful for you, here, reading. We’ve heard from many people reading these, sometimes with your kids as you quarantine together. Thank you!
Without further ado, here’s week 10.
The last day of week 9 was cold, windy, and wet, a trifecta we didn’t want to leave the chicks in. That meant loading them into their chick chariot, a wire dog crate, to carry them from the chicken yard to the house where their brooder still awaited. I’ve almost broken it down and sterilized it at least 3 times, then changed my mind based on the crazy weather forecast.
As they walked into the crate to go outside, it dawned on me I should correct something I wrote about in week 5. Back then, I was flummoxed by how the chicks hated their “chick chariot” even though they always liked where it carried them. I guessed chickens couldn’t make the association like dogs do: a dog sees a leash and knows it’s walk time. The chicks would see the box and run away.
At the time, I was using a cardboard box. After switching to a wire crate, I stand corrected. Chickens generally don’t like being plunged into darkness. That’s the problem with a box. The crate lets them see their surroundings. They run to it as soon as I say, “It’s time to go outside,” or if I put my boots on, or if I crack open a container of oats. So they are kind of like dogs. And I’ve crate-trained a flock of chickens, so there’s that.
In other news, the weather finally improved slightly today, and Donna started clucking. It’s her new thing. It sounded like some kind of distress call at first, but it turned out she was testing (showing off) her new, deeper voice.
The chicks seem to be more agreeable with each other in warm weather. During warm afternoons, they’re relaxed, and their dustbath game is strong.
I did a little more predator proofing today, filling any remaining gaps I could find in the tractor over 1/2″. Why? Weasels and rats can enter those tiny spaces. We haven’t seen the latter but have seen a weasel in a woodpile, and others in the neighborhood have had weasel encounters. Weasels are bad, bad predators. There may still be crevices a weasel could wiggle into, but I haven’t found them and hope a weasel never does.
With the chicks on the opposite side of the run, I added a bead of quickly expanding spray foam to the gaps under the metal roof, which a rodent could easily climb to.
Spray foam is the stickiest, most stubborn substance in the world, so I was extremely careful to avoid letting any drip on the ground, where a chicken could cruise by for a toxic beak-ful.
It’s not that a weasel or rat can’t scratch through this stuff, but if they did take the time to do that, sleepy chickens could have a chance to awaken and sound an alarm. From what I’ve read, the amount of trouble it takes to eat through the foam is enough to deter many predators, though. There’s no such thing as perfect predator proofing. The idea is to make the chickens harder to access than the food these critters can find elsewhere.
Next, it was time for bee maintenance. Since the bee yard is chicken-yard adjacent, we left the birds out to free range. They like to hang out near the fence to watch us. When they’re full grown, they can come forage the field as we work.
This was probably the prettiest day so far all spring. Warm weather made the chicks sleepy and happy.
They had the last of their first bag of chick starter/grower feed. I’ve been mixing in the new Nutrena starter/grower with no problems. People say to transition chickens to new feed slowly like you do with dogs. I’m not sure how important it is since their diet’s so varied anyway. FedEx drove up and left the box of Scratch’n’Peck grower feed on the porch so we can start mixing that in, too, and fermenting some.
I don’t give them many treats but did share desert with them after lunch. They used to ignore berries. This video shows the moment they realized berries aren’t bad at all.
They’re more confrontational to each other first thing in the morning. They don’t peck each other’s faces much, so the beak incident in week 9 remains a mystery. They aren’t shy about pecking each other on the back of the head, but nobody’s been pulling feathers or drawing blood.
They’re growing fast, and it seems like the right time for them to make more decisions together about their pecking order, so I’m not too worried. Since the beak incident, I’ve been taking coffee down right after sunrise to supervise them in the chicken yard, in case they need to air out morning disputes. They flap and chase each other in circles for a minute before getting down to foraging.
There’s usually an occasional chest-bump or stare down until a bug shifts their focus, but this morning, Donna and one of the mean twins (the 2 big Brahma hens, Peep or Eula) got into a big fight. Lots of squawking and hopping up and down.
Donna has been asserting herself lately, but she’s slightly smaller than Peep and Eula, so this wasn’t surprising. Here she is on her roost above her flock on the brush pile. She’s been the only bird to sit up here so far. I think Cogburn’s too heavy to get up there.
Anyway, I try not to intervene in their “discussions,” but Donna was being so extra I was considering shooing them from each other when Rooster Cogburn ran over.
This is one of the coolest things about a rooster: they mediate arguments. Normally hens stop and walk away as soon as Cogburn appears. This time, Donna turned around and pecked Cogburn on the head. My mouth dropped. Cogburn is rarely pecked. He demonstrated why he’s rarely pecked, grabbing Donna by the head and dragging her at least a foot down the hill! Donna used her deep new cluck to tell Cogburn what she thought of that but didn’t return the aggression, thank goodness.
People say seeing pecking-order arguments can be traumatizing. I think I’m more fascinated than traumatized. It helped that no blood was drawn and that the flock always goes back to foraging calmly after an incident. Plus, Donna and Cogburn are fine. They stick together most of the time these days. She’s definitely become top hen, but Cogburn was telling her he’s still top chicken. He’s qualified. His world revolves around watching over the flock.
Sometimes I do step in. If they act up when they’re near me, I touch the offender’s beak. But as far as I know, the most important thing I can do is to keep them healthy and happy, and they’ll keep the domestic violence to a minimum.
Another pretty day. Despite the occasional bickering, the flock works beautifully together. I’m really glad we got a rooster. Here he is making sure all the pullets have food before he eats some.
Having a chair in the run makes for great opportunities to hang out. A few of the chicks always come over to nap on my lap for 5 minutes.
The chair is a good source of shade and another place to run from aerial predators…mainly butterflies right now, since the hawks have buzzed off to another part of the property. I think the hawks got tired of me, the dogs, and the sparkling CDs hanging around. We hardly see them lately.
The Langshans still watch the sky vigilantly, though, which is good! The Brahmas are less vigilant, except for Cogburn, who regularly rounds everyone up towards the tractor.
Chickens make different alert sounds for aerial and ground predators. Luckily our ground predators are shy, so we only hear the “ground alarm” when squirrels or wild turkeys startle the chicks. A turkey hen and a tom have been circling the orchard daily, foraging. Look closely for the hen in the woods on the left of this video.
Little BeBe, or Beebs, is definitely the lowest on the pecking order. The Black Langshans are docile and calm, and Beebs is about the same size as everyone else now, but she used to be the smallest, and her position in the order seems to have stuck.
Of course that means I have a soft spot for her, which is how I know her favorite thing ever ever ever is to drink water out of a saucer or jar lid. She has no problem using a nipple waterer, but the sparkle of standing or pouring water is the Beebs’ Achilles heel. She’ll stand and drink long after other chicks waddle away.
Not that the other birds don’t love water. Chickens not only need a lot of water, they’re enchanted by it. It’s a legitimate treat if I hold a jar for them to take turns drinking out of. And it’s adorable.
Tomorrow, they’ll be 10 weeks old. With the wind/rain/cold calming down so they can be outside all the time, we’re starting to fall into a routine.
10 weeks old! Today, Cogburn upheld his record of doing things first. I was supervising from garden as the chicks were foraging in the chicken yard this morning. Suddenly they all ran to the tractor, so I trotted over to make sure everything was okay. Cogburn was standing off to the side looking confused.
“Ba-kaw?” he said. “Ba-kaw.” The rest of the chicks looked appalled. Donna has been clucking, but nothing like this. It’s probably his first attempt at crowing.
He stopped ba-kawing by the time I pulled my phone out. In this video, you can see everybody relax as they forget about the weird sound and come to greet me.
He’s making lots of deeper noises now. In fact, most of them are clucking more than peeping. They’re growing up.
On to week 11.