Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Monday, April 29, 2013

Chicks...a lesson in survival

We brought home 9 baby chicks on Friday...and have lost a chick a day since. I'd heard plenty about the high rate of chick mortality but assumed that with extensive research and a fastidiously clean brooder I'd beat the odds and take all 9 chicks to maturity. My first weekend of homesteading has been eye-opening to say the least.

This year, we are starting our flock with Buff Orpingtons, Black Australorps, and Ameraucanas. These little fluff balls steal your heart - Jude wanted to name them everything from Cutie Cutest to Cutie Fluffy Cheeks. In an effort to combine our pet-based love of animals with a farm-based mentality I decided to name by breed and all of the girls would have the same name. Forever. So the names were important!

Jude named the Orps Sunshine, which I love. The Australorps are Sadies and, after I revoked my husband's naming rights, the Ameraucanas went from Ligers to Ellas.




(This particular Ella asserted her right to top of the pecking order by pecking each of her sisters in the eye the moment they were introduced to the brood box. She's got some moxy.)

Our first loss was an Ella. One moment she was fine, and an hour later we had a dead chick. Jude and I both cried. After reading a million chicken postings online, I think she had fowl pox as her eyes and nostrils were wet.

I couldn't stand the thought of throwing her away, so I placed this little Ella, still warm and limp, out on the property so that she could feed the earth like nature intended. It also made it much easier to comfort Jude by explaining how Ella would turn to dirt and then become a pine tree. In all honesty, it comforted me as well.

On Sunday one of the Sunshines was lethargic and wouldn't stand. Chicks sleep in tight little balls, whether standing or lying down, and this Sunshine was splayed out and unresponsive. Her breathing was also labored and her nostrils were wet as well. With supportive care, chicks with fowl pox have a 50% mortality rate. I separated her into a small box within the brooder that kept her close with her sisters but didn't allow anyone to touch. Even though I gave her water and hand fed her, she succumbed at the end of the day. This little Sunshine will also become a pine tree.

And then this morning, in order to even out the numbers, one of the Sadies went the way of the pine for no apparent reason at all. Strange how quickly I've moved from devastation to acceptance of nature's seemingly cruel way of ensuring species survival by culling the flock.

Also surprising is the speed with which my sadness in the face of death has turned to the practical worries of starting off with such a small flock that egg production will be lower than our family needs. As adorable as these cutie fluffy cheeks may be, their primary purpose is feeding our family. We'll be returning to the country feed store this weekend to replenish our numbers in the hope that a slightly larger chick count of 12 will increase the odds of a full flock of adult hens.

The moral of the story? No amount of preparation or hubris can cheat death. Thank you chickens, givers of eggs, life lessons, and pine trees.

1 comment:

troy said...

This is a fascinating journey you are on my friend.

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