Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Chicken Foster Care
Look at that cute little face. This little guy (my kids insist that this chick is a girl but for some reason I think it's a boy. We'll find out whenever he starts crowing...) is an orphan. If you've been reading for a while, you'll remember that Crazy White Hen hatched a couple chicks in the barn attic about a month ago. Well, we moved the little family down to ground-level, putting them in a small triangular chicken coop on the lawn. We have to keep baby chicks enclosed because there are so many predators around here, not to mention other full-grown chickens who will happily gang up on babies and kill them. (That's right - chickens can be pretty terrible animals. If you don't believe me now, you will by the end of this post.)
One morning one of the babies was missing from the coop - we can only figure that it squeezed out under a small hole in the bottom of the coop and got gobbled up by something. So the remaining chick was an only child, happily scratching around with its mom.
The time came to move mom and baby to their new home - the baby chick was big enough now to live in one of our larger chicken coops. This area is much bigger so they can take really good dust baths, chase around flies and do all that other good chicken stuff while still enclosed safely away from dangerous outsiders. I usually keep mother and baby chicks together in the larger enclosed coop area until the mother begins acting like she doesn't like her babies any more - the babies are usually fully feathered by that time and don't need their mom any more. Usually I'll notice the mom fighting with her half-grown babies over food and realize it's time to cut her loose. Then the babies stay enclosed for a little while longer until they are old enough to hold their own against the other full-grown chickens. It is a sure thing that the other chickens will bully new chickens, so they need to be old and tough enough to defend themselves and establish their place in the pecking order.
SO, with my husband's help, we went into the tiny coop to pick up mom and baby and transfer them. My husband grabbed Crazy White Hen, who put up a terrible fuss and started screeching like a wild banshee. I crawled in and tried to get the baby, but it FLEW over my head and out the door and was off like a shot. Then, as you can imagine, chaos ensued. The tiny chick was running all over the entire property like a miniature road-runner and the kids, my husband (still holding the shrieking mother hen), and I were all chasing after it. It was small enough to run through the holes in all the chain-link fences, which made cornering it even more difficult. I managed to find an old pool net and added that to the mix, trying to gently net the little baby before it hurt itself or ran across the cat or the other chickens decided to join in the hunt. My husband is the one who finally caught the little guy, and we hurriedly took both frazzled chickens to their new home.
All of this proved to be too much for Crazy White Hen to take. While a more well-adjusted mother might have been able to deal with such a terrible ordeal, this one simply lost her mind. As soon as we put the mother and baby in their new larger home, the mom began attacking her baby. It started as a few well-aimed pecks, the turned into a full fledged emergency situation. Brett snatched the hen up and got her out of there right away, and we were left with a poor little traumatized orphan chick. I still feel terrible about it. If the baby chick hadn't gotten out of the original coop I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened. I've moved Crazy White Hen along with babies many times and she's never rejected them afterwards. From now on I will always move chickens at night when they are more subdued.
I'm no chicken expert, but I'm pretty sure they aren't happy by themselves. It just broke my heart every time we went outside to cuddle our little orphan - there was only so much time we could spend with it and it was obviously in need of companionship. Enter my friend Jessica. Towards the beginning of the year she got five baby chicks of her own and raised them in her house. She and her four kids carried those chicks around and took them outside for supervised dust baths and gave them more attention than any chicken has ever dreamed of. I knew that they would be the perfect foster family for our little orphan. They agreed to raise the chick until it is old enough to be introduced into my own flock. I told them they can keep it if they want to, but she is at her maximum of allowed chicks (she lives in the city and is only allowed 5 backyard birds) and said they will give it back. We'll see how everyone feels by then.
Titus was pretty sad when I told him about the foster care arrangement. He loves birds and was pretty fond of this particular chick. His older brother explained to him that the chick will be happier at Jessica's house, and he eventually came to terms with everything. It helped that I let him hold the box when we took the chick to its new home. I hear everything is going well and "Cheepy" is doing great. Thanks Jess!