Monday, April 27, 2009

The New Chicks On The Block

Isn't she cute! She is a Partridge Cochin.

I was cutting up carrots to put in the crock pot for the chicken noodle soup we would have for lunch after church and the phone rang. 'Who would be calling me at 5:50 am on a Sunday morning', I wondered? As I reached for the phone, a feeling of panic flowed through me,'Was this a family emergency?' I worried. 'No', I told myself, 'probably just someone calling to ask for help in a difficult birth of their animal'. 'It is after all spring'. What puzzled me was that I didn't recognize the voice on the other end of the phone. It ended up being a postal worker from Gillette forty miles away. My chicks were in and did I want to come and get them or since she would be getting off at ten am and headed my way would I like to meet her. "Yes!" I replied as I thought of all I had to do that morning before nine am; milk three goats; bottle feed five goat kids and one bum calf; hay and water the dairy goats, horse and heifer; and care for the hens; then, prepare a meal for company arriving at noon; shower and dress for church where I direct the music for the main meeting then teach children three to eleven years old gospel songs in an entertaining manner, (for which I still had to gather my visual aids). Now adding on top of that I had to set up cages and heat lamps for chicks since I hadn't expected their arrival until two days from now. 'How would I get it all done?', my mind whirled in panic. My husband was sick in bed. He had the flu but seeing the wild look in my eyes displayed his sweet nature and despite how lousy he felt, helped me with the livestock chores and volunteered to meet the postal worker at eleven.

Precisely at nine o'clock, I stepped through the door of the church and saw the look of relief in the organists eyes that was replaced with a questioning gaze as she saw my sopping wet hair. I smiled back and thought, 'Okay, not my best look, but hey, I'm here and this morning that deserves a star on my forehead.' I laughed to myself as I remembered the stickers we would receive as children when we behaved appropriately at church.
Hurrying home after three hours of church meetings, I tossed in some home-made noodles into the crock pot, and ran downstairs to check on the chicks. The cats, Reginald and Bregetta followed sitting beside me as I perched on a small stool to survey the new arrivals. It doesn't matter how many years we've raised chickens, the thrill of bird watching or chick vision as I call it has not decreased. The red heat lamps that are suspended from the ceiling over the enclosures radiate a warm, yellow light that is inviting. The cats, and I peer engaged as some chicks sprawl out to sleep; others scratch, with their feet the newspaper that lines their cages; a couple others dip their beak into the water then tip back their head to allow the droplets to run down their throat; and a few peck at the crumbled brown chick starter. Staring at the markings on the birds, I tried to guess which ones are what breed as they don't start out the same color as they end up. 'The black and yellow chicks are Austrolorps', I decided. 'No, there's too many of them.' I thought as I counted the chicks. 'Two of them must be Barred Rocks and two have to be Wyadottes. Or... maybe not. Oh, I give up.' I flustered as my over taxed brain refused to compute the number of chicks before me and my memory failed to recall just exactly what chickens I had ordered. 'When their adult feathers come in the mystery will unfold for sure', I reasoned and decided I had better set the table before our dinner guest arrived.

Later after our company had left, the cats and I returned to our former position and I wondered, 'What are these brown ones with stripes on their backs and the black ones with white stripes on theirs that remind me of a skunk.' I went upstairs to get the catalogue but found it failed to show the chicks at all angles so who knows except I knew the two brown chicks with feathers all over their legs were Partridge Cochins. That was a duh! And, I was pretty sure
the one with the puffy yellow marshmallow looking tuft on its head must be a White Crested Black Polish. I didn't order him. He's a freeby from the hatchery and I know its a rooster because the freeby chick is always a rooster.I determined that my poor brain didn't need to be taxed any more today than necessary and I should just enjoy the view. Most of the chicks settled down and fell asleep as all babies do a great deal of that. But their rest was short as inevitably a wondering chick would tromp over the top of a sleeping one causing a disgruntled, squashed cheep. It's as if the chicks delight in obstacles courses and they've never heard of detours. That will change when they grow older and larger as the little slumbering humps become large heaps.
Bridgette, our old cat, moved over against the side of one of the cages to bask in the warmth that radiates from the sides where we have old sheets stretched around the cages to hold in the warmth. The heat lamps raise the temperature within the enclosures to ninety degrees. A level that would cause me to swelter but is comfy for the chicks. As the little ones grow, their thermostats kick into higher gears, the lamps are raised, thus lowering the cage's temperature. Some people use thermometers to carefully monitor the heat the chicks are exposed to and lower the temperature precisely each week. I haven't done that in years. The chicks tell me what they need. When their cold they huddle, when their hot they line the edges of the cage trying to avoid the heat, and when the warmth is just right, they spread out evenly. Since the only place we can keep the chicks safe and warm is in the basement, I check on them regularly. I dream of the day we will live in the country with a barn but until them we lay plastic under the cages to contain the mess and line the insides with newspaper that I change daily. I've learned that chicks don't exactly suffer in silence. Loud cheeping can be heard if they run out of food, or are too cold. Thus, silence is golden and I try to keep it that way.
But for now, I'll just sit. The tension that has built up from a morning filled to over flowing with activity melts away as I too bask in the heat from the lamps and enjoy the chick vision.

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