Wednesday, February 29, 2012

They're Not Hatched, but I'm Counting Them Anyway

Annabelle's chickens have been ordered, and in just a few weeks the chicks will be here. Since the inspiration of this blog is based on chickens, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to share each step of our chicken journey. Because, as my previous post The Little Match Rooster taught us...there is simply a lot about chickens I didn't know so I'm certain I'm not alone.

DISCLAIMER: I am not pretending to be a chicken expert.  Any chicken stories, input, advice, knowledge, etc. that I share is strictly from the point of view of a novice (aka moron) and is by no means instructional.  So if you know more than I do about chickens and raising chickens, please do not get upset with me. If this was an educational blog about chickens who would want to read it? That's no fun.  This is the blog of a woman who has no business doing HALF the things I do...and sharing it with a small group of curious people.

 If anyone reading this blog thinks any of the content is "How To" then they are most definitely in real trouble.

So begins the adventure that will be Annabelle's Chickens...
Let's pretend the first step in chicken ownership is selecting a breed. I do not know if that is really  the first step, but that was OUR first step. I'm guessing smarter people probably decide how many chickens they want and then actually make sure they have a functioning brooder and coop before actually purchasing chickens, but that's not how Bryan and I do things.  So....the first step is selecting a breed.

We knew we wanted laying hens (for eggs), and we wanted brown eggs.  We preferred they also be tasty in the event we have to thin out our flock, and we knew we wanted chickens with a good temperament so Annabelle can play with them (and so they do not peck out my eyes when I feed them which has started to make me a little anxious).  Because we live in Wisconsin, we also needed birds that were cold-hardy.  So after much research in my chicken book, the internet, and our spring edition of Chickens magazine we arrived at two breeds: Buff Orpington and Black Sex Link (or Black Star..or as I call it Black Sexter or as my mom calls it Black Sexy).

Buff Orpington
According to our
hatchery's website: Orpingtons are fluffy, sweet chickens. The Buff is a gorgeous, rich, golden color. Buff Orpingtons are excellent dual purpose chickens, as they will grow to a good, heavy table weight, but are also productive egg layers. You can expect between 175 and 200 eggs per year from one Buff Orpington hen. Orpingtons are known to be docile, sweet birds. Aside from their practical aspects, they make good pets.
Due to their weight, Orpingtons do not tend to be flighty and are easily contained. And, because of their feathering, they can withstand cold weather. There are many reasons for the Orpingtons’ continued popularity, both here and across the world.
Average Mature Weight: 5-8 pounds

Black Sex Link / Black Star
Also from our chicken supplier: Black Sex-Links are produced using a Barred Rock as the mother and Rhode Island Red Males.The Laying ability of this cross is phenomenal, you can expect to see eggs as early as 15 weeks of age. They are planned crosses, which are hardier and more productive than their parents' respective breeds. The Sex Link Hybrid is the result of crossing two purebred standard breeds. This hybrid makes for very vigorous chicks, rugged brown egg laying hens and good cockerel fryers.

So while there is a crazy amount of chicken breeds, we decided on Buff Orpingtons and Black Sexters.  Choosing the breed was the easy part.  You also have to decide if you want them "sexed" or not.

Chicken sexing was a lengthy conversation Bryan and I had  a few months ago in early chicken discussions. I don't really know where to begin with sexing, or how much info on chicken sexing is too much.  Basically determining a chick's gender is called sexing.  Bryan went into great detail how chickens are sexed, and all I will say about that is that it is worth the extra money you have to pay to get the gender of your choice.  So we deiced to get a "straight run" of Black Sex Links which means we get what we get..boys and girls.  I asked Bryan if he has to sex them, and he said no.  He claims that in a few weeks you can tell by looking at them who the boys are and who the girls are. Just add "chicken sexing" to the list of things I never thought I would be talking about.

There are some other things to consider when purchasing chickens.  When you order chicks from hatchery they ship them to you via the US Mail.  There are, of course, places you can purchase live chicks but we found this to have the best selection, best pricing, and best live delivery guarantee.  Now you may be asking yourself  "What's a 'live delivery guarantee?'" and I am here to inform you it is exactly as it sounds.  They guarantee that you will receive 90% of your order...alive. I hope Mrs. Church is reading this because not only did she have a number of chicken questions, we are about to get into a serious mathematical equation and since she was my 6th grade math teacher, I will need her to check my math.

We ordered 27 chickens.  The hatchery guarantees 90% of our order will arrive alive.  10% of 27 = 2.7.   That means if more than 2.7 chickens are D.O.A., we get a refund for the dead chicks. Right? WRONG.  It is a LIVE delivery guarantee.  So you have to count the number of live chickens you receive. As it turns out, they toss in a few extra chicks expecting that some will not survive the trip. So you have to count the number of live chickens you have, because you are actually getting more chickens than you ordered.  So, let's start again.  

We ordered 27 chickens. 90% of our order will arrive alive. That means we need to have 24.3 chickens alive in the box when it arrives.  What I would like to know is how do I determine if .7 of a chicken is living or dead?  If only 24 are alive, doesn't that mean that I am entitled to a refund of .7 of a chicken?  I don't know.

Really all of this math is irrelevant because what it means is that in a a couple of weeks there is a good chance I will come home to a box containing up to 2.7 dead chickens in it and that is moderately disturbing.  Sadly, I am learning this is all part of "farm living."  27 chickens is a lot of chickens (and most assuredly a lot of eggs), but Bryan is planning for a 30% mortality rate.  We expect some to perish in our homemade brooder due to chick disease (of which there are plenty), the cold weather may take a rooster (or at least part of their combs), and while I am embarrassed to admit it...we expect Milton to be responsible for some chicken deaths as well. Obviously every effort will be made to prevent such a massacre's Milton. What can I say?

I spent a good portion of my evening last night reading up on chick care and how to properly raise your chicks (Bryan has extensive chicken knowledge,but I feel I should be educated as well) and I am still convinced that caring for an infant is easier than caring for a puppy or chickens.  Milton was far more challenging than Annabelle is, and now these chicks seem to require a great deal of care and attention.  For example, did you know that when you approach your brooder full of chicks you shouldn't approach from the top???  This is how predators swoop down on baby birds, so it is traumatic to baby chicks for me to come stomping in from above.  Stress is responsible for many chick deaths.  According to my chicken book the "polite" thing to do when approaching your brooder is to sing or hum to let them know you are coming.  These are things I did not count on when I suggested we get chickens.

 When I expressed my concerns to Bryan about our ability to properly care for these chicks for 4-5 weeks his response was "Honey, it's not that big of a deal. Chicks are really loud though, they're going to drive you nuts."  Apparently he thinks I am going to be bothered by the noise chicks make. What kind of monster is bothered by the sweet chirping and cheeping of baby chicks???  It's not like they're going to be in the bed with us. It certainly cannot  be worse than Milton's toenails scrambling across the floor when Bryan puts his boots on. And for someone who has to construct both a brooder AND an entire chicken coop this weekend, he is being awfully cavalier about the responsibility of owning chickens.

I told Bryan we need to go on a vacation because I am SO excited about these damn chickens it is all I can think about. Last night we had a beer to celebrate "Chicken Order Day" and it has been all I've been able to think or talk about (aside from Annabelle's teething which only permitted 4 hours of sleep last night, that has crossed my mind a time or two as well). That reminds me...if we go on vacation we now need someone to fill the woodstove, take care of the dogs, and now...feed the chickens. Crap. I really didn't think this through.  At any rate, I am so excited for our chickens to arrive.  And I can't lie, I get slightly emotional when I think that spring is just around the corner and we've already ordered the chicks. It seems like it was just a couple days ago when I was on maternity leave (God, I miss being on maternity leave), sitting in my brand new kitchen, surrounded by boxes, while preparing for Thanksgiving dinner and planning for Annabelle's Chickens.  She's almost 6 months old already and the chickens will be here soon. I can't believe it. I'm so excited for eggs and I'm excited to hear our very own roosters crowing in the morning.

But...always remember what my Grandma DeSalvo said about roosters, you have to watch out because they have those hard little peckers.

Annabelle's Avocado Plant - Day 9

1 comment:

  1. I am SO excited that you ordered your chicks!!! The chickens sound perfect, and I am glad you are blogging about this. :)