Thursday, March 29, 2012

Original or Extra Crispy- Two Batches of Chicken

It seems that as soon as one family member recovers, we lose two more.  That has been the drill for the last 3-4 weeks in our house. The perpetual illness (and painfully slow Internet connection) prevents me from writing as often as I would like.  But so much has been happening, it would be criminal for me to not share it with the world at large.

I feel like everyone is growing up so fast. Annabelle is now able to sit in the stroller like a big girl without her carseat.  As a side note- as soon as Annabelle outgrows the carseat, I am going to hurl it off a cliff into a burning inferno of napalm...that is, of course, if my shoulder ever heals from carting it around for the last 6 months.  I was so excited to select a careseat that would allow Annabelle to use it until she reached 30 pounds.  No one bothered to tell me that I would not be able to carry her in it when she weighs 30 pounds.  Even at half that weight I am ready to hot glue some wheels onto it and carry it like luggage at the airport when I'm trying to catch my connecting flight. What was my point?

Growing up.  So Annabelle has become this little person who is thinking. I can just tell the wheels are always turning. She loves those dogs (the only reason they are still alive) and cannot take her eyes off of them. And just a couple of weeks ago, it was the dogs who elicited her first real giggle fit.

But she is not the only one who is growing up before my eyes, our 12 "practice" chicks have gotten so big as well.  They've gotten so big that last weekend we took them out of the brooder and turned them loose into their coop.  And much like Annabelle is acting like a little person, our chicks are acting like little chickens.

If anyone is curious what a dozen baby chicks sound like, I took the liberty of recording this little clip for you shortly after we turned them loose in the chicken coop (if you are unable to open it or play it I'm sorry).  And that's just 12 of them.  Imagine what they will all sound like.

We found ourselves in the quandry of having two batches of chickens on our hands.  So we had decided to release the first batch into the coop because we knew the babies were coming and I am so terrified of chicken cannibalism that I felt we had to separate them, and bryan agreed.  Despite what some people may say, I do want to help with the chickens whenever possible so while Annabelle was napping I went outside last Sunday to help Bryan get the coop ready, and get the brooder ready for the new baby chickens. 

check out that bedding!
As it turns out I am not very good at lifting heavy things, removing a door from it's hinges, constructing perches, carrying perches, etc.  So I volunteered to spread the bedding out on the floor of the coop. Bryan brought some straw home, so I opened the large garbage bag full of straw and began to dump it out on the coop floor.  And I as watched the large swirls of oat dust pool up around me in the enclosed space, it occurred to me that perhaps this was not the best job for a person with seasonal and environmental allergies.  Sneezing commenced almost immediately.  But I made the best chicken coop bedding mixture that I have ever seen. The chips and straw were evenly dispersed and those chickens LOVED it. I could tell.

Once we had turned the chicks loose in the coop I actually was slightly worried that it was too soon, that they weren't ready.  They didn't do much but huddle together. And as I stood in a chicken coop I realized that having baby chickens was not unlike worrying about Annabelle.  And then I worried that perhaps my life had taken a strange turn since I was standing in a chicken coop mentally adding bullet points to all the ways the baby chicks were like Annabelle.  I was at a work dinner last night and a friend commented on how long she had known me and never would have guessed my dinner conversation was going to be about chickens...that I owned.  How right she is. 

But last week I spoke to an old friend I hadn't spoken to in a few years and mentioned where I was at in my life, and what my goals were for me and for my family and he said "well that's what you always wanted."  And I started to think back to conversations I had in the past, and what my life was like before I moved to the city and I do think deep down, chickens and babies were in the plan somewhere.  Thankfully Bryan took a few hours off of working during his busy season a few years ago to track me down to get my plan moving. 

But once again, I digress.

So I was worried it was too soon to turn them loose but Bryan said it was fine.  We watched them huddle together, strategically placed their feed and water and then left the coop.  But Bryan is always thinking and once we were outside he pulled me around to the side of the coop where the window is and we peered inside to watch the chickens. And sure enough all of them were eating and drinking just fine.  Yet another moment where I stepped back and saw myself standing on railroad ties peeking into a chicken coop window...and being relieved 12 chickens were eating. Who am I?  Who did I become?

releasing the chickens into the coop
 I wish that I had pictures of how big the first batch 12 chickens are, but they grow so fast!  The picture of the chicks on the left was taken Sunday and I feel like they are much bigger than this now.   Which also means they are faster.  It was quite easy to coral one or two before when we had them out of the brooder, but now...well it's a little embarrassing.  You have to be quick. They are still too little to respond to any sort of "chick chick chick" call (though I am skeptical this will actually ever work) so basically to try and catch one of these chicks involves a lot of running in small circles and saying things like "Come on" or  "gotcha. dammit" or "little bastards." 

Although I suppose it's noteworthy to mention that there really isn't any real reason to catch and handle the chicks at this point, other than to pet them and squeeze them..and torment them. It is also a little fun to feed them the chicken crack out of your hand or place them on their perches etc.  But remember, with great power comes great responsibility. Perhaps we should stop monkeying with the chickens. Another minor setback with our chicks having freedom is that it is harder to protect them from Milton

Milton whining outside the coop door listening to the chicks run wild
Unfortunately Milton still has little bit of growing up to do when it comes to the chicks.  When we held one out for Bernie to sniff, Bernie did try to eat it. But he opened his jaws slowly and gingerly, while keeping one eye on us as if to say "Am I allowed to eat this?"  The other night when we took one of the new babies and let Milton "sniff" it, his jaws rapidly snapped over the chick's head.  Luckily after some shouting he released the baby who still had his head and beak attached to his body. I asked Bryan if he thought the chick was ok and he said "sure, he's fine."  I thought to myself  Once your head has been in another animal's mouth, are you ever really ok?
We got the bigger chicks situated in their coop just in time because Wednesday Bryan got "the call"and all 27 of our babies were chirping away in a box at the post office. I know that I explained this process a few posts ago so we do not need to rehash it.  But in case there is any confusion, the evidence below will show that they do just mail you a shoebox full of live chicks. 
I was relieved when Bryan told me they were all very much alive.  Interestingly enough, they did not send us any extra "just in case" chickens as their website indicated they would.  So we now have a total of 39 chickens. All still very much alive.  So much for bryan's 30 percent mortality rate theory. We are going to have 39 chickens...which is TOO MANY chickens.

I sit here listening to the tractor outside and I think about how my evening routine has evolved over the last several months. I thought the biggest change was when I was pregnant and could no longer drink (or function like a normal human), but it seems now it's even more different.  Usually the wind down begins with Annabelle's bath which, lately, is like giving a badger a bath.  And then we sing my powerful and moving rendition of Guns N Roses "Sweet Child O'Mine" a few times to aide in further winding down, and then after bottle, story, and tucking her in (if Bryan isn't here)I wash the dishes (or lie motionless on the couch recovering) until Bryan gets home from work and he and I crack open a couple of beers after Annabelle has fallen asleep and go out and check on all our chickens (I enjoyed this ritual more when it was 65 degrees).  Our two batches are divided up into "the big boys" and "the babies." And yes, at night time check in we torment all of them. Tonight we tormented the babies by picking a few of them up (after I insisted one of them was dying).  The big boys were tormented by Milton, who cannot seem to control himself.  

So they are all here and alive. Both batches, all 39 chickens.  Now Bryan and I have the responsibility of keeping them all alive.  I'm sure my bed-spreading will play an integral part in that project. I cannot wait until they are grown and pecking at the bugs in the yard and giving us numerous, tasty eggs!  And pretty soon they will not only have to fear the wrath of Milton...but Annabelle as well. By fall I would imagine she will be just as frightening to them as Milton is.
the new babies

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