February 27, 2011

growing, growing, growing . . .

nap time

These girls are getting so big! At a little over 2 weeks old, they're growing more and more feathers each day and are already flying short distances.

Their new wing feathers help to keep them warm now so we've been able to do without the additional heater for a few days and are using just the heat lamps now. Our setup allows them to go in and out of the heated area if they choose and they are running around, jumping and flying like real chickens now.

We had a week of crazy weather that added some stress to the situation. First, 2 days of serious wind and then a heavy snowstorm with even more wind. I checked on them often to be sure the power was still on to keep them warm.

Three years ago, we raised our first flock of hens. We watched over them anxiously and marveled at the rate at which they grew. At about a month old, we were advised to move them outside. We both felt that they weren't ready but what did we know about raising chickens? Nothing, really.

So, on a Spring day we packed them into crates and moved all 100 of them out into an outdoor shelter and hoped for the best. We knew this was a big temperature change for them so once it started getting dark we headed out to check on them. We were not at all prepared for what we were about to see.

When young birds are cold or scared or both, they panic. And when they panic they start to furiously pile on top of each other. When this happens the birds on the bottom of the pile tragically suffocate and die. When we opened the door to the shelter that night we witnessed them actively piling on top of one another and as we tried to move the birds from the top of the pile, they piled even faster. We began to panic as we started to pull dead birds from the bottom of the pile. We had to act fast so we moved them as fast as we could back into the brooder, under the warmth and comfort of the heat lamps.

Sadly, we lost 20 of our young girls that night. This was all new to us then and the guilt lay heavy on our shoulders. That was one of many painful lessons we've been forced to learn. We learned, first and foremost, to trust out instincts and also, how important it is to wean birds off of heat lights before they make their big move outside.

That experience is what tends to fuel my anxiety with new chicks, especially in cold weather. We've learned a lot since that day, three years ago. Needless to say, I'm breathing a lot easier these days knowing that we've gotten them over the hump and that their most fragile days are behind us.

Now, for the fun part.

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