Friday, June 5, 2009

Life (and Death) with Chicks

We had to return our rooster, Rambo, as the crowing wouldn't be tolerated in Westacres. So, instead of trading out one chicken we came home with three 4 week old chicks! I would have never guessed that I would be coming home with three little balls of fluff that stole all our hearts. We got two Barred Rocks (Madeline and Audrey) and an Araucana (Amelie).
When we left with our chicks we were educated about how to handle the inevitable pecking which would occur with our current flock. The term "pecking order" originates from the hierarchy system that flocks, especially chickens, form with their flock mates. It is an agreement among the flock members who is the rule of the roost. Who eats first, gets the best perch, lays in the best nesting box is all determined how high up the social ladder one is. "As long is there is no blood", was the guideline I was to follow as to how much pecking is allowed until human intervention.
Sure enough, every time I introduced the three chicks to the flock pecking from the older birds would ensue. Nothing seemed too vicious, although enough to cause a cry of pain or fear. Most of the day, though, they spent time together in the cat carrier, separated from the others.
Four days later, the smaller Barred Rock, Madeline, showed listlessness, but no previous warning. By night she would be dead. The next morning, after a perky awakening and feeding I turned around to find her sister, Audrey, dead as well. We were heartbroken. What had gone wrong? I had called the breeder of the chicks to get some answers, but all she supplied was the possibility that they got too cold. Maybe it was the vigorous pecking, or maybe they had an undetected illness prior to us receiving them. Anyway, I was determined not to lose our last girl, Amelie.
Because we got the chicks as babies ,they had immediately associated us as their "mothers". Now Amilie was the only child. I wasn't sure if she felt more insecure without her chick sisters or if I was being over attentive, afraid I'd lose her too. Anyway, it got to the point where I couldn't leave Amelie without her pleading to be let out of her box and she would start bashing around the crate and injuring herself. Alas, she got her way! So for a day I was at the beck and call of this 6 oz. princess.
When I would take her out of the crate she'd immediately attempt to climb my leg to get to my shoulder so that she could nestle in my hair. When I would put her down and walk away she was right at my heels following me in the garden, foraging for bugs and seeds and whatever else she could find. However, in her desire to be near me working was close to impossible, so I'd settle for sitting with her in the sunshine watching her scurry from one thing to the next.
At bedtime, she showed no letting up of her carrying on when put in the crate. She had even caused a bleeding injury on her beak trying to hop out of the box. In desperation, and feeling a little fed up with my little fluffy friend, I marched out into the coop and snatched up the most laid back hen we have, Paulie Walnuts. I plopped her into the crate with the little yellow one and in a few moments Amelie's pleas were lessened and eventually, a gentle cooing was heard. I peeked in and Paulie had Amelie cozily nestled beneath her breast. There was no pecking, probably because the two pullets were on neutral ground, just the calming sounds of two sleeping birds.

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