We’ve had chicks for two and a half months now. They’ve gotten so big, I don’t think I can really call them chicks any more. But they’re my little chickies, so it feels weird to call them pullets and cockerels. Raising chickens has been quite the adventure and I share a lot of little mini updates in my Instagram stories if you’re curious, but I wanted to share a more in depth update here.
THE GOOD: They’re Growing So Fast – But Still Cute & Fun!
Let’s start with good news! 11 of my chicks made it from chickhood and are about two and half months old now. Even though they’re large and no longer have fuzzy little bums, they are still just as cute and quirky, although they don’t love to snuggle as much, which makes me so sad. A couple do, but mostly they just want to perch and roost. And if I do get a snuggle in, then they clean and groom themselves obsessively after, lol. I try not to feel offended. But happily, they greet me excitedly at the door to the chicken run, which is nice. If I even walk by, they all cluster at the door, cheeping at me. I’ll pretend it’s not just because they want to know what treat I have in store them. Now that they’re outside in their new digs, I’ve been giving them messier treats and they’re OBSESSED with watermelon. I’m going broke over here giving our chicks healthy treats (and I swear they eat better than we do).
The coop is 90% done and the run is 100% done (although we want to re-build the ramp and make some roosts and boredom busters). I’ll share a tutorial and reveal for that soon, but you can catch a glimpse of the building process on Instagram (I have a story highlight for the chicks and the coop). It was quite the labor of love and, tallying up some receipts, way more expensive than I had originally planned. Let’s just say that it’s a good thing I like keeping chickens partly for the fun of it, and not just to save money, because so far these eggs will be about $45 an egg for the next few years, haha.
There’s a little cockerel staring contest hourly now that they have the room, and Pearl (Earl?), the teeny white silkie, seems to be a rooster and she’ll (I guess, “he’ll”) take on four or five other roosters. It’s amazing watching her take on chickens twice her size. She won’t back down, she is so feisty. I can watch them for hours, their chicken dynamic is so interesting. They will fight and quarrel during the day and then snuggle like puppies in a heap at night. And the biggest chickens are not the head roosters or hens!
So yes, it seems I raised a bunch of roosters here. I am trying to guess based on internet research, and it seems like I might have four hens. And possibly Coal, the black silkie? Let’s just be happy I got hens at all – I’ve heard of people getting 10/10 roosters when ordering straight run (not-sexed) chicks. I don’t know what I’ll do with the roosters, but I can’t keep them all. I really can’t keep any because I am certain neighbors will complain, but if I can keep Pewter – my longtime fave – quiet, maybe I can secretly keep him. It will break my heart to give him up because nobody needs or wants roosters. They end up as soup (cue the tears). I have many offers from people who will take them for soup.
The Ameraucanas are finally developing the teal sheen to their feathers. That pop of teal is the reason I wanted an all-black flock. Look at that gorgeous gleam! And their muffs are looking quite fluffy too. They have such hilarious faces, like an 1800s historical re-enactor mixed with a raptor (a historical re-enraptor?).
The Bad: We Had to Cull a Chick
But it hasn’t been all good news. You might have caught that I said 11 chicks. Earlier this summer we had to make the difficult decision to humanely cull a chick with leg paralysis. This hit me hard. I knew going into keeping chickens that we’d probably “lose” some chicks – I’ve read 20-30% – but I assumed they would die of natural causes. Which would be sad, but natural. I didn’t consider that I would need to put down a chick, but I did. I was really upset so I reached out to my father-in-law, who has had chickens in the past, and he told me I had to do it, that its death could be way worse if I didn’t. He said that having livestock means having deadstock. That helped, but didn’t make it any easier.
Around 3 weeks, one chick started sitting on its hocks. At first the other chicks protected it, but then something happened, angry squawking ensued (chicks can really glare at one another), and so we set up a second brooder to keep her safe and protected. I started Googling and at first I was worried it was Marek’s disease, but then I also read it could be a vitamin deficiency, so we rushed out to get vitamins and I ordered chick supplements online. Extra egg yolk and vitamins were administered but nothing helped. Then I thought it might be a slipped tendon, but I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I also treated it as if it were spraddle leg, and used a rubber band to help her legs stay together, because otherwise she totally did the splits and was left sitting on her keel bone. She got worse and worse and couldn’t walk. Her wings even seemed weaker, but that could have been from using them to move herself around the brooder. I did everything possible – I even phoned the only livestock vet around, but they wouldn’t treat her. They guessed the problem neurological and said it probably couldn’t be fixed. I had waited too long to call. It took me an additional two weeks to steel myself to cull her. I had grown weirdly attached. I did silly things like bring her outside for daily dandelion eating and snuggle her on the sofa. She LOVED being outside. She also loved being cuddled. I’d be working in the office and she’d squawk until I picked her up. I’d bundled her in a soft cloth and put her on my lap and she’d sleep there contentedly. She’d open one eye, from time to time, to make sure I was still there and then go back to sleep, making this contended little chirping sound. I think she missed the other chicks and although she had her own heat lamp, I was a convenient source of warmth. She was also probably lonely. I felt guilty prolonging her suffering. But each passing day made it harder, but also more evident that she would never be a normal chicken. Eventually we decided we had to do it and we chose this method. It was quick, but I cried buckets of tears. Then I felt immensely silly for crying about a chicken. But I still get sad when I think about it, to be honest.
My poor little Peg, sunbathing:
The Ugly: Our Hatchery Was a Puppy Mill!
Because I have so few hens (I think), I considered adding a few pullets to my flock and thought I’d see what the hatchery I ordered the 10 Ameraucana chicks from had for sale. In the process, I discovered something shocking: apparently this family farm was once a puppy mill! A really bad one. The owners were charged and over 600 dogs were taken away. There was a huge raid because of the terrible living conditions of their poor dogs. Desperate to make money, apparently the family got into chickens and they keep their chickens in the same deplorable conditions! I double checked the address and from Google Earth, it’s the same house in the newspapers (photographed during the raid). I double checked the website and my email correspondence and noticed the hatchery never used any last names (which were splashed all over the newspapers at the time of the raid). I did research before ordering, but I clearly didn’t delve deep enough and now I see all over backyard chickens forums there are people who visited the farm and put two and two together. And they’ve reported back that the chickens are kept in awful conditions and many of them are sick. Ugh, I feel horrible. I will have to research more carefully because I don’t want to support anyone treating chickens poorly.
It’s weird, I just always viewed chickens as meat. Or egg layers. But once we got a flock, I started to see different personalities – just like dogs and cats. They’re not just chickens. There are jerky chickens and friendly chickens and curious chickens. Some want to snuggle, others will wing you in the face. I have a whole different perspective and I’m trying to sort out how I feel/what I think about it.
My experience with chickens has shaken so many of my beliefs. I have always eaten meat (chicken is my fave actually and I cook it a lot for dinner), but I have started to waffle about my commitment to being an omnivore. I am so happy that I’ll soon be able to get my own eggs from healthy, happy chickens but this experience has me wondering if I want to be a vegetarian… At the very least, I’m trying to buy more local meat from farms known for treating their animals well. But, as I said to my mother-in-law, after she explained the beautiful natural death she bestowed upon her cattle, “given the choice, I still don’t think it wanted to be eaten”.
I’m struggling here. I didn’t think owning chickens would make me re-think my life so much.
The Funny: Pewter is an Imposter
Now that I’ve shared two pretty sombre chicken stories, let’s end on a high note! Pewter is not what we thought! He was an imposter all along! Can you spot the difference?
He doesn’t have the characteristic Ameraucana muffs! He’s not an Ameraucana (I had ordered 10 black Ameraucana chicks from the hatchery). Pewter was always different. He grew more quickly and was super curious and friendly, right from the start. He was always my favorite. But recently I started to question whether he was an Ameraucana breed chicken because he never grew the characteristic “muffs” the Ameraucana breed is known for. I emailed photos to the hatchery, who confessed that he was sent by mistake. In my order of 10, I got 9 Ameraucanas (one I had to cull) and 1 Austrolorp by mistake. I couldn’t complain, because Pewter has been an awesome chick. And now I know more about the breed, which is known for being friendly and soft (check and check) and prolific egg layers (ehrmmm, not Pewter lol). I would definitely consider getting Austrolorp hens in the future, so this was a happy (and hilarious) accident.
I hope you enjoyed this backyard chicken update! If you missed it, here’s the post about getting chicks!