We are on our last day of what has been one of the roughest vacations I’ve had in a while. Don’t get me wrong – vacation itself was fantastic. We headed to hot, smoky Boulder, Colorado, where we got to spend quality time with my two nephews (who just turned three years old and eight weeks old respectively) and brother and sister-in-law. However, less than 24 hours after the wheels left the tarmac in Indiana, we lost three of our four chickens to the extreme heat plaguing Indiana.
Lying in bed Friday night, crying, I kept thinking how much I just wanted to be home. So powerless… Well, and thinking about all the what ifs, what we could have done differently, kicking myself over and over again for not doing more/not knowing to do more/not realizing it would only get down to 90 degrees that first night we were away, getting upset that our one vacation all summer had to be during such insane temperatures, etc. A bigger thank you than I can ever express goes out to our friends for their grace under pressure, kindness, and efforts to keep our last wee babe, Beaker, alive and kicking through it all. Seriously, I am horrified that they went through this, as well, and am so thankful that Beaker pulled through without a scratch, due largely to their multiple times a day visits after the initial awfulness.
I also had the very serious thought that maybe chickens were a bad idea. They aren’t, of course, but I wondered if I was cut out for this whole “death of my babies” thing. We are learning some tough lessons about raising animals that are not pets but are certainly not “just” livestock, either. I’m heartbroken over it and can’t think about the three who died yet without an aching in my stomach and tightness in my chest.
It’s been a rough week, and my head has been far, far away from contented vacation mode. Yesterday, we picked up three new chickens from one of the most amazing houses I’ve seen in a while. The chicken lady of Avon, only about 30 minutes away, had probably 100 different birds everywhere in her yard (chickens of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors; turkeys; guinea fowls; a goat; and a “mean dog” locked away – apparently, he bites), which had no fence and was right on a busy street. She explained that her chickens are smart enough to not run in the street (or they die, I guess). We are not naming this batch, although I’m already way too attached to the littlest one. She is too young – I’m guessing five or six weeks old – but she’s so scrappy. We were in the yard, and she came charging up to us. I scooped her up, and that was it – MINE. We will likely go back this weekend to pick up another Rhode Island Red to keep her company.
Of course, we’ve created new issues for ourselves now, having four chickens of different ages (and, more importantly, sizes). Beaker is HUGE compared to the new ones, so Chris added a 1/2″ wire barrier within the coop itself to keep the new girls safe at night until they get bigger. We are also keeping them separated during the day unless we are out there with them.
And the million dollar question, as near-100 degree temperatures continue: how are we mitigating heat now? We aren’t messing around would be the short answer.
- Wet towels on the roof of the attached run, then clipped to the side of the run when the sun starts peeking over the edge in the afternoon.
- Letting the girls free range as much as possible during the day (tricky right now since Beaker is picking on the new girls).
- Wetting down the dirt underneath both our big backyard bushes; the chickens love dust bathing in the dirt, laying in it, and pecking at bugs that come to the surface.
- Ice water mini bird baths for drinking (and standing in).
- Frozen blueberries mixed with yogurt, frozen grapes, and cold cantaloupe slices.
- Plenty of shade (again, tricky since we don’t have much in the way of cover in our yard. We’ve parked the coop in the far back corner, where it is protected by a couple hulking invasive bushes from our yard and the neighbor’s yard. I’ve never loved those ugly bushes so much).