The Worst

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).

4 thoughts on “The Worst

  1. Oh no! That is awful – I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. We almost lost one of our girls last summer, just weeks after we got her, due to an impacted crop. I cried constantly, knowing it was probably my fault that she was suffering. Thankfully, she pulled through, but it was a difficult time, and we certainly learned a lesson about raising animals that are, as you said, not pets but not just livestock. It’s why we said we weren’t going to name our new girls this spring, but I broke down and did it anyway. Mistake.

    I’m glad to hear that you got some new chicks. The wire to separate them is a good idea – it helps them get used to each other if they can see each other, but can’t touch. It worked well for our girls this spring.

    • Thank you so much for the kind words. Any other tips for different aged girl introductions? We’ve been pouring over various chicken forums and books, but our situation is so different (a 15-week-old chicken all on her own, then two eight-week-olds and a five-week-old) that we’re winging it (har har) a bit. We’ve kept the oldest outside during the day and the three new ones in the attached run. Then in the late afternoon/evening, they all have supervised visits in the yard. Last night was a little dicey (Beaker got a hold of each one of them a couple of times), but tonight she was much more mellow and the new girls were much better at just running out of the way the few times she did lunge for them.

      It was really hard losing the three girls, especially being so far away and unable to do anything. Our friends were fantastic at watching Beaker and sending me photo updates multiple times a day after that. I was so totally freaked out at the thought of losing her, too.

  2. Yeah, sounds like you got a tricky situation. At least the younger birds outnumber the older bird. I’ve heard that’s ideal, otherwise the older ones will gang up on the smallest.

    The best tip I can give (from my experience this spring) is to let them fight unless there is blood. If there’s blood, remove the chick immediately. Otherwise, let them work it out.

    Chickens are cruel creatures, and do not play fair – they will always pick on the smallest. It’s heartbreaking to watch, and I sooooo wanted to intervene, but I held back. It took weeks for them to re-establish the pecking order.

    Another tip – set up multiple food and water stations if Beaker decides to hog the food. This really helped us. Greta tried to protect both food dishes but it just wasn’t possible. She had to choose one dish, and the Little Honkers got to eat from the other.

    Good luck! I can’t wait to see their progress.

    (I had to put out ice baths for my girls today, too. I don’t know what the temp was in Fahrenheit, but it was over 30 Celsius here today, and it’s climbing this week. Heat wave!)

    • Thank you so much for the details! It’s hard to let them duke it out/chase each other about (and ours haven’t even had too much violence at this point). The pecking order has been VERY interesting to watch, though. The one remaining Easter Egger is very much at the top, and the Australorp and tiny Rhode Island Red are definitely pals at the bottom (and the White Leghorn runs with the little girl posse quite frequently).

      But the White Leghorn, who is probably half the size of the second largest bird (the new Easter Egger) will not leave her alone! She keeps chasing her around, and the new gray Easter Egger is so meek and gentle, she just runs. She actually managed to claw me up pretty well at one point trying to jump onto my shoulder to get away. I think that’s the only remaining drama that needs working out.

      I’m so thankful that the biggest bird isn’t picking on any of the other anymore (knock on wood). I think we are ALMOST to the point where both Easter Eggers will be able to sleep in one side of the coop with the wee ones on their own side a little longer. I want that Red to get bigger!

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