Chicken Watch 2012, or How We Survived the Worst Weather in the History of Ever

A high of 108 degrees? I laugh in the face of your predicted high of 108 degrees! Ha! Ha ha!

That’s not exactly accurate. What I actually did when that prediction came over the radio yesterday as I was perusing Value World, the thrift store down the street from our house, was call Chris immediately to start busting out the fans, extension cords, pools, etc., for the chickens. After our loss of three of our four first chicks last week, I am not playing anymore, heat. You hear me?

The new chicks are also still quite small, and adding the stress of having a new home, complete with giant resident Easter Egger Beaker, well, like I said… I’m not playing.

So what did we do? In no particular order, here are our heat mitigation tips from CHICKEN WATCH 2012.

1. Bust out the extension cords and make your own swamp cooler. It felt downright lovely (relatively speaking) inside the run yesterday.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

2. Wet towels to cut out the sun on the run roof. Hose down the coop roof itself once the sun starts hitting it.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

3. Set up any other shade devices you might have (good for human comfort during such chicken watches, as well).

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

4. Ice down and refill watering stations often. You might as well just accept the fact that you WILL go through a 22-pound bag of ice in a single day.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

5. Set out multiple shallow ice water baths, and replenish regularly. See? I told you you’d go through that entire bag of ice.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

6. Take pictures of yourself to pass the time and document your misery for future generations.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

7. Regularly replenish supplies of chicken treats, such as frozen blueberries mixed into yogurt. We bought 5 pounds of blueberries at the store the other day for $10 – Beaker’s fave!

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

8. Wet tea towels and place them on your head. Re-wet as needed. Now is not the time for vanity. Also, beer yourself.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

Maybe I just hate myself, but I figured as long as I was out there suffering along with them, I’d be able to do something right away if any of the chicks started looking rough. Plus, there is no way I’m letting these girls die, like, EVER. In the end, the chickens hung in there smashingly, and we were the ones who ended up looking a little rough:

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012.

Yes, that is a tea towel on Chris’ head. And yes, my shirt is almost completely soaked through with sweat.

However, even in the midst of Chicken Watch 2012, we still like to break all the chicken rules. Last week, we added three new girls of all different ages to our remaining flock of one after the mass death of our first girls during the last major heat wave. The newbies have been doing remarkably well together, knock on wood. After a few scrabbles and Beaker managing to get a good hold of one or two of them, the little ones have learned to stay out of her way, and Beaker is less interested in throwing her considerable weight around.

Fast forward to yesterday. It was hotter than hell, but we had to drop off a cage that the Chicken Lady of Avon (TM) had lent us when we got the new girls. Then Chris learned she had gotten a new batch of pullets in – what appeared to be an Easter Egger/lavender Orpington mix. So, while I sweated it out in the backyard with the rest of the girls, Chris went and grabbed us this sweet little lap chicken.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

She is incredibly friendly and gorgeous but very meek with the other girls. Sleeping arrangements were interesting last night. We now have a section of the coop wired off for the three littlest girls, which is working well. We tried to put the new Easter Egger in with Beaker in the main part of the coop last night, but we quickly realized that was not going to work. The new girl slept on the roost in the attached run. We hope in the next several days to week that she can move into the coop with Beaker. Fingers are way crossed that we will have a peaceable kingdom shortly.

20120703. Coop exclusion zone to keep the new girls safe at night (they have a roost, too).

The section where the wee ones are currently sleeping (they have a roost in there, too).

Introducing the flock:

20120706. The Australorp keeps a close watch on Little Red.

The Australorp has taken to mothering Little Red (who we hope against hope is actually a girl).

20120703. The Leghorn - perhaps about 8 weeks old.

Flighty Whitey, aka Boo (because she’s scared of everything).

20120706. Beaker is a literary girl

Story time with Beaker.

20120703. The wee Rhode Island Red.

Little Red her first day at the house.

20120703. The Australorp - guessing she's about 8 weeks old.

Another sweetie – the nameless, mothering Australorp.

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).

The Chickens Have Landed!

This morning at 6:09 am, we got the call we have been anticipating since we first placed our order with My Pet Chickens back in January. Mike the post man informed us that our chickens were ready to be picked up from the Bacon post office, just down the street from our house (it really is called Bacon – yum). In my half-asleep stupor and general excitedness, I accidentally hung up on him. Luckily, he called back to let me know they could be retrieved after 8:30 am.

Perfect! Not only did that give us time to fire up the heat lamp, set up the feeder and fount, and drink a little coffee, but we could also both be there to pick them up from the post office. Way to go, USPS.

20120321. The package arrived at 5:40 am, and we got the call at 6:09 am. Way to go, USPS!

The box was definitely peeping loudly, and the customers in line were quite bemused as we picked up the babies.

How four chickens get shipped around the country:

20120321. The package was quite noisy when we got it from the post office.

Psychedelic chicken poop!

So as new chicken parents, here is the day one mental chicken checklist: Are they…

  • Being super adorable as they chug water? Check.
  • Tripping all over each other in order to walk in (and eat) their food? You bet.
  • Pooping everywhere? Oh, yes. Everywhere.
  • Peeping incessantly in a content manner? Trillin’ like villains, yo.
  • Possessing butts that are free and clear of any sealed on poop? Free and clear!
  • Huddling together for warmth or, conversely, trying to escape the blazing ball of light above the brooder? So far, I’ve had to raise the heat lamp by about a foot and a half. It’s just too dang warm out there for March.
  • Sleeping? Not yet. But supposedly they do sleep sometimes.

The chicks check out their new home for the next five weeks; we check out them.
20120321. THE BABIES!Introducing the four newest residents of the Space-Farm Continuum: Henrietta, the Buff Orpington.
20120321. Henrietta the Buff Orpington, front and center.

20120321. Chris and Henrietta the Buff Orpington. Look at that face!Beaker, the Easter Egger, who already likes walking in her food and water.
20120321. Don't sh*t where you eat, my friend. Beaker the Easter Egger standing in her food.

Christie with BeakerYolko, Australorp #1.
YolkoAnd Ono, Australorp #2.
20120321. Ono, australorp #2.Yolko and Ono.
20120321. The australorps - Yolko and Ono.I think I’m in love.

Sneak Peek: Introducing the Chicken Wing

I will forever refer to our new coop as the “chicken wing” of the house. Get it?! I am so very pleased with Chris’ efforts to make this coop a home and with the fact that its spot in the garage has now been replaced with a brooder. Come on, baby chicks!

20120229. Sneak peek: the chicken coop!

Introducing... THE CHICKEN WING!

More photos (and chicken residents) to come. Stay tuned! I know, I’m such a tease.

Year of the Chicken

In the inaugural post of the Space-Farm Continuum, we established that worms were the gateway animal. After maintaining a vermicomposting habit for a while you realize that it no longer provides the fix that it once did. You start to think about experimenting with more hardcore animal husbandry.

When we learned of a neighborhood tour of chicken coops organized by Nap Town Chickens, we signed up immediately…as did 600 other people. It turns out that everyone is doing it. Apparently, you’re not cool unless you keep chickens – or pee your pants. It’s hard to keep up with these trends.

It was decided not long after the tour de coops that we needed our own chickens. Several months and several books later, paint dries on a chicken coop in the garage and four baby chickens are on pre-order from a magical chicken dealer in the cloud – My Pet Chicken.

Chicken coop in the back of a pickup

Picking up the chicken coop: We realized after loading the coop in the truck that our winch straps were too short...hence the extension cord. As we pulled into the store down the street to buy longer straps, we had to be careful not to hit a chicken that was roaming the parking lot.

The baby chickens will arrive mid-March, and they’re certain to be the homesteading highlight of 2012 – the Year of the Chicken.

Cute baby chicken

Four baby chickens will join the homestead the week of March 19th: 1 buff orpington, 2 australorps, and 1 ameracauna.