Scratch beneath surface reveals baby chick realities
Happily watching the mercury rise, the warmer weather teases our anticipation of what lies ahead.
The season of rebirth is unfolding, delivering a host of spectacular beginnings.
Looking across the valley, the tint of green in the globe willows is a distinct indication of change. Tiny buds are emerging on shrubs and trees as tulip, daffodil and crocus bulbs poke emerald shoots out of the cold ground.
But a sure sign that spring is upon us also can be witnessed at the local feed stores: The baby chicks have arrived.
Upon entering a feed store recently, the hubbub in a particular section was synchronized between the crescendo of little peeps and the ohhh’s and ahhh’s from the adoring spectators.
The chicks, approximately 8 weeks old, were about the size of golf balls with little legs. The magnificent hues of these fuzzy little birds went from black to pure white with others displaying bronze, gold and crimson.
Watching the tiny creatures stumble over themselves in the large tub spawned a mesmerizing desire to take some home.
As with any cute baby, however, the reality is that it will grow up. Before purchasing these irresistible creatures, make sure you will be able to care for them for the duration of their lives.
Young chicks grow at an alarming rate and typically reach full size within a few months. The small enclosure suitable for them as chicks will be adequate for only a short time. As they get bigger, they will need a larger coop as a permanent home.
I acquired my hens last spring because of that exact scenario.
Answering an advertisement for four chicks, a feeder, water container and heat lamp, I was excited to venture into raising chickens.
Entering a garage, I witnessed several cages containing a range of critters including rabbits, geese and the four young chickens. They all had been purchased a month earlier and had already outgrown their small spaces.
At least these kind folks realized their limitations and were searching for good homes for their overgrown assemblage. I’ve heard stories of people dumping domesticated ducks and geese at local lakes, leaving them to try to survive with the wild fowl. This creates a serious environmental problem and should never be considered.
In this case, though, the four chicks purchased a scant month earlier had tripled in size. Driving home listening to the youngsters’ objective squawks, I contemplated where I was going to house them.
A coop was constructed in a corner of the barn out of chicken wire with a door to allow easy access. My initial concern was to keep them safe from other critters. I placed plywood on the floor and covered it in straw to absorb their droppings. Chickens poop a lot.
They were fairly content in there for a while, but eventually they started charging the door when I opened it. Tired of trying to shoo them back in, I decided to just let them out. I watched as they peered out the door momentarily before advancing to explore their new surroundings.
They actually stayed fairly close to the coop for several days, gradually increasing the distance. What I didn’t realize was their instinctive nature to have a definitive place to call home. They roamed all day but always meandered back to the coop near sunset.
Within a few weeks, they were all over the property, scratching the dirt hunting bugs. Chickens are great bug catchers. They are actually quite aggressive when on the hunt. If one of them discovered a beetle, the others were trying to grab it out of the huntress’ beak. The insect population definitely diminished last summer around my house.
As the hens reached full size within a few months, I anxiously awaited fresh eggs. A friend of mine, Sarah, who will turn 96 years old next month, has raised chickens all her life. She informed me that even though the chickens were mature in size, it would be fall before they would begin laying.
True to her prediction, it was late August when the first egg was discovered in the coop. It wasn’t long before all of them were depositing their treasures each day. As I observed their routine, I discovered they definitely had a pattern as to which hen occupied the coop at certain times.
The costs associated with caring for these birds are minimal depending on the size of the flock. Their diet consists of laying mash, hen scratch and oyster shells, which can be purchased in bulk.
The glorious aspect of tending these creatures is retrieving the eggs from the coop each day. Young chicken usually will lay daily but as they get older, they may not lay consistently. Weather changes, stress, and other factors can disturb routine laying.
Interestingly, chickens are creatures of habit, as are most animals. They are quite easy to care for. They are fairly independent but have definite social interactions among themselves, with other animals and humans.
I find their clucking communication is undecipherable but always a welcome greeting after a long day at work.
As we go into this glorious season of spring, observing new life emerging through nature, I encourage you to explore the possibility of acquiring young animals.
But before you take them home, please consider the impact on your lifestyle as these small creatures mature. They do not stay cute and fuzzy for long.