Picking up chicks

Kevin’s wanted chickens almost since the day we moved here, but it’s taken me a while to come ‘round.

We don’t eat that many eggs – maybe two dozen a month, which is a little more than the output of one hen. If you’re going to keep chickens, you need at least four, so we’d end up with many more eggs than we’d need. Besides, it’s a money loser. We buy excellent eggs from a local farm for three dollars a dozen, and our yearly egg budget of about $75. wouldn’t go far in procuring, housing, and feeding a coop’s worth of chickens.

But then there’s the barter system. Once you start growing and gathering, a whole new economy opens up. We’ve already traded some oak logs (to grow shiitakes), which we have in abundance, for two blackberry bushes grown by our friends Al and Christl. That worked out so well that, a couple weeks later, we traded them a peck of clams for some tomato and kale seedlings.

Chickens will expand our bartering options. Everybody likes eggs, and we hope to trade not just for edibles but for advice, assistance, and just plain good will. And if there’s anyone out there with a 17′ Whaler …

That’s the idea, anyway, and it was what led to our buying eight baby chicks yesterday morning from the nice people at Cape Cod Feed and Supply. They get them, fifty at a time, from Murray McMurray Hatchery, a business which you’ve never heard of if you don’t raise chickens and which you hear of all the time if you do.

We had planned to get eight Buff Orpingtons, a breed known for its docile good nature and resistance to cold. There weren’t enough to go around, though, so we ended up with four Buffs and four Rhode Island Reds, a hardy breed with an independent streak.

The difference in the breeds is apparent even in three-day-old chicks. The Reds zoom around the brooder with confidence and aplomb while the Buffs quietly go about their business, which is eating, drinking, and crapping. That will be the sum total of our chicks’ business for the next six months, until they reach maturity and “laying” gets added to the list.

Until that happens, we have to keep them warm, fed, and safe from our cat, who seems excited by the prospect of having very small birds in the house. Kevin likes to let the cat commune with the chicks – through the impermeable wall of the brooder – on the theory that we can teach her that the brood is a part of our family community, and therefore not acceptable prey. I, however, have very little faith in our cat’s community spirit, and prefer to keep a closed door between them.

We didn’t plan it this way, but in an energy-saving piece of good luck, our timing is such that we have to keep both our baby chicks and our dandelion wine warm for the next week. We’ve sequestered brooder, heat lamp, and fermenting vat in the guest room, jury-rigging the lot so the brooder is at 95 degrees and the wine about twenty degrees cooler.

By all appearances, chicks and wine are thriving.

7 people are having a conversation about “Picking up chicks

  1. Omigahd, you guys are really getting serious about the living off the land – now you are raising chickens! Who needs the stock market when you can trade eggs. Who knew two New Yorkers could become farmers!

  2. beachnitpicker says:

    They’re extremely adorable. Are the Rhode Island Reds a bit smaller than the Buff Orpingtons or is that an optical illusion? I seem to remember from my childhood among the chickens that RIRs were a bit on the small side.

  3. It does seem like the Reds are a little smaller than the Buffs. They certainly seem more chicken-shaped; the Buffs are rounder and fluffier. But we’re beginning to think the Buffs are also a little braver. When we open the brooder, all the chicks rush to the warmest corner, and the Buffs are invariably the first ones to figure out there’s no real threat and they can come out and eat.

    So far, there’s no clannishness and everyone seems to be getting along.

  4. You guys are really getting in to it!! It brings back memories of our move here 33 years ago. We kept our chicks near the wood stove in a box with a light and a wire screen on top. Our cat, Sebastian, loved to sleep on top of the screen near the light and purr to the chicks.
    Just be prepared to have visitors to the hen house when they get older…mostly fox and racoon. I’ll never forget when the fox got in the pen and the chickens flew out and into the big old spruce tree for protection. We had to use a fishing net to get them down and back into the pen. Needless to say , they did not want to go back in there!!! Fun times await you and some really yummy eggs.

  5. Jane — You sure that noise was your cat purring to the chicks, and not his stomach growling?

  6. Marilyn Baker says:

    My nephew always rescues nests when he’s plowing on his ranch. One nest had mysterious eggs, which of course had to be brought in to watch. This was to be a learning lesson for his two girls: by the time they bought all the equipment, it turned into a VERY expensive lesson. The eggs hatched, turned out to be ducks, of which they had way to many already, so the baby ducks went off to the feed store to be sold for “A buck a duck” to get rid of them.

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