This past week has been tough at the My Edible Yard urban homestead. We excitedly waited for a delivery of six 1-day-old Cuckoo Maran chicks that my friend and backyard chicken raising mentor, Renee, had ordered. The plan was that she would order 15 (the minimum order at the hatchery), 9 for her family (she's feeding 12 people), 6 for me. I wasn't quite sure we needed 6 chickens in addition to the 4 we already have, but Renee's theory that you need chickens of different ages cycling through the urban homestead for steady egg production made sense to me. Couple that with a quick Google search on "cuckoo maran chickens" to see pictures of them (they're beautiful!) and learn that Cuckoo Marans produce the darkest brown eggs of all chicken breeds, and there you have it. Baby chicks here I come.
The baby chick delivery was originally scheduled for the 18th of May, but about 2 weeks ago, the hatchery called Renee and said they'd be delivered ahead of schedule on the 5th. No problem. I ran out a week ago Friday and got the few items I'd need for the little chicklets--a chick-size waterer and feeder, some baby chick grit, some organic breakfast cereals, yogurt and kefir. I already had a used rabbit cage that seemed perfect for little chicks. I had saved the email Renee had sent me with chick raising instructions. I was ready for the new arrivals in about an hour.
The chicks arrived on Wednesday as scheduled, but sadly 5 out of the 15 had died in transit. I've heard of it happening before, but Renee said it had never happened to her with this hatchery. No big deal, I thought, because 4 chicks seemed like a fine number to start out with for my first foray into chick raising. I felt horrible for Renee because I could just imagine the scene that went on at her house with all her children excitedly opening the box only to be traumatized by finding dead chicks.
I made it to Renee's house at the scheduled pickup time and was immediately mesmerized by the 4 cute little puff balls. I took them home in a cardboard box, got the chicklets set up in their new home with fresh water with a splash of apple cider vinegar with garlic in it, and made them a batch of organic brown rice cereal cooked in chicken broth and then stirred in some yogurt to give them as much easily-digestible protein as possible in their first meal. I picked up each chick and gingerly dunked their little orange-yellow beaks in the water and food as all the chicken-raising manuals advise so they know where their food and water are located, and I hovered over the little chicklets all evening, checking on them every hour (or half hour), spending the time in between checks trying to convince the dogs that they were not for eating, but instead were lovely additions to the family. Ha! The dogs were not so easily convinced. At the end of the evening (about 8:30), I figured it was time for the chicks to be tucked in for the night, so I covered the cage with old pillow cases to block outside distractions and they settled in quite nicely.
I got up Thursday morning, made my usual pot of coffee, and excitedly went out to the front porch to check on the chicklets. Much to my horror one of the chicks had died during the night. I was frantic. I knew it had to be my fault. I hurriedly got the dead chick out of the cage so as not to traumatize the other chicks (or my husband) and kept running through the list of things I was supposed to do to take care of them. I changed the paper towels in the cage, changed the water and food, and then sat down at the computer to email Renee for help. There was a message from Renee--she had lost 2 chicks overnight and was going to call the hatchery as soon as they opened. She was very comforting and assured me over and over that I had done nothing wrong, that chicks don't need food or water for the first 4 days of life because they feed off the yolk sac and egg white, so something had to be genetically wrong with them. Phew. The sweat on my brow lessened, but mother's guilt did not. She suggested that I put out a finely-chopped scrambled egg to see if I could get them to eat it--I did, they wouldn't. But 2 out of the 3 remaining chicks looked to be in good shape and were eating and drinking on their own. I could tell that chick #3 wasn't going to make it, and she didn't, but that little girl tried her hardest for 2 more days. She ate off my finger, she drank when I dunked her--she had real character. But Mother Nature wasn't going to let her stay around. Sadly, she passed Saturday early evening.
I'm happy to say that chicks 1 and 2 are doing just fine. They love their warm cereal with yogurt, have started pecking on the quinoa grains I've put out for them, and they love playing in the yard, instinctively hunting for anything that moves in the grass. They're already getting new feathers and I swear chick #1 has grown an inch (maybe not quite that much, but she's definitely bigger). Chick #2 is doing fine, too, and has quite a personality. While it was a scary couple of days for me, I learned some valuable lessons, the biggest of course being that you just don't have control over Mother Nature. I've added some pictures of the chicks in the My Edible Yard Chickens photo slideshow in the right-hand sidebar of the blog. Enjoy!