Chicken, Chicken Goose
There was a time I swore I’d never have animals on this farm. However, as with parenting, I’ve learned to never say never. So here we are, baby chicks and goslings in hand, already some hard lessons learned.
We decided to start with a round of egg laying hens before we attempt meat birds. We decided to add a round of goslings, in the hopes that they will add an extra layer of protection from hawks. We decided on three female Buff Toulouse, well, actually we were only going to get one or two but the company we ordered them from would only ship 3 at a time.
Matt scrambled to finish our brooder the day before the chicks arrived. We went back and forth with some designs, but landed on a 3 bay design, with a short front, cage covered top and door, with removable dividers. We weren’t sure how much space we were going to need, but wanted to be sure we had enough room for them as they grew.
Our first round of chicks was an easy choice. I have known Maeg and Sarah of Silver Fox Farm for many years now, and I knew I didn’t care what breed the chickens were, or what color eggs they produced, as long as they were bred by Maeg and Sarah! The care and pride they take in breeding and raising only the healthiest chickens, with the best temperaments is extraordinary. I knew that no matter what we ended up with, they would be great! We ended up with Black Copper Mayans, Self Blue Ameraucanas, F1 Oliver Eggers (a breed, I believeSilver Fox Farm created), and Gemstone Olive Eggers.
While we are only a few days in, I still can’t get over how healthy these little chicks are! They are vibrant, inquisitive, and they look huge compared to the other batch we had. These are un-sexed chickens and we will not be keeping roosters, so it will be interesting to see how many ladies we get to keep. These chickens will eventually lay eggs in a beautiful rainbow of colors, a big bonus if you ask me.
Our second round of chicks was more of a happenstance. We decided to order a batch of Golden Buffs and Golden Laced Wyandottes from Meyer Hatchery, where we ordered our goslings. They threw in an extra chick hatched at the same time and while we aren’t sure what she is just yet, we were told by the hatchery she is either a Blue Andalusian, Light Brown Leghorn, Buff Brahma, or Green Queen. We think it’s a Leghorn but either way, she’s awfully cute!
Ordering mail order was kind of stressful. I tracked the shipment info like a stalker, and panicked when the goslings’ info didn’t update. Meyer’s was very helpful in easing my fears to that effect, but our chicks arrived the day after shipment, very loudly at that. They were MUCH smaller than our Silver Fox batch.
They seemed to all be fine the first day, eating, drinking, hanging out under the brooder plate.
The morning after our second round of chicks arrived, I noticed one that couldn’t quite stand. I did a little research and though she may have splayed legs. I made a little hobbler out of one of our daughter’s little hair ties, and a piece of masking tape. I separated her out into her own little box, but as worried about her getting cold. I put her under the brooder plate in the goslings pen, but when I got the call from the post office that the goslings had arrived, I had to put her back into the pen with her hatch-mates.
When the goslings arrived I could get over how HUGE they were! They were noisy and hungry, going right for the water and running around pecking at all the things. I was so relieved they were ok, having arrived from California, 3 days after they hatched.
Later in the day, Matt went to go check on the chickens and realized not only was my little hobble patient not doing well, but neither was another chick. We added a work light over the top of the brooder and I called Meyer’s. The hatchery was very helpful, suggesting we feed some egg yolk and water with a little paintbrush. We hand fed them, and I held them in my hands to keep them warm, while Matt ran to get another brooder plate.
We set them in their own box, with their own brooder plate, a little water and some food. Matt then realized another chick was struggling. Upon reading the info sheet that Meyer Hatchery sent along for me, we realized our brooder was too large and too cold. When the chicks were venturing out for food and water, they were getting too cold.
We lost one of the three chicks we had separated out later in the evening. When I got up today, the other two were gone, having passed while I was asleep and Matt had removed them. When I went down to check on the other chicks this morning, another had passed. Out of our original 13 chicks, we have now lost 5, nearly 40%.
While I’d say I wouldn’t do mail order again, that seems to be the only option for meat chickens. It’s also unfair to blame the loss of the 5 chicks (there was one that had perished when we opened the box originally, which Meyer’s refunded us for) on the hatchery or the shipping, that was our fault in not making sure the temperature of the entire brooder was high enough. We had chosen to go for the plates over the heat lamps as a safety issue. We also have our brooder in our basement, and there was no safe place to attach a heat lamp. However, having been able to compare the difference between a group of chicks hatched on a small scale, picked up locally the day after hack, to those hatched in a large group, packed right in a box and shipped across country, the difference is very obvious. While we are less than a week in so it’s hard to say too much, just initial observation is very startling. The Silver Fox Farm chicks are overall larger, healthier, and livelier, telling us that the first day of care is critical. Only time will tell how well everyone does.
Our oldest has been coming up with some of the funniest, most creative names for these chickens I’ve ever heard, just rattling them off every time she sees them. So far we have Goldie Locks, Cupcake, Pineapple, Sally, Sass, Snowdrop, Pudding and Pepper. I’ve added in Mary Queen of Scotch Eggs (stolen from the Stories of Scotland Podcast, sorry ladies it’s just too good!)Honey, and Macha for our little stripey oddball out baby, as she looks like an owl and Macha is the “owl witch” of Irish mythology.
We’ll keep you posted on how the rest of this process goes, including introducing the goslings to the chickens, and merging the groups. In the meantime, be sure to check our YouTube channel for our video of the process thus far, and here are some other things we’re doing to, hopefully, help keep our flock happy and healthy.
Magic Chick Water
An infusion for the first 2 days to help make sure everyone is getting the electrolytes they need. ½ cup raw honey, 2 Tbsp. Unfiltered apple cider vinegar, and 2 cloves of a garlic smashed, mixed into a gallon of warm water. Stir until the honey is dissolved, a let sit for about 12 hours. After this, we have switched to 2 Tbsp. Apple cider vinegar in a gallon of water.
Deep Mulch Bedding
While this may seem odd to some, this is a very popular method in regenerative agriculture. This simply means that we add new pine shavings each day to the chicks brooder for the entire season, removing it at the end and using it as compost. This actually makes a gently composted medium and a healthy environment for the chicks.
Brewer’s Yeast and Multi Flock Feed
Goslings and ducklings need a lot of protein and niacin, something they don’t always get in chicken feed. They also CANNOT have medicated chick feed. So, we were able to find a multi-flock unmediated starter feed with 28% protein, and have added brewer’s yeast (full of niacin) to the goslings’ food to make sure they are getting everything they need.
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