I moved onto the farm November 1, 2007. While I had a vision of where I wanted to be, I also knew that I would have to take small steps to reach those goals. At that time I had been self employed for several years, giving me the option of freeing up time to work on the farm but that came at the cost of not having the money to fund projects. As with all things, each small step has been a juggling act.
My horse wouldn’t be transported for another month so building a corral wasn’t a priority. I was anxious to embark with farm life though so I decided, since the property already had a beautiful chicken coop, I would start with raising chicks.
I knew nothing about mail order hatcheries back then, so I ordered chicks through the local feed store. I had really wanted a heritage breed but the feed store didn’t order through a hatchery that had any breeds other than commercial White Leghorns available in November. So I placed an order for the minimum number of chicks (25) and waited for the call from the feed store telling me the chicks were in. Tiny little yellow balls of fluff soon arrived and I made the drive into town to bring home the new additions. Due to the cold weather (those living in other climes may laugh, but here in central NM temps below freezing at night and 30-40 degrees during the day are considered cold) I decided to raise the chicks in the bathroom instead of the brooder in the chicken coop. The master bathroom was large enough for a giant wire dog crate and small enough to keep at the requisite 90 + degrees using a space heater.
The first week went well. Despite the dire warnings I had received about chicks drowning in their waterer or getting overly chilled and dying, all my chicks thrived. The bathroom resembled a sauna but watching the young chicks more than compensated for that inconvenience. Since keeping the chicks fed, watered and clean was difficult with the dog crate on the floor, I had a “brooder” built that was high enough for me to comfortably care for the chicks. The top opened up and had a hole where a heat lamp could be suspended in the brooder, while a tray in the bottom allowed for easy cleaning.
This design just showed how little I knew about chickens. After setting it up and installing the chicks in their new home, it seemed like a great solution to the difficulties of using a dog crate on the floor. However, the first time I raised the lid to feed and water the chicks, the chicks went crazy trying to escape the dangerous thing from the sky. I had never had the chicks run hysterically when I opened the door to the dog crate so I figured the panicked reaction would soon disappear once the chicks realized that nothing was going to hurt them. Um, not so much. Every single time the lid was opened, the same hysterical panic occurred.*
As time went on, the chicks started to feather up. This meant that every time I opened the brooder and the chicks panicked I had very small, fine feathers floating through the area. Once the chicks got a little older, some were able to flutter their way out of the brooder and into the bathroom at large. By the time the chicks were fully feathered, my bathroom looked like a pillow fight gone wrong every time I cleaned the brooder or fed and watered the chicks (which was often because they ate enormous amounts.)
Lesson One: Never, ever raise chickens in the house.
* Oddly enough, even though the brooder in the chicken coop also has a hinged lid that lifts up, subsequent chicks have never reacted quite so violently to that lid being raised so I am guessing the shadows in the better lit bathroom were, at least in part, a trigger for the panic attacks.