Raising Fluffy Butts

It was a hot day in July, I had been planning and prepping and researching. I'd been to the farm store, checking out the chicken aisle and looking at all the oddities that included heat lamps, fake porcelain eggs and all different kinds of chicken treats. It was time. It was time to take on my first true farm hobby. Chickens. (insert look of horror on my husband's face here.) Enter the convenience and awesomeness of online chick shopping at Meyer Hatchery. Sure, you could get the usual, boring and standard chicks at your local farm stores, but I wanted some cool, unique breeds and Meyer had a TON of options. They hatch every Monday and ship your babies priority. Super cool, huh? Well, I thought so, anyway... Until my order came. On a Wednesday. I got the long awaited call from my small local Post Office that I had a live animal box waiting for me. I jumped in my car with my two toddlers (the oldest was visiting family in Texas) and headed that way. The nice lady warned me when I walked in, telling me "it doesn't sound great in there." WHAT? what did that mean? As I carried the precious little cargo to the car, I dreaded what I was going to find inside. I heard two tiny peeps here and there, but I had ordered 9 chicks and I knew something wasn't right. I opened the box and to my horror, found 7 dead in the corner. Luckily, we had two that made the trek and we could bond with those until a replacement order the following Monday could be sent. Bonnie and Clyde became pretty spoiled that week. To the credit of Meyer Hatchery, they handled the tragedy with ease and were apologetic. Of course when you are shipping live animals, things happen unfortunately. Poor little babes. The order came the next week, and all replacement chicks were happily and well. They even included a few extras. (again, husband super thrilled.) Real soon after, I realized raising chicks was no cake walk. Sure, they were super cute, fluffy and cuddly to hold, but they took a ton of care and fussing with. For instance, did you know they can get pasty butt? This is where their poop gets stuck in their butts and you have to take a q-tip and olive oil and gently rub it away and keep applying daily until it's gone so everything slides out okay. Farm life is super glamorous! The kids loved them, even when they became pullets (teenage chickens). They were surprisingly fun. And even though we told the kids to not get too attached, they of course did. We had Batman, Marilyn, Bonnie, Clyde, Ginger, Mabel, Dorothy, Elsa and Eula. But life on the farm is never easy, and it's not all roses and chicken poop. We had one tragedy around October. As our oldest was carrying the waterer bucket out to the coop after she filled it, she set it down in the coop for a second and unfortunately, one of the chickens got partially trapped underneath. I will probably never forget that day as I was actually cutting my youngest daughter's hair in the bathroom and she comes screaming running into me with a limp, half dead chicken in her arms as I try to calm her and help her deal with death. I read an article the other day from another hen mama and I loved a quote she used. "I couldn't Instagram my way through raising chickens." So. True. My husband and I slaved away for months trying to figure out the perfect set up for these gals, too. I researched and researched for a perfect coop set up, none were perfect or completely predator proof. We ended up buying one from our local feed store and altering it quite a bit to make it predator proof by adding hardware mesh all around the bottom and bringing it out about 2 feet. My husband built a huge watering system with a pump system inside so that water could circulate and a heater so it wouldn't freeze up in the winter. All was fine in the coop until the blizzard came. A really crazy, strong blizzard. My husband was at work, and I was home with the kids. As I watched snow pile up onto the sides of the coop, I knew this couldn't be great for our hens. They hadn't even started laying yet and this was even after my husband reluctantly added plywood to the sides of the coop to keep out wind. (Again, I repeat, chickens are not easy work.) I bundled up and braved the wind and snow slapping into my face to check on them. They were perched up high on their branch, huddled up together to keep warm. While that all sounds nice and super smart (chickens are actually quite smart in the elements), they had a nice pretty covering of white snow on their feathered backs. I freaked out. I ran inside and texted my husband. He was no help basically. "They'll be fine." Tapping of fingers. I texted my neighbor who has had chickens for years. "The outer ones might die, but the inside ones will be fine." (Quite the jokester.) That was enough for me. I bundled back up and without any hesitation, walked into the coop, grabbed the first one on the perch, closed the door behind me, walked her to an empty stall in the barn, set her down, closed the stall door and continued that process 8 times in -12 degree temps with wind and snow laughing in my face until they were all safe and warm (ish) in the barn. We decided ultimately everything just made sense to have the chicken coop in a stall in the barn. So we officially moved them in there, but it required a lot of work...again. Mostly from my willing and amazing husband. Setting up nesting boxes, moving the waterer, perches and even an automatic door out the front of the door so they can range out the front of the barn. They finally started laying eggs while we were gone on vacation over Christmas break. But man, that was an exciting text from our neighbors for sure! Now we have eggs galore. And even frozen ones. (Again, farm life isn't easy / you can't Instagram your way through / chickens are hard.) And now that we have figured out how to handle these 9 hens and are getting glorious eggs, I have gone mad again and purchased more chicks so we can get some more colorful eggs, so we have the brooder set up yet again with Olive eggers and Easter eggers and a couple of mystery chicks in there (think olive and aqua eggs). While I am certainly no expert chicken owner, I will say I would be very comfortable helping anyone raise chicks and giving advice along the way. Which is what life is all about, right? Learning new things, having new experiences and helping others along the way. Because I am a certifiably insane chicken lady.... And my kids enjoy the hobby too. And my husband is a very patient man. Eggs for sale! :)

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