Thursday, May 16, 2013

No rainbows or unicorns here today

Every year, I raise a few chicks. Mostly to replace the ones I inevitably lose in my part-time free range set-up. I'd like to think that I've accumulated a bit of experience with chick raising throughout the past 5 years. Yet every year, a new challenge presents itself, reminding me just how precarious the life of a chicken can be. This year, I got 2 chicks that were already a few days old and had probably not been in the nicest conditions during that time, but they had been on medicated feed, and appeared healthy.

A few days after their arrival in our very clean brooder, their poops were not to my liking (learn more about chicken poop). Knowing they only ate their unmedicated feed, I knew to expect a fairly solid result of their digestion, interrupted only by the natural and healthy 'molten chocolate' poops that can even contain a few bloody spots as intestinal lining is shed. These chicks though pooped clear liquid along with solid bits. The internet and my chicken-related library agreed to treat with Corid for coccidiosis for 7 days. The local feed store carried what I needed, luckily, and the problem was resolved very quickly.
Fast forward a few weeks and the now 9 week old pullets were fully feathered and ready to move out of the house. I built a handy dandy tractor, fully enclosed top and bottom, with sturdy 2x4 fencing. 

Everyone enjoyed the move (my multi-purpose project room smelled much nicer!) until a few night ago, my husband was awoken by loud baby chick screeches. By the time I had dashed outside, one of the two chicks lay twitching in the corner of the pen. I spared you a picture. The raccoon hadn't come inside, all it had to do was stick its little hand in the cage to tantalize the chick, and then rip is head off through the fencing. The next day, I added a layer of 1/2in hardware cloth around the perimeter, but decided the remaining chick should sleep inside again until the electric fencing I had ordered would arrive. I also found a place to buy 2 10 week old pullets.

Delawares! I'm excited to get to know a new breed. They settled in well until this morning, when I went to pick them up from their indoor night time quarters to take them outside. I was shocked to see bright red, bloody spots. I had not noticed any other symptoms, even though I do spend time with them and handle them every morning and night.

Bloody poops are a sign of advanced coccidiosis. I suspect the new pullets were not resistant to our particular brew of coccidia. These are naturally present protozoal parasites that chickens should require resistance to early in life. Medicated feed helps with that, as it prevents serious infection but still lets the chicks' immune system encounter the bugs and become acquainted, aka resistant. Some propose that letting chicks scratch outside early in life is helpful and I know the new pullets didn't have this opportunity. So at this point, I can only hope and pray that the meds help quick enough, and baby the pullets with homemade yogurt for help with a healthy gut, some vitamin supplements and apple cider vinegar in their water after the course of treatment. UPDATE from later in the day: I found Fancy Nancy, the remaining Ameraucana, completely lethargic. I force fed her some medicated water in a syringe, but she died only a little later in my hands. The other two are active, and I hope the medication will keep them so.
Butterflies and bees in our dedicated flower garden, by Ellie (4)

Homesteading is not roses and sunshine at all times. It's a reminder that our food system is far removed from our daily lives, and most of us are not particularly adept at providing for ourselves. Even though we're experiencing a bit of a revival of the old skills, the difficulty of taking this alternative route is sometimes underappreciated and underreported. Talking about it makes this blog less shiny and happy, but more real, and maybe more helpful to others.

Update: The story continued...

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  1. Thanks so much for sharing your difficulties and I'm so sorry for your losses. We also lost 3 chicks witin 24hrs of driving them home and it was certainly no "rainbows or unicorns"! I hope the rest of your chickies will grow into strong and healthy adults.

    1. thank you for your very kind words. It's always hard to lose some. The tiny fluffballs are not very robust, and then bigger girls = bigger problems, it seems... But for now the rest of the flock looks pretty solid.

  2. Hi Kath. Just checking in from our little acres to see how your other 2 are doing. Missy

    1. Thank you so very much, Missy! Happy to report all is well, we're on the last day of meds for the whole flock and have installed electric fencing around the chicks. Of course, now a bear has been sighted near us LOL. There's always something. Thank you for visiting!!

  3. I like your pen design. Thanks for sharing on the HomeAcre Hop. Come back and visit us this week: