In March we were anxiously awaiting the arrival of baby chicks at our local supply and feed store, Barnes. I debated ordering them straight from a hatchery and did a bunch of research but there were complicated minimums (a certain number of each bird type plus a certain number of total birds to keep themselves warm while shipping) plus a schedule because certain breeds hatch at different times. It was complicated so I decided to patronize the local feed store instead.
March 21st comes around and Cassie and I show up at Barnes all super excited with our little prepared box in hand… and no babies. We called every day and it wasn’t until Friday March 25th that they finally said the babies had come, but they were in “really bad shape”. Those little baby birds had been packed up the same day they were born, which is usually fine because they are born with about 3 days worth of fuel in their little umbilical cord spots. And then they got stuck on a train for 4 extra days. They were hot and tired and, honestly, dropping like flies.
Needless to say, I’m going to do my absolute best not to get any birds from far away hatcheries ever again. Local hatches and getting my own ladies to sit on fertilized eggs for me. It’s just another skill I am going to have to learn. Plus, when I was looking at hatchery chicks I realized a few of them offer debeaking for 5 cents per bird! WHAT?
When that fist week was over we ended up with 18 happy, healthy peeping fuzzballs. Oh man they were so cute. Then we realized that one of the yellow puffballs (which Cassie and Ben had preemptively named Peep and Cadbury) had a funny beak. Poor Peep’s beak has gotten worse and worse over the past few weeks.
We have done a lot of research about this and apparently it’s not incredibly uncommon. Some people say it’s genetic and almost every says to immediately cull the chick (culling = a nice way to say kill). One by one Ben, then Wayne, and then Cassie were on board but I was still holding out hope that she would thrive and adapt until yesterday. Yesterday I put the babies in the dog crate for the first time and let them hang out outside (in the shade). I also gave them their first treats, some leftover zucchini and stale bread crumbs. Poor little Peep couldn’t pick up a single thing, and it was really obvious how much smaller and skinnier she is than the rest of the chickens, who are all growing really quickly. It’s really sad, but today Ben culled her.
And this is the hard part of farming. Sometimes your chickens turn up in your front yard with their bellies eaten out of them by some unknown predator and you stay awake at night wondering how you can better protect them. Sometimes you have to
murder cull your favorite little teeny chicken out of kindness because she is starting to basically starve as she gets older and her beak gets worse. It’s heartbreaking. But it is the cost of being more connected to your food. I get so much joy from these little birds, and so much delicious sustenance. I get to see how real food is made, give these animals a happy (if sometimes short) life, and experience the difference that makes in the taste and nutrition of food. That is worth a little heartbreak to me.