Natural Essays

The price of chicken feed and other anecdotes

By Richard Phelps
Posted 7/9/20

Recently, I bought some baby chicks. They came in the mail.

This time they were delivered right to the front door. They came in a cardboard box about the size of two cowboy boot boxes stapled …

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Natural Essays

The price of chicken feed and other anecdotes

Posted

Recently, I bought some baby chicks. They came in the mail.

This time they were delivered right to the front door. They came in a cardboard box about the size of two cowboy boot boxes stapled together. It’s odd that I would think of that, as I have never bought a cowboy boot in my life, nor would I ever. The box had air holes, as required by the necessity of the cargo. You could hear them in the box. Little peeps. Tightly packed to keep them from banging around. No square corners, no kidding.

I was expecting them, but, not ready. Often the case. Such a last minute guy. Like what Ben Franklyn once said, “Why do it today when you might not have to do it tomorrow?” I mean what if we were hit with a falling SpaceLab? All that wasted effort.

So, flashing through the Covid infested space of Orange County, I ran up to Sohn’s Appliance Center (founded in 1907) in downtown Walden and was given a big, heavy, empty cardboard appliance container. I put the new brown cardboard coop in the woodshed. (Still no wood in the woodshed, but I have time!) And got an oversized window screen to cover the top of the penthouse. I washed the waterer and feeder in the utility sink and put down fresh shavings in the bottom of the box and hung a heat lamp. Even in the middle of summer, day-old chicks need heat. The orphans have no mother to huddle.

As I transferred the little guys from their shipping box to their big new home, I tried to count them. Supposed to be 55. I think I counted 57. Maybe they threw in a few roosters? Another time I counted 58. Ever try counting living, moving things the size of Super Balls? As I moved them, I dipped each beak in the dish of water to teach them what water is and where to drink and they took a formative swallow and that is the big first step. It’s important to touch the birds and be near them as this is the beginning of a long relationship and they are easier to manage if they trust you and come to you. Plus, in the Trump Era, who doesn’t like to be loved?

When the daytime temps reached 90 degrees, I turned off the heat lamp, but during the nights it was in the 60’s so the lamp was on all night and the red glow came through the windows into the living room. Maybe it helped keep away the bears, the raccoons, the weasels, the Fischer, the bobcat, the mink, the owls – man, what doesn’t like to eat chicken? Right? The outside world of carnivores has yet to turn vegetarian.

Even with the big box, the chicks were immediately over-crowded, but they showed no signs of stress and needed each other for their warmth and comfort. I gained time to build a small brooder-house with an encaged, outside run. I found a couple oversized pallets along the road and brought them home, and screwed down some plywood and tacked this to that and in a couple days I had a brood house within reach of electricity, if needed. Each week the optimal temperature for a chick drops ten degrees, so now we are down to 70 degrees F, and so a heat lamp is no longer required, given the birds have some feathers and can actually fly!

I tried counting them again when I moved them to their new home and got 58. Buggers.

The exit to the outside world is an arched hole cut in the plywood wall about the size of a full-grown chicken and covered with a board that slides up and down like a guillotine. I tied it up, open, and watched to see what would happen. Inside the coop, I had screwed some tomato stakes to make ramps and perches for the young birds. I wondered, which would they do first, go outside, or climb and jump/fly up onto the perches? Turns out chicks like to go UP more than OUT, at least as their initial “crawling” activity. Interesting. 7,000 years ago chickens were a jungle bird in Southeast Asia and have retained the instinctual knowledge, while being poor fliers, that UP -- especially at night -- is safer.

The price of chicken feed is also UP. Up about 10% since that last time I bought. But the price of organically grown chicken feed, the stuff without the glyphosate, herbicides, pesticides and neonicotinoids, costs the farmer, or hobbyist, 30 to 40% more than the commonly available food. This is not a sustainable, healthful system. I got my girls outside eating clover blossoms and bugs as soon as I could.

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