Friday, February 17, 2006

We have chicks!

When we did not get the usual 7 a.m. phone call from the post office, we were all worrying about the future of our baby chicks. I even called the hatchery to be sure they were in transit, and they were. The temperature has been falling here, and tonight it is supposed to be below zero! Plus, these chicks were hatched on Wednesday, and although two days without feed and water is not a problem for newborn chicks, three days is really stressing them. But there was nothing we could do. (Just before newborn chicks are born, they absorb the egg yolk into their belly through their umbilicus, which is why they don't need any food for a day or two.)

At 1 p.m., the phone rang. Caller ID said "US government," which caused great confusion, but it was the post office! It was not, however, our local post office. It was the post office in the town that's 25 miles away. This is not the first time this has happened, and in the past, it's been resolved in a variety of ways. Sometimes they drive them over here, and sometimes we go pick them up. So, I asked if we needed to go pick them up. The woman said that there were no more trucks heading to Cornell today, so if I didn't pick them up, they could stay at the post office until tomorrow morning. I hope I didn't hurt her ears as I shrieked, "They'll be dead by then. Oh, no, we're coming to get them right now!"

This is the second time we've ordered poultry from Privett Hatchery, and I'd have to say they are definitely #1 in our books. We've also ordered from McMurray, Cackle, and Ideal, and mortality from those was always higher than what we've experienced with Privett. When I called the hatchery this morning to check on the shipment, the woman said that they check the weather forecast of the place the chicks are being shipped, and they pack them accordingly. I guess I always kind of thought everyone would do that, but I don't think so now. There was only one air hole on the top of each of the box's four compartments, and we only had 5% mortality, which is the lowest ever for a shipment this time of year. We've had 100% mortality sometimes! Having only one hole in the box is obviously the smart thing to do, because it keeps the chicks' body heat in the box! Two years ago, we ordered our turkeys from Privett, and we had the lowest turkey mortality rate ever for turkeys that year. So, we are definitely ordering our birds from Privett from now on.

When we got the birds home, we put them in the basement. We use a large water trough as a brooder, and hang a heat lamp in it to keep the chicks warm. Since we have 111 chicks, they can't stay in there for long, because it's pretty crowded. In the past, we've put them in a stall in the barn with heat lamps hanging from above. But this year, Mike is going to build an old-fashioned brooder like one he saw at another farmer's place. It's basically a big upside down wooden box with a heat lamp in it. The chicks can run under it when they're cold, and move out when they're warm. Have the large "roof" though, they will have a much warmer area than if the lamps were just hanging from a 2X4 in an open stall. Hopefully, we'll also need less heat lamps, so our electric bill won't be as high as it usually gets in spring.

Speaking of that cold weather we're expecting tonight ... our new baby goats were shivering even with the heat lamp, so we made them little coats out of an old sweatshirt, and now they're snug and warm! Katherine and I are pretty proud of our ingenuity. She asked if I had an old sweatshirt she could use to sew coats for them, and when I pulled out an old sweatshirt to donate, it suddenly occured to me that the sleeve looked like it would make a perfect coat -- no sewing required! The wrist band makes a perfect neckband for a baby goat, and the lower part of the sleeve is the coat. Of course, a shirt only has two sleeves, and we have three babies, so we were only able to use that unique design for two of the coats. The third coat did require a minimal amount of sewing. You can see the baby on the right is wearing her coat already, but we were still working on the third coat for the little cream doe!

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