(Update: We now think the chicks are dying due to a disease. See this post for more info.)
We have lost five chickens in the past 12 hours or so; four of them were chicks who were motherless, cold, and caught at the bottom of the chick pile. They were crushed. I watched three of them die (in my oven with the light on to warm them up), uncertain as to whether I should put them out of their misery or hope for recovery. They had a heat lamp and were protected from drafts, but apparently not enough, as the results are not ideal. It was only in the 50s last night, and all 18 chicks who have mothers (16 with one, 2 with the other) are completely fine and unaffected. Today, in the blustery wind and upper 50s/low 60s, the mamas both have their chicks scampering about to and fro, uncovered and happy. But the hen-less chicks are huddled, unhappy, and down four for the count. Wondering, perhaps, how they can sign up for a better human mama.
(As I stared at the ceiling in the dark last night, trying to fall asleep amidst the howling wind, I thought several times about going out and bringing the motherless babies in. I even sent Jason out to check on them, as I had a human baby of my own attached to my person, and he said they were fine. Some were even running about under the red light, clearly unconcerned about the wind. But by morning, I found a mass of huddled chicks in the nest box, piled and shivering. I am so sad that I didn’t listen to my instincts and bring them in.)
(Also, we brooded chicks outdoors from 2 weeks onward last year, in April! But they were in the A-frame coop, in the little cabin portion, protected from winds very well. I moved this year’s 13 remaining motherless chicks to this exact cabin in the A-frame this morning, kicking out the mom with her 16 chicks. The mama and babies were happy to free range for the first time. When they came back, hours later, they found the scraps I had placed in the motherless chicks’ former coop, and I saw them there and locked them in, thus successfully switching the two groups in the middle of the day without having to chase them around the yard.)
And the fifth chicken dead? A full grown hen, vent pecked out and bloody. I have no idea why this happened/happens; we found one other hen like this in late winter. Mysterious and ill-timed.
It has been a long day already. I managed to tend to the chicks/chickens AND complete our second day of homeschool, all by 3 p.m. I wasn’t sure it would all happen. But my kitchen is a disaster, as I didn’t do my usual morning cleanup. And please don’t ask about the laundry. I have gone through two sets of chicken-clothes already today, and am on my third (still clean, thankfully).
ETA: Want to record a chicken count –
4/09 – 26 straight run Buff Orpingtons arrive in the mail (13 male, 13 female)
7/09 – 12 males sent to freezer camp; now 13 hens/1 rooster remain
Late Winter/Spring ’10 – three hens die mysteriously; one pecked and bloody, two with no visible problems; now 10 hens/1 rooster remain
6/10 – first five chicks born on the farm! Two males, three females; now 10 hens/1 rooster/3 pullets/2 cockerels remain
8/10 – ten farm-born chicks hatch (8 to one mama, 2 to another, but one dies) and 25 heavy breed males and 1 rare breed male or female arrive in the mail from the hatchery; now 10 hens/1 rooster/3 pullets/2 cockerels/35 chicks remain
9/10 – four chicks and one hen die; now 9 hens/1 rooster/3 pullets/2 cockerels/31 chicks remain
Our rooster, two pullets, and all male chicks save one will be going to freezer camp in late fall. The one lucky chick given pardon will be our new rooster by next year. (I might save two roos, just to make sure one makes it.)