Sunday, February 27, 2011

going broody

Last night Tim and Cathy Daughton pulled into my snowy driveway, and I was glad to see them. Friends on a Saturday night are always welcome, but this night I was feeling extra welcoming to company. I had just spent the last few hours moving snow off the sheep shed roofs and getting a sinfully long shower. Feeling like a new woman—all cleaned and with roofs still intact—I was eager to see them. I felt like I earned their company by making sure the mama-to-be ewes still had a shelter on the hill. When you start farming, everything turns into effort and returns, even drop-in guests feel like a karmic blessing after fighting snow drifts in the dark.

They had sent me a message saying they would be stopping by with a gift: a custom-built brooder box that was made from salvage from their own farm. It was an amazing gesture just to offer such a thing in the first place, but I never expected what they had in store for me....When they walked into the farmhouse my jaw dropped.

In their arms was a structure to behold. A 4'x2' wooden box with a collapsable hinged wall (for easy cleaning/sweeping out) and a wire-hinged roof to prevent escaping chicks. It was a masterpiece. Tim had really outdone himself. Inside the brooder there was plenty of room for the 84 birds on their way. Before they had arrived I was nervous I would have to get a furniture box to accommodate them, but this was perfect. It was so far beyond anything I could have built or ever expected. We'd be just fine when the post office called.

The 84 birds aren't all mine. 25 of them are, but 36 laying hens are for next weekend's workshop attendees, 15 are the Daughton's Silver Laced Wyandottes, and eight more are my friend Noreen's. My own personal order is a mix of meat and egg birds to start off the season with. I ordered ten Cornish Rocks and a mixture of Cuckoo Marans, Ameraucanas, Gold Polish and Brahmas. (I like a colorful egg basket and that pretty much covers the spectrum.)

I'm all set up now. The box is ready to rock with all the comforts a new bird could ask for. It has a clamped brooder light with a 250 watt bulb blasting heat (a small thermometer is right under it on the shavings to make sure I hit that magic number: 90). A new chick-sized feeder and water font are also set up and stocked. Right now is just a test run. I try to always set up my brooder and keep it going the night before the birds are due to arrive. This way I'll be able to track temperature changes into the night, see what works and what doesn't, and make sure all is well. I got my bag of chick grit, medicated feed, reference books, and high hopes. This time next Sunday a bunch of folks will be here at the farm to pick up some of these little guys and take them home to their own farms and backyards. Each person also gets a copy of my book Chick Days which features three laying hens from hatchlings to adults. In the book the birds are Amelia the Ameraucana, Tilda the Rhode Island Red, and Honey the Buff Orpington. So for the workshop everyone who attends will get the same breeds as in the book. I can't wait to introduce some readers to their first-ever chickens!

If you are coming to the workshop, this is what you should have ready:

Sunday (not Saturday!) March 6th 2011 10AM-4PM
No March 15th workshop! Everyone is coming on the 6th!

For my place:
Notebook and pen/business cards
Small cardboard box with pine shavings in it
Optional hot water bottle or
Heat packet in cloth pinned shut
Waterless Hand Sanitizer
Your appetite: we're having homemade pizza and pie

For your place:
Brooder (TV-sized cardboard box is fine!)
Pine shavings
Water font and chick feeder
Medicated chick feed (not laying hen feed!)
Chick grit

I say bring a notebook to jot down ideas, book titles, websites, and other Antler's phone numbers and email addresses. I think ten people are coming, possible more with spouses and friends so it should be quite the event! The small shoe box will be all you need to bring the peeps home. A source of heat inside is a plus, but for anyone just driving an hour or two you should be fine in a heated vehicle. I have no idea where you will all park. I am working on a shuttle from the vet's office at the bottom of the mountain up to the farm. In my mind March would mean spring. I was a damn fool. There's three feet of snow out there. We'll figure it out. Please leave a comment to let me know you are coming and how many of you there are.

Anyway, The post office in Cambridge will call me first thing tomorrow morning or Tuesday to come and pick up the packages of chicks. I'll drive them the 3 miles back to Cold Antler in the passenger seat of the heated up truck and then walk them into the dog-free laundry/wood stove room. There I will carefully remove each bird and dip its little beak in the water font (you need to do this, as birds aren't born knowing how to drink water). Then when each bird has been expected for a clean vent and bright eyes it will be free to explore it's warm new home. When all 84 are watered and examined my work is done until the font and feeder need changing. So I can just ooh and ahh at the chorus of little peeps. It's going to drive Jazz friggin' crazy. At least this brooder is husky-proof.

Expect adorable chick photos and updates soon! And all of you interested in future workshops, I plan on doing another one just like this Memorial Day Weekend. Any takers?


Blogger DarcC said...

I'll be there next Sunday! I knew your original announcement said the 6th!

February 27, 2011 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger BlueGate said...

What a gift you received! Friends like that are a prize to to know!
Now a cautionary tale so you can learn from our mistake. Please use extra care with the clamp-style heat lamps, we were using them as a little supplemental heat for our 3 mo. old pullets in December when they knocked the lamp into the freshly-changed bedding. We were in town, and while we were away, the coop burned to the ground with all 120 chicks. It was a horrible loss. An extra safety tether that keeps the lamp away from any flammables if it is knocked loose would have likely saved us from this accident, so please be aware and share with your chick initiates.

February 27, 2011 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Alli said...

Colin and I will be there!

February 27, 2011 at 5:02 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Bluegate: I worry about that all the time. I have it wired, clamped, and the cord tied to a fixture as well. I try to be extra safe. I worry like crazy

February 27, 2011 at 5:22 PM  
Blogger Helenistic said...

Hi. I will be there as long as the roads are passable.

February 27, 2011 at 5:47 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Still planning to be there, if Mother Nature can avoid any more little surprises, like the six inches of gluey wet snow she brought last night!

February 27, 2011 at 5:52 PM  
Blogger Sage said...

I will be there! So happy. The zoning ammendment allowing chicks in my neighborhood just passed, so my peeps will be sweet and legal!

February 27, 2011 at 6:25 PM  
Blogger Odie Langley said...

It sure is wonderful to have friends like that. You are blessed Jenna.

February 27, 2011 at 6:52 PM  
Blogger aerogramme said...

In your 84 chick description, you forgot the extra unknown male, have fun to determine is breed ;-0

February 27, 2011 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger BlueGate said...

I figured you were the extra conscientious type, but hoped that our experience can help others skip that terrible learning curve.
Best of luck with your new babies and your workshop!

February 27, 2011 at 8:18 PM  
Blogger Martha said...

Hi Jenna,
I'm interested in Memorial day weekend workshop if there's no room this weekend. Thanks,

February 27, 2011 at 9:43 PM  
Blogger Dayle said...

Can you show a better picture of the brooder so we can get some idea of how to copy it? Or maybe your friend has a sketch? It sounds wonderful....I just want a better look!!!!

February 27, 2011 at 10:54 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I'll post another picture in these comments today

February 28, 2011 at 6:40 AM  
Blogger Lorlee said...

When I was growing up, when the baby chicks came, my dad put them in round enclosures within the chicken coop so they wouldn't pack in the corners which they are some times prone today and in the process smothering each other.

February 28, 2011 at 3:32 PM  

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