Photo by Rachel Hurd Anger
A chicken’s journey around the circle of life can be a short one on any farm, whether rural or urban. Flock members can fall victim to acute illness, unexplained sudden death, human negligence and predators. These devastations can happen before a chicken reaches a ripe old age, despite the fact that they can live long lives. Every chicken keeper must consider chicken disposal from the get-go.
In an urban micro-flock—five hens in my case—the loss of just one bird is 20 percent of the flock. That’s a substantial loss, one that totals about a half-dozen eggs per week, not to mention a significant hit to the flock dynamic.
My flock will reach its fourth hatchday in September. In anticipation of the old biddies dwindling, I made the decision to increase the size of my flock by three: the minimum number of chicks I can have shipped to my post office. I placed my chick order in December, when 2014’s available breeds hit the online marketplace like an endless chicken and egg buffet. I knew I wanted the Lavender Orpington and Speckled Sussex, but choosing the third wasn’t as easy. I finally decided on the Light Brown Leghorn. Her sweet stature and smaller eggs cooed to me.
Only a few weeks after placing my order, my favorite hen and head of the flock, Mabel, a Red Star, became a sudden victim of the unusually harsh winter.
My flock dwindled by 20 percent.
A Somber Hatchday
We waited six months for our babies to arrive, and when the post office finally called 5 weeks ago, the kids and I dashed to bring them home. But, our excitement was DOA. The Speckled Sussex and Light Brown Leghorn lay dead in the shipping box. The Lavender Orpington lost her battle just two hours later. She never peeped. She never stood on her feet. Our chick order was a total loss.
Human error was the cause of death. After I’d buried the chicks, I didn’t notice chicken poop in the box. I flipped over the heat pack and found poop on the underside. I concluded that the box was either knocked around or dropped, and that the chicks were likely hit with the heat pack. The pack became a major point of contention in a call with the nice folks at My Pet Chicken. Nevertheless, the United States Postal Service has handled baby chicks for more than 100 years, with the majority of packages delivered successfully and with great care.
Prepare Yourself for Loss
The urban farm eventually becomes a pet cemetery, which is difficult to imagine with the long life of a flock ahead of itself. My backyard holds a cat, a full-grown hen, and now three baby chicks.
Regardless of the size of your backyard, do plan ahead for disposal. It’s true that chickens can live long lives, but unexplained deaths do happen, and human negligence, even our own, can happen just as easily.
Continuing the Circle
Because we lost our chicks in June, I wasn’t able to order a replacement of all the breeds I’d ordered in December. I was able to order another Speckled Sussex, but the Lavender Orpington wasn’t available. Joining the Speckled Sussex in my new shipment due next week are an Easter Egger and a Golden Laced Wyandotte, plus two Buff Orpingtons I’ll raise to pullets for a friend.
I’m feeling a bit guarded this time around, but I’m thinking good thoughts and wishing safe travels for five chirping peeps to arrive at my post office on Tuesday.