Hand-Raising Awesome Chicks

Passing along my brooder to another chicken-keeping friend has me feeling a little sentimental.

My friend Nicole just came over with her most excellent kid to borrow my homemade chick brooder. Much as parents swoon over their kids’ baby pictures as they pack the car to send them off to college, I swooned over the tiny chick-raising accessories tucked inside.

There was the itty-bitty waterer, tiny enough so that the little puffballs wouldn’t drown themselves in it. There was the little feeder trough with the cover, so they wouldn’t get in it and kick all the food out. And the thermometer, so I could make sure the temp in the blue plastic tote was just right.

Awwww …

But what I remember most isn’t the adorable chick gear, but how great it was to raise them from babies. We bought them at a day old from the feed store and brought them home in a small cardboard box that seemed to amplify their peeping. We had the brooder all set up, including a wire mesh top to keep the cats at bay. When we placed them in their new home, they bopped around madly, knocking into one another, climbing over one another, and tottering around in the shavings until they all fell asleep.

Up until the moment I saw The Girls sleep for the very first time, I had some vague idea that even tiny chicks would sleep in some kind of a perch shape, feet neatly tucked under, heads perhaps hiding under a wing.

Boy, was I wrong.

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They sleep like puppies, sprawled out face down, upside down, and every which way. Cutest dang thing I’ve ever seen. And they sleep a lot, which made it easy to follow the one directive that I credit for making our hens so friendly: Pick them up, and hold them until they fall asleep. Put them back in the brooder. Repeat several times a day.

The other trick was treats. Lots and lots. Two years later, when they hear me come out the front door, they come rushing, looking to see what I might have that is delicious. Yep, they’re spoiled. But they’re also genuinely friendly. Cabbage and one of the Patty Lavernes, in particular, are fond of being carried around while I check on the fruit trees or go down to dump something in the compost. If I sit down outside to read, one of them is bound to hop up on the arm of my chair, or into my lap, just for the heck of it. If I have to catch them to put them away before their usual bedtime, it’s a piece of cake. Even Soupy, who appears to like to evade capture for the sheer sport of it, doesn’t put up too much of an argument these days. She likes to hang back so she can get the biggest treat before getting stuffed back into the coop.

The extra attention we gave them when they were just nuggets paid off big time. Everyone in the family loves to sit outside with the chickens. Except at dinnertime, if we eat outside. Have you ever had a chicken hop into your plate? Not cool.

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