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Chickens

Posted 2/24/2014 10:30am by Monique Russ.

 

I’m mad, really mad. My husband, Ben, and I are very upset and unbelievably disappointed in our postal system.  

Over a month ago we ordered nearly 60 heritage breed egg laying chicks to add to our existing flock. The chicks hatched Wednesday morning, and were supposed to arrive no later than Friday morning. On Friday morning when the Gold Bar Post Office didn’t call us at 5:30am like they usually do when our chicks arrive we thought it was a little weird. Ben went down to the P.O. around 6:30am, but they hadn’t received any chicks yet, however, it was possible they could be on another incoming truck which was due to arrive by Noon. By 3pm we still hadn’t received our chicks, so Ben called the Post Office; no chicks, and no more shipments expected.  

Saturday morning around 11am we got a call from the Gold Bar Post Office saying that our chicks had just arrived at the Snohomish Post Office (which is over 20 miles away from us) and we needed to pick them up at the Monroe Post Office. (Normally Gold Bar P.O. drives to Snohomish P.O. to pick them up because Snohomish won’t deliver them to Gold Bar, but because it was a Saturday they didn’t have anyone available to pick them up. Instead, Monroe P.O. transported them to their own facility where we picked them up. It’s a convoluted and ridiculous process.) We drove there as fast as we could, but knowing that chicks can’t survive a trip that long we expected the worst.  

So, here’s a quick lesson on baby chicks and the shipping process…Just before a chick completely hatches it absorbs the yolk in the egg, and it can survive for 3 days on the yolk alone. They don't have to have food or water within the first 72 hours which makes it possible for hatcheries to be able to ship live chicks. To combat cold weather conditions a certain number of chicks must be shipped together in order to provide enough heat to ensure their survival. Without enough chicks to keep each other warm they develop hypothermia and die. If too many chicks start dying during shipment the remaining chicks' ability to maintain adequate body heat is drastically affected which results in more deaths. By Saturday the chicks we ordered were already 4 days old, so they were long past the shipping “window of opportunity.”  

When we walked into the Monroe Post Office we could hear some chirping, but it was faint and far quieter than it should have been. Ben and I already knew the odds of these chicks surviving were remote, and sure enough when we peeked into the box we saw numerous dead chicks. Naturally I got mad and I lost my cool. (I didn’t yell at anyone – it wasn’t their fault – but I was livid with the way these chicks had been handled.) Some guy overheard me and said “what’s the shelf life on those things?” The shelf life? Are you kidding me?! These aren’t canned goods people! These are live animals; living, breathing, fluffy balls of cuteness who are helplessly dependent on human care without their mothers. Dumbass!  

We got in the car, cranked the heat, and Ben raced us home. These poor baby birds were ice cold, so I forced some heat into their box by manipulating the cars heater vents. If a chick is too cold or suffering from hypothermia its digestive system shuts down, and its instincts to eat and drink are suppressed. (Most chicks actually die from dehydration and starvation which is a direct result of decreased body temperature.) So as soon as we got into the house we put them under heat lamps and then started giving them a water based electrolyte/vitamin solution and boiled egg yolks. This will seem controversial to some, but giving a chick a hard boiled yolk is the best and fastest way to save a baby. A yolk has all the proper nutrition that a chick needs to survive (which is why they can survive their first 3 days without food and water), and because it’s soft, easily digestible, and palatable chicks will readily consume it. It gives them an energy boost, triggers hunger, and gets them to eat the chick feed much faster.  

We spent the day trying to save as many birds as we could; the stronger ones ate the egg and drank the water on their own but most needed help. About 10 of the birds were dead when we picked them up at the post office Saturday morning, and many more have died in the last couple of days. It’s been a valiant effort on our part, but as of this morning only about a dozen babies are still hanging on. Out of nearly 60 chicks only about 12 survived this catastrophe. I can’t tell you how sad and frustrated we both are. It's awful to watch animals die despite your best efforts to save them and knowing there's nothing more you can do for them doesn't make it easier.  

The really sad part is that it’s not uncommon for entire shipments of chicks to die in transit or shortly after arrival. It’s so common in fact that the hatcheries don’t even need photo’s to file a claim. Most of these deaths are attributed to someone making a “mistake” – a tragic mistake that costs innocent animals their lives. Chicks can be very annoying in a post office because they chirp loudly, and when people get tired of hearing them it’s common practice to put them in a broom closet or office where they get forgotten about.

In our case the birds were last scanned in St. Paul, MN Wednesday night, so they were either left unattended in St. Paul or at the Seattle distribution center. There’s no electronic record after the St. Paul scan, so they’re not exactly sure where the “mistake” occurred. I can’t help but wonder if postal employees would take the shipment of live animals more seriously if they were cute kittens or puppies. Regardless, this was tragic, senseless, beyond heartbreaking, and it could have all been avoided if someone would have done their job right and followed proper protocols.  

At least we were able to save some of them, but the whole experience has just proven how broken the mail system really is. Until we can afford to buy more incubators and master the art of hatching our own chicks we are forced to buy from hatcheries, and the danger of losing chicks in shipment is a threat our farm will continue to face. In the 3-4 years that we’ve been ordering chicks this is the first time we’ve ever experienced this type of loss, and hopefully it will be our last. Unfortunately, yesterday we heard that several other people have been experiencing the same situation we just went through.

Our end goal has always been to hatch our own chicks; some via an incubator and some the good old fashioned way - raised by momma herself. Unfortunately, not all hens have a deep desire to sit on a clutch of eggs. In the last year we’ve purchased two incubators, increased our parent stock, and started hatching some of our own chicks. It’ll likely be a few years, but we can’t wait for the day when we can say that all chicks we raised were born on our farm. In the meantime, these rugged, tough, and strong little girls who survived the odds will be given lots of love and they'll go on to live happy, healthy lives.

Posted 2/10/2013 4:21pm by Monique Russ.

Violet

This evening when my husband headed out thru the pasture to feed the feeder pigs in the woodlands nothing seemed out of the ordinary. All of the chickens and adult pigs seemed happy and content. On my way out to help I noticed my husband petting one of our turkens and I thought nothing of it. As I walked through the barn I saw it wasn’t a turken after all. He had just found Violet, our Buff Orpington rooster, dead.

I ran out and scooped him up and started crying because Violet is the only bird on our farm I considered a pet. We thoroughly checked him out and found nothing awry, and it almost looks as though he just died of old age. However, Violet is barely 2 years old and chickens can live 7-8 years or longer if well cared for. When my husband found him one of our nasty little turkey hens was beating on his head, and she can be an aggressive bird at times. She’s actually not one we plan to keep for breeding. I have to assume that somehow she killed him, but I’m not sure how because he had no marks on him.

At one time Violet was top cock, so he’s been in some pretty good scraps, and he was a tough boy. He was finally overtaken by our Barred Rock rooster, Hannibal, earlier last year, and that was a hell of a nasty fight because both birds were bloody and beat up after it. When Buff Orpingtons are kept in a mixed breed flock which ours is, they are usually “low man on the pole,” because they are so docile and friendly. So, this turkey hen was definitely big and powerful enough to do some damage especially if one of the big toms got involved, but I’m still skeptical. In all honestly I’ll probably never know. (We check our birds regularly for sickness, diseases, and injuries and there’s absolutely no sign that was a factor.)

He was a gorgeous, elegant, and stately rooster. He was incredibly photogenic, and friendly enough I could pet and pick him up. I remember when we first got him he was being picked on by the other baby chicks so much that his little bottom was bloody. I pulled him out of the nursery and put this herbal medication on him which turned his butt purple. (That’s how he got his name.) While he was in our house he would follow me all over the place and even chill out on my foot, and when he couldn’t see me he would cry. He was a cute little bird, and I knew he would be one to keep as a pet.

Now, I don’t have many pets on our farm, in fact I only have one “pet” for each type of animal we raise, and it would only ever be one that’s kept for breeding. Our bull, Rocky, is my favorite bovine, Miss Pig Pig is without a doubt our pet pig with Brody as a close second, and Violet was my pet chicken. I don’t have a favorite turkey. It’s a tough job raising animals, especially the way we do, and allowing myself to have one pet is what makes it easier for me to raise them for food. It’s not anything like losing a dog or a cat, but at the end of the day I’m saddened by his death, and I’ll miss his presence.

Tags: Chickens, Pets
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