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chicks

Posted 3/2/2014 9:52pm by Monique Russ.

Our chick nursery

My hubby and I are no strangers to the school of hard knocks just the same as Gold Bar is no stranger to severe wind storms, and for the past couple of weeks we’ve been enduring one of these relentless storms. The winds are none stop, and it’s not just a little windy - we’re talking constant wind around 35-40 mph with gusts well over 50 mph and probably close to 70mph at times. The winds shake the house and rattle the windows, blow over rod iron garden furniture, knock over full garbage cans, and it’s even been strong enough to blow our quad a few feet when it’s been left in neutral.  

Back in 2009 Gold Bar was even mentioned on the news for having a snow hurricane; whiteout conditions, 100+ mph winds and 6 foot snow drifts. This was the winter the Puget Sound got hit with a massive storm that knocked out power to thousands of people for several days. We were one such household, and back then we didn’t have an alternate source of heat, light, etc. That was the year we bought our generator and indoor-safe portable propane heaters. However, in 2010 Snohomish PUD re-routed our power, and even though we’ve had several nasty storms since then our power has never been out for more than a couple of minutes.  

Most wind storms are harmless and just knock down some branches here and there, but Saturday’s storm nearly killed all of our meat birds and baby chicks…  

Saturday night we went out to dinner and hung out with family for several hours, so we ended up getting home around 12:30am which is something we don’t normally ever do. (Normally we’re so tired from all of the hard work that we’re passed out long before then.) As we pulled into Gold Bar we realized something was off..it was dark, too dark. When we realized everyone’s power was out panic instantly set in. The chicks!!  

We currently have nearly 300 baby chicks on the farm right now; mostly meat birds which will be sold later this year. The meat bird chicks which are housed in an enclosed stall in our barn are only 4 weeks old, and in another room we have approximately 75 egg layer chicks that are less than 2 weeks old. All of the chicks are still too young to survive out on pasture with the other birds. Their feathers haven’t come in yet, and until they do they need supplemental heat to survive, so they are in large heated stalls. Unfortunately, our main heat source for the chicks is electric based, so with the power out there’s no heat to keep these babies warm. No electric, no heat, no ability to keep the babies alive.  

As soon as we got home we raced out to the barn and peeked in on the chicks. Thankfully the power must have just gone out because they were all still warm and sleeping. However, it was snowing (it snowed all weekend), temps were below freezing, and with the wind those rooms would lose heat rapidly. We needed to get our backup plan up and running; our generator. Guess what! The damn thing wouldn’t start!! (That’s MoBen law – Murphy ain’t got nothing on us.) Ben had just performed maintenance on it, and had it running last week just to make sure it was still working properly, so why in the heck wouldn’t it start?! So, our only hope…put the chicks in the farrowing stall.  

In the winter our sows farrow (deliver) their babies in a heated stall in our barn to help reduce baby pig losses from the freezing temps. The stall is heated using a thermostatically controlled propane radiant heater and Miss Pig Pig, who is due to deliver babies in the next couple of days, was comfortably asleep in there. In order to put all the chicks in there we had to kick Pig Pig out (she would have crushed them) and she was not a happy camper that she was losing her stall at 1am in the morning. (She still had a huge covered area with straw sheltering her from the wind.) By the time we got Pig Pig situated, the heater started, and the room ready for the chicks we had already lost 7 birds to the cold.  

At 2:30am we finally crawled into bed. Not half an hour later the power came back on - Thank God!! I was so worried about the chicks and Miss Pig Pig that I didn’t get much sleep, so 3 hours later we got up and headed out to the barn expecting to find the worse…lots of dead chicks. (When chicks get cold they pile on top of each another and oftentimes inadvertently suffocate one another so the cold temps weren’t the only concern here.) Miraculously we didn’t lose a single chick! Amazing! We successfully avoided a major catastrophe and we felt very blessed that this didn’t turn out much worse. I don't even want to think about what could have happened if the power had gone out hours before we got home.  

After checking on the chicks we started checking out the rest of the farm and we realized just how bad the wind had gotten…it ripped off the roof on one of our egg layer houses. Fortunately, all the ladies and roosters were fine and no major damage was caused but now we have another project to add to the list. After walking the woodlands and seeing that the rest of the animals were safe and snuggled up in their houses we feel we got pretty lucky.  

So, another storm another lesson learned. Never rely on a generator, and always have a contingency plan in case your backup fails when raising animals. Farming is a constant learning process, and once again, the animals and Mother Nature have proven to be our best teachers.

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.

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