Well, almost three weeks. As I type this we’ve had the meat peeps 19 days, which means that they are 20 or 21 days old. Everyone has primary wing feathers and the beginnings of a tail. Feathers are starting to sprout on their backs and on the fronts of their wings. As Matt says whenever he hovers over the brooder: “Damn, they’re ugly.”
When I picked them up on the 8th I was able to secure two per handful as I scooped them out of the cat carrier and put them in their brooder. A week later I could only safely carry one per hand. Now when I lift them out to replace their litter they are coming dangerously close to squirming out of my hand, and they are as heavy as kittens.
I’ve started switching them over to “real” food. The back of the bag says they should be on adult food almost immediately, but one of my books says to keep them on chick starter until slaughter (since their lives are pretty short anyway). Given that the starter is medicated and I don’t want them to have antibiotics in their systems when we eat them, I’ve decided to essentially split the difference and follow the feed store girl’s advice and switch them over at two weeks. Good timing, too – it’s day three of the switchover and I have only a few cups left of the starter.
Matt had the idea of not naming but numbering the chickens. I thought this meant that he wanted to put leg bands on them or something – but apparently what he meant was that they would be numbered one at a time as soon as they achieved the only distinguishing characteristic that they are capable of: illness or death (like in Project Mayhem in Fight Club). I can’t explain the man; I’m just married to him. Regardless of the logic of the plan, it has been enacted. A few days ago one chick developed a slight limp. “There’s Number One,” announced Matt.
The chick’s legs and toes seemed just fine except for one discolored toenail. When I picked him up and inspected his appendages he made little “fists” just as well as any of his siblings and didn’t have any swelling or redness. By the next day the limp was more pronounced but he was still visiting the feeder and waterer regularly, though it was pretty easy for his brooder mates to topple him. By day three, all he wants to do is sleep. When I pick him up and set him back down he stands – though a little splay-leggedly – and takes a few steps, but then he just sits down with an air of resignation. He slept in the corner of the brooder farthest from the commotion all yesterday morning, largely undisturbed. I got worried that he wasn’t able to compete with his increasingly rambunctious (read: manic) siblings and that if his foot didn’t improve soon he might starve or die of dehydration, so I isolated him. I put it off until now because chickens are very social and I figured that being away from his brothers and sisters would just add to his stress. He has his own little box with fluffy litter and tiny little water and food dishes, but he largely ignores them, preferring to sleep with his back to them no matter how many times I move them right under his beak. Maybe all this sleep without the regular trampling he was getting in the big box will bring him around, or maybe I acted too late. We’ll see.
I’m trying not to hold out too much hope, because as all chicken books will tell you chicks sometimes just drop dead for no apparent reason, but I can’t stop thinking about Cordon Bleu. We don’t know what happened to Cordon Bleu, but our theory is that she tried to roost outside the coop on the window box and fell down in the middle of the night in the cold rain. When I found her the next morning she looked like a drowned rat and couldn’t straighten up to run away from me – she just sort of scuttled along the ground feebly. I put her into a straw-lined cat carrier (which I positioned in a dry, covered corner of the chicken yard so she could still have her sisters for company) and gave her her own food and water and tried to leave her alone for a while. By lunchtime she was rarin’ to get out of that carrier and by dinnertime she’d laid her first egg.
Somehow I don’t think that’s Number One’s future, but you never can tell with chickens.