Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Christmas Chick

We weren't really doing anything for Christmas this year. We gave up presents a few years back, and sometimes we take a trip, but money is tight this year and I'd had plans to have a surgery I ended up skipping, so I was supposed to be laid up for the holiday. It seems I never have the energy to decorate anymore - partly because it's a pain to haul all the stuff out by myself and pack it all up by myself, partly because decorations remind me of my dad and missing him gets depressing, and partly because cats and decorations are not particularly compatible. Sometimes I put up the fake tree and let the cats lay in the branches, but even that is a lot of work. Since I'm not into the religious or material/commercial aspects of Christmas, it leaves only the food and cookies. Cookies are a given - an excuse to make them is all I need. As for the food, I'm working on vegan or vegetarian main courses that we can look forward to....but that's hard to develop.

Anyway, I was geared up for basically nothing this year, skipping nearly every aspect of the holiday, when I got a call this morning. It seems that in the dead of winter, in the coldest week of the year, one lone baby chick was born. Someone called me and asked if I might be willing to take it on, along with its mom, as it was in her kitchen and couldn't really stay there. I am known to have a heated chicken coop (it's really just a very well insulated coop that has a heat lamp in it, so "heated" is a stretch, maybe "warmed"). I am also known to be a soft touch so big surprise - someone calls and wants me to take about any baby animal in, and I'm probably going to find a way to say YES.

As I thought about it, I didn't think I could possibly integrate the new hen and chick with my existing flock of four, for four main reasons. One, they need time to get to know each other and work out the pecking order and I don't want mom or baby getting pecked on by the others. That process takes about three weeks based on my limited experience, and I don't want to throw them in there without some get acquainted time and supervision. Two, the new hen could have mites or something that my current flock does not - they are clean and just molted and I'd like to keep them that way. While I have no reason to believe mom isn't healthy, observation and separation is a good idea for any newcomers. Three, the books I have say chicks need it to be about 90 degrees - which can be accomplished with warm temperatures and mom's wing, or a heat bulb. Clearly, teens and twenties would not work well - and if 60's can cause a fatal chick chill, no way I'm sending a chick a few days old out when it has no feathers and it's below freezing - warmed coop or no. Fourth, the chick is so small it can walk right through the chain link fence, so it would not be secure from predators and it could get separated from mom. So, clearly, I had to come up with an indoor setup for a few weeks.

I wanted to be able to reach in the top, and also have confidence the dogs and cats aren't going to have a snack, so I chose a dog crate. I lined it with cardboard, put in some wood shavings, and experimented with food and water bowls. I added a cardboard "nest box" that has some flaps so mom and baby can "hide" from the other pets if they want. I put it in the living room near the fire. And then I waited for the baby to arrive - as excited as any kid on Christmas morning.

And then they arrived. Momma hen turned out to be a bantam or bantam cross I think, she's about 2/3 the size of my hens. She's black and pretty. She lets me pet her and she makes a sound when she's nervous like she's telling herself it's going to be okay. The chick is black and its sex is unknown (I hope it's a girl so I can keep it; roosters aren't allowed in the city and I am not much for fertilized eggs either). Too soon to tell.

The cats lined up IMMEDIATELY, super intrigued. When I let the dogs in the cats had to switch to the crate roof. The dogs were super intrigued as well, especially Callie. She is addicted. She didn't even want to leave the chicken long enough to lick a macaroni and cheese pot, her favorite!!! All the pets love outdoor "chicken tv," but man oh man, they loooooooove indoor chick tv. The mom came from a place that has cats and dogs so she is not overly disturbed by them. The chick just peeps and sleeps, and stands on the feeder and pecks at the chick starter. Mom and baby are cute, warm, and welcome.

In case Callie's devotion bothered mom, I covered the crate with a blanket. The photos show Callie remaining dialed despite blanket, and momma and baby.

We get to have Christmas after all...in the form of a special chick. It brings newness, surprise, and joy to the house. Something to look forward to every day - not unlike foster kittens.

1 comment:

Sha and Michelle said...

Sounds Like An Awesome Christmas!