by Leah Zerbe, an online editor at RodaleNews.com
The cyclical nature of life is perhaps nowhere more apparent than on a farm. The trusty tomato plants of summer are shriveled, brown, and barren by October; even the ragweed that plagued our fields and tested our patience all growing season have long disintegrated back into the earth by the autumnal equinox.
The animals we know and love? Sometimes they, too, come and go in what seems like the blink of an eye.
It was late February, during the final polar vortex in Pennsylvania, while still missing one of our roosters, who'd fallen victim to a fox attack several weeks earlier, when I popped my head in on my younger free-range flock. Startled, I jumped back when I saw what I thought was a tiny mouse wobbling toward the feeder.
I let my eyes adjust, and--oh, my gosh--it was a tiny, abandoned chick! It was 5 degrees out, and baby chicks need to be kept at 95 degrees to live, so I quickly scooped him up and brought him in the house.
Over the next few days, I gave him the heat he needed by wrapping a hot water bottle in a towel, where he comfortably would tuck himself in. In all honesty, though, he preferred to sit in the front pouch of the sweatshirts I wore, so that's where he stayed as we indulged in DVDs of Oscar-season movies over the next two weeks.
He literally cooed like a baby during 20 Seconds from Stardom. Gravity? Well, he didn't like that too much. Too stressful, I guess!
I created a makeshift brooder in an old Seventh Generation box for the first few days, but soon invested in an EcoGlow brooder--a safer, more efficient version of a heat lamp. A cardboard brooder from My Pet Chicken came next, giving him a much larger swath of my living room floor. (I put down thick plastic sheets over the floor and covered them in pine shavings.) I've raised chicks before but found some really helpful, new tricks in the My Pet Chicken Handbook.
The baby is, amazingly, 1 month old today! Gone are the adorable fluff feathers. Today, he (I guess I could say she, too. We don't know the sex yet.) is in a bit of an awkward stage and will look a little funky until all of his real feathers come in. He grew SO fast!
- In addition to organic chick feed, he also had Stonyfield organic plain yogurt treats to aid better digestion.
- Early on, he had crushed hard-boiled egg treats. It sounds weird, but it does help them eat better early on, and this boy was weak and cold when we found him and needed a boost.
- He loves snuggling under my hair by my ear. I wonder if it reminds him of Momma Hen feathers.
- If it's a hen, she will lay white eggs. We know this because her earlobes are white.
- If it warms up in the next week or two, we'll start making short supervised visits outside.
- In the next two to four weeks, we're going to start working on integrating him/her into one of our existing flocks. He/she can't live in my living room forever!
Leah Zerbe is online editor for Rodalenews.com. Prior to working at Rodale, she was the senior online editor at NBCPhiladelphia.com, where she headed up the station's online "Going Green" initiative, wrote about center city crime and traffic jams, and blogged about her beloved Philadelphia Phillies. She and her husband run a sustainable organic farm in Schuylkill County where they grow vegetables, strawberries, herbs, and flowers, and raise heritage breed chickens.
Chick photos by LA Adams Photography.
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com