Cocks’ Combs & The Taming Process

After two gloomy posts in a row, I do want you to know that all in all, the babies are doing quite well. As I mentioned before, it is extremely rare for an entire batch of chicks to make it to adulthood, so we shouldn’t dwell on the negatives.

Combs

It is unbelievable to me how quickly they are growing – they literally change by the hour. Their wing feathers are very noticeable now on all of them. By yesterday afternoon, we could see the beginnings of little combs growing on three of the Marans. The best picture I could get of it is above. If you squint and look really closely, you might be able to see the little, tiny ridge of bumps forming in a line down his beak. Below is another picture – I really don’t think you can see it in that one, but it’s still cute so I thought I’d post it anyway.

Now, we’ve established that I’ve never had chickens before and that all my knowledge has come from books and websites and a little from my parents. We have also established that it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the sexes of young chicks and even experts are accurate only 80% to 90% of the time. However, I have read that sometimes defining characteristics begin to show themselves on certain breeds within the first week of life. Since the Marans were stright run and I have six of them and three of the six are distinctly showing comb growth while the others are distinctly not, I am going to guess that one group of three is one sex and the other group of three is the other. Only time will tell, but I am placing my money on the ones with combs as cockerels (boys). Apparently some breeds that are particularly good for egg-laying develop early combs in pullets (girls) as well, but since this group is definitely half and half now, I’m guessing it’s a defining characteristic. Cockerels generally develop combs and wattles before pullets. So there you go. I will keep you posted.

Taming

I have to apologize for the mostly terrible pictures so far. The red heat lamp makes for terrible lighting and I can’t seem to get them out from under it much anymore, much less pick them up and hold them. I have used flash to make the pictures much better, but I’m afraid that the flash scares them even more. The babies are naturally terrified of gigantic, noisy, lumbering creatures such as ourselves. This I knew, but in all my reading I’ve never come across specific instructions for taming them. They all just said that chickens generally make for good pets and they will get used to you and think of you as their “mama” and follow you around and some will even enjoy being held and petted. In light of this, I just assumed that if I picked them up, they would quickly calm down and realize that my hand was a nice, warm, comfy, safe place to hang out. I was wrong. You know how in Monday’s post I said that all of them except the Ameraucanas seemed not to mind being held? Yeah, scratch that. Once they were about 24 hours older than that, and bigger and feeling more recovered from their trip through the mail, they were all terrified of me. Now if I do anything like lean over the brooder or reach in to pick up a feeder or waterer, this is what happens:

They all run screaming into one corner and smash each other up against the walls in terror. Now when I catch one (if I can), in order to clean off it’s bottom, it screams bloody murder the entire time and tries its darndest to leap from my hand. Clearly death would be better than being held by me. This was upsetting me… was I doing something wrong? Did I inadvertantly handle their first days in a way that scarred them for life? Help! Well, so I finally decided to research the subject online. There is surprisingly little info out there on this topic and it is not so easy to find because any Google seach with the word “chick” in it is bound to bring up about 90% porn. But, in the end, I found a little amateur site made by a nice young girl who grew up raising backyard chickens with her dad. Go here if you would like to check it out.

It turns out that this is all normal behavior for chicks that you did not hatch yourself. The key is to get them used to your hand and to reward them for coming to you when you call. The first few days are tricky because the babies really can’t eat anything but chick crumbles, so you can’t really offer them anything more exciting as a treat. Still, I have already made good progress by holding some crumbles in my open hand and placing it in the brooder. Every time I move my arm into or out of the box, they are terrified. BUT, most of the soon figured out that my hand held food (albeit the same food that is in their much-less-scary feeders only inches away) and they happily hopped over and started eating from my hand. This is a step in the right direction.

It is interesting to me that it seems to be the same chicks each time that are willing to come over and eat out of my hand. It is three of the Marans, one of the Buffs, the Buff Amer., the Cool-Looking One, the Amer that I am temporarily calling “Owl” (because that’s what she (he?) looks like), and sometimes the Mystery Chick. By the way, in the picture above with all the chicks huddled together, you have a great view of the color difference between the Mystery Chick and the other Buffs. He/she is a totally different color. Anyway, one of the Marans is now the boldest and hardly moves away when I lower my arm into the brooder and he doesn’t hesitate to come start eating from my hand. He also like to hop on and stand on my hand and peck at my ring because it’s nice and shiny.

So, I am excited. Since they got their first grit today, they should be able to have treats other than crumbles starting tomorrow, I think. Grass clippings, foods in the cabbage family, and bugs – particularly earthworms – are supposed to be favorites and OK for them to eat at this young age. In theory, they will be far more thrilled with the treats than the crumbles and will quickly learn to run to me rather than from me in order to get the treats. Wish me luck and I’ll keep you posted!

Learning To Be Chickens

It is also incredible to me how quickly they are learning to act like big chickens. Several of them have discovered the long-standing favorite chicken pastime of scratching – and BOY do they love it. The ones that do it will stand in a spot and scratch at high-speed with all their might until they have flung wood shavings all the way across the brooder and into the feeders and waterers and all over their friends. I went upstairs just before lunch today to find that a group of three of them had been busy scratching at a single spot on the floor. They had managed to dig a large hole all the way down to the cardboard and were busy scratching and pecking at the cardboard floor, disappointed that they couldn’t go any deeper. At this point I have to reiterate that so far all the hype has been true – chickens are great entertainment.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s