Three ways chickens will freak you out April 6, 2012
When I first started keeping chickens—or as my daughter likes to say, “way back in the olden days”—I was easily freaked out by their behaviors. Like, all the time. Seriously. For a while it seemed to happen at least once a week. Now, it’s not that I didn’t inform myself beforehand about what to expect; it’s more that when actually confronted with what I’d read about, it was way different than what I’d imagined.
For example, if you’ve never seen a hen dust bathing, the first time it happens, it will give you the heebie jeebies. After all, when you initially get your hens, you may have read that they like to dust bathe, you may remember it, and you may look forward to seeing it, even. But when you actually walk outside and see a group of your hens flopping around in the dirt—all uncoordinated wings and feet, as if they’ve had their necks broken—well, dust bathing is just not always the first thing you think of. It looks more like a seizure. Worse, they’ll flop around a while as you stand there with your heart in your throat, then stop flopping at all. DEAD, you think! As you try to gather your wits to figure out what to do, and what may have happened—Predator attack? Sudden illness? Are there any survivors?—they may start flopping again, and you think with horror, “Sweet suffering babies, the poor things are still alive!”
Even sun bathing, while not quite so violent-looking as dust bathing, can be more than a little disturbing. I remember walking out into the yard one summer day to come across something that stopped my breath.
Like Scarlett O’Hara viewing the casualties from the Battle of Atlanta, when I saw the scope of the devastation, my heart dropped. Everyone lay on their sides, wings askew, all lined up unmoving, like casualties of war
But my worst terror was my very first!
A little background, first. Hatching a batch of baby chicks is, in itself, very stressful, and especially so if it’s your first. In the “olden days,” I had a simple styrofoam-type incubator without a fan or egg turner. Waiting 21 days is always excruciating, and this first time I was so worried that I would do something wrong, or that the temperature would spike, or that the power would go out, or that one of the million bad things that could happen, would happen. As it turned out, I had an okay hatch for a beginner trying with shipped eggs: 8 out of 18. I was so relieved! After the chicks had mostly dried, I put them in their warm, safe prepared brooder. Then I went back to candle the remaining eggs to see if any additional chicks would be forthcoming, perhaps late. However, there was nothing. So, I discarded the undeveloped eggs, sanitized the incubator, cleaned up and went back into the brooder room to see how everyone was doing. I was so relieved after three weeks of worry that I was actually successful at hatching my own chicks in a home incubator.
But, DISASTER! The chicks were unmoving. They looked as if they’d been scattered into the brooder, just tossed, and lay in various awkward positions as if dead. One of them actually lay belly up, its little twiggy legs in the air.
I took a few moments to get a hold of myself, and then finally I reached into the brooder tearfully and with a shaky hand to remove the dead babies, horrified, wondering how I’d killed them. My mind went over everything; I had checked the temperature of the brooder just 20 minutes ago, and it still looked good. Could the thermometer be so off? Had they died of some illness? Was there something wrong with the food? But as my hand touched the first one, it jumped up with a surprised peep, and rushing through the brooder, awakened and refreshed, it roused all the others. They began running around as if nothing had happened at all. Even the one on its back.
They were fine. In fact, they’d just been asleep in the warmth of the heat lamp. And as I watched them for a while trying to catch my breath and get a hold of myself, they one by one plopped over again to sleep… with the same one rolling over on its back. WHAT?
So, okay. Apparently that’s normal after all.
Now, after having had my chickens for years, I seldom get too worried unless something is actually wrong. (I’m kind of afraid to say that; will it jinx me?) But what unreasonable terrors did YOU had with your chickens when you first started? I’ve only covered three. Please share your own story in the comments!