The Little Chicks are Thriving!

So excited to report that the little chicks, who were such a sad sight only 10 days ago are now vigorous and thriving!

The turning point seemed to be when they began to eat the chickweed. Now whenever I come to the brooder cage and speak to them, they run to the clothes pin, where I clip the weed. They pull and tug. Still scruffy looking but getting rounder every day.

The turning point seemed to be when they began to eat the chickweed. Now whenever I come to the brooder cage and speak to them, they run to the clothes pin, where I clip the weed. They pull and tug. Still scruffy looking but getting rounder every day.

I have learned to pay close attention to their behavior when I bring them home, and to make certain they are drinking first before introducing food. I also plan to purchase my chicks a month later, if possible, and not to get any until I have room to take on 4 or more. Chicks seems to do better in higher numbers. They are flock creatures, after all. I will do as one woman said: “Always watch to choose the most active chicks.”

And once again I have learned that it is good not to give up, and that we can start over any time.

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.” ~Anonymous

Sick Chicks

chicks Our two little sickly Barred Rocks are 41 days old today. They look about three weeks old, spend a great deal of time with their two little beaks burrowed into the corner of the brooder cage in the sunny and warm garden room. They still do not get on a perch, nor show any interest in mealy worm treats or fresh picked chickweed. They do peep around in the mornings, are eating their starter feed again, and no longer have diarrhea. They look like they went through a agitator washer and were blow dried on high. Poor little things.

These chicks did not eat well from the time I brought them home. My mistake was to not pay close enough attention to the signs and make adjustments from that first moment. I’ve learned a number of things I could have done then, but that time is past. I deal with where we are now in this adventure. Here are adjustments I’ve made:

    • I’ve gotten vigilant with my gluten-free starter recipe, following as closely as possible the recipe given in Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, by Gail Damerow. That recipe gives options from feedstuffs one might have readily available and wheat is easily avoided. 
    • I was thrilled to discover a nutrition booster product that doesn’t contain wheat or soy–Farmers’ Helper Ultra Kibble for Chicks. I think this is evidence that the producer knows people are trending away from these overly used feeds. The Ultra Kibble is mixed in with your basic feed at varying ratios. I increased the ratio, using it partially as the fish meal recommended in the Storey’s Guide recipe.
    • I became vigilant about using baby grit. I had not bothered with it in the first weeks, as I had listened to advice that it was not needed in the first weeks when the chicks did not consume whole grains. But I used it with the first flock I raised and didn’t have any trouble with those chicks, so I’m using it now.
    • I am also again putting tiny bits of fresh chopped garlic in the water each day. That was something else I did with my first little flock. Garlic is a natural antibiotic. I had put this in the chicks water the first days when I brought them home, but as the chicks seemed to not eat or drink well, I had stopped, thinking they did not like the taste. I watched them this morning, and they are drinking the water just fine.

chick at 39 daysA quote reported from the Talmud: “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.'” I have done that with newly planted rose bushes, and so I do now with these little chicks, then leave it in God’s hands.


Our Gluten-Free Chicken Adventure at One Year

We come to the first year anniversary of our adventure in raising chickens and feeding gluten-free. The line from Monty Python’s Holy Grail movie springs to mind: “We’re not dead yet.”

Could they really have been so tiny? Oh, how I worried, would even get up in the night to check on them.

Could they really have been so tiny? Oh, how I worried, would even get up in the night to check on them.

Last year at this time we were preparing for our first ever chicks, and discovered with sizable dismay and discouragement that all commercial chicken feed contains wheat. I have celiac disease, an auto-immune condition that makes me sick if I get even micro amounts of gluten protein from wheat, barley, rye grains. I almost died of it. Those were hard years. Only by maintaining a strict gluten-free environment have I reached my current good health, which I do not take for granted. My husband and I looked at each other. Dark clouds grew over our heads, filled with pictures of wheat gluten on hands, beneath fingernails, tracked on shoes, billowing all over our yard and house. Ingesting even a speck of the feed could put me under. No, we could risk it. An alternative would have to be found.

All the so-called experts say, “get a good commercial feed,” and with the attitude that should you do anything else, you are asking for trouble, that your chickens will die, or be inferior, which to them is the same thing.

Thankfully there are people with years of experience at raising backyard and small farm flocks the old-fashioned way on grains and seeds, and who are generous enough to share their knowledge. I scoured the web and books and thought back to my great-Uncle Willy, a farmer who was, shall we say, thrifty, and raising chickens in the early part of the 1900s; I seriously doubted he used commercial feed, a fairly modern phenomenon that came on like gang-busters in the affluent and industrial time after WWII.  My uncle raised mainly corn and milo; I eat some corn and a whole lot of milo, in the form of sorghum flour. Works for me. I devised my own feed– you can find recipes and links here. [Edited: you can find gluten-free chick starter mash recipes here.]

 I have been making all my own feeds going on 10 years, with results more than satisfactory to me, but cannot pretend to be an expert in the field of poultry nutrition, and indeed consider every one of my formulations a snapshot of a moving target-that is, an ongoing experiment. ~Harvey Ussery

Our Elvira turned up unable to walk at 8 months. I considered killing her, didn't, soaked her feet, coddled her for weeks, in which she never stopped laying eggs, and today she walks stiffly but still rules the other girls, and lays daily.

Our Elvira turned up unable to walk at 8 months. I considered killing her, didn’t, soaked her feet, coddled her for weeks, in which she never stopped laying eggs, and today she walks stiffly but still rules the other girls, and lays daily.

Do I get as many eggs as those fed on commercial egg-laying ration? I have no way to tell. I just this week began to record the number of eggs I’m getting and from which girls. Thus far, from eight hens–2 each Ameraucana, Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red– I will get 4-7 eggs a day. My girls have a fair sized yard they roam, and each evening they are let out into our pecan orchard to forage beneath trees and in leaf piles for an hour. The shells on the girls’ eggs are so hard you have to really hit them to crack them. We have had no breaking of eggs, even when they are kicked from the nest, no pecking out each other’s feathers or any other annoying behaviors. I have not wormed them, either. I guess I’m firmly in the natural path of pumpkin and other squash seeds and garlic as natural wormers. So far all are fat and sassy.

As Mr. Ussery says above, I cannot pretend to be an expert, but my results are thus far satisfactory to me. I’m still learning, still experimenting, but the chicks and I are not dead yet, and in fact, we are walking in tall cotton, as they say down here in the South. Proud girls with tail feathers high.

I’ll Let You Know How It All Turns Out

So…my cutting from Aunt Winnie’s gardenia bush, of which I proudly blogged here, is now this discouraging stick.

And this morning we found our dear Elvira flopping down with an injured right leg. She seems to be in the same condition as happened to our precious Princess Puny when Puny was only a week old.

Here is what I have done:

Right beside my little stick of Aunt Winnie’s gardenia, I have placed this pot of a successfully rooted cutting from one of my own gardenia bushes. I thought it might encourage the stick. It does encourage me. Plan B will be to send for another cutting in the spring and try again.

Those of you who follow this blog may remembering our little Princess Puny, who at just over a week had an injured leg, hip, something that had her flopped over. This little photo is of when she could stand but not walk.

I went out and took a photo of Princes Puny now to remind me of miraculous recovery. 

I am deliberately expecting the best on both counts. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it. ~ W. Somerset Maugham

Starting Monday Out Right with the Now Two-Legged Midget Chick and Her Big Sisters

The chicks turned seven weeks old on Thursday, and I breathed a sigh of relief. They were not only still alive, but thriving. I had read weeks ago on a forum someone's tale of their chicks up and dying at seven weeks and they did not know why. This sent me at high speed into dark imaginings. I then and there quit reading on chicken forums.

Our little Princess Puny, special needs chick. At about half the size of the rest in the flock, she nevertheless continues to grow, at her own pace and time. She uses both legs now, walks and runs around the extended area of the chicken run, although she does not perch. Managing the ramp to the hen house was a slow challenge for her. She finds it best to fly up and down. She remains smaller and, well, puny, but there has been no picking on her by the other chicks at all. For a time one of the Buff Orpingtons seems to be a companion by her side.

A better picture of Princess Puny and her Big Sister, to show their differences in size, as well as the shape of their heads. Puny's head remains a round ball.

We enjoy all the chicks, but little Princess Puny is a special delight. She reminds me of the power of just keeping on, and then laying down when you’re tired, getting up again and pressing on, doing what you can do, being a blessing as just who and what you are.

Commitment to our unique way of life, then is our task today and every day. It is not to be undertaken for our self-improvement, nor for salvation of the world or society, but simply because we can do no other if we are to be true to the individual hypothesis of our lives. ~Helen M. Luke

Starting Monday out right…
Dear God, help me to see see clearly my talents and all the magnificent possibilities extended before me. Give me the courage to use them, day by day. So it is. Amen.

Another Chicken Hurdle in Progress– looking for gluten-free feed

The coop progresses. All a learning experience. My husband is a saint.

My son telephoned. “How’s the chicken coop building comin’ along?”

“Good…only we discovered that all the chicken feed has wheat and barley in it.”

“Oh, yeah?” Great laughter ensues on the other end of the line. “You know, I guess you could expect that. I just never thought of it. Can’t you use gloves…oh, man, the dust.”


I asked a gluten-intolerant friend how she handled the feed. She uses the commercial chicken starter crumbles and pellets, all with wheat, and doesn’t have too much of a problem. Her husband empties the pellets into a container for her, to hold down her exposure to the dust.

I thought: Okay, I can do that.

But I could not be easy about it. The feed–chick starter, grain, and pellet– contain what is known as wheat middlings. This is ground everything from the wheat kernel, and lots of dust. It would be around our place. I’d be cleaning the baby chicks’s cage daily, with the feed all over the newspapers and the chicks themselves. Might as well be putting poison all over and expect me to be just fine. Maybe I would wear a haz-mat suit?

Dear husband and I researched, and researched. I found a  commercial feed company that made a feed without wheat and barley, only the company was all the way out in California; price and shipping precluded this option. I actually discovered several other celiacs who wanted to raise chickens and had the same concerns. One woman chicken-raiser had discovered her celiac and that of her child last year. Being unwilling to expose gluten-containing feed to her child, she had started her spring chicks in the hen house, only to lose them to a predator.

We found more and varied homemade feed recipes than Carter has pills, and all but a couple contained wheat and barley, and most recipes seemed complicated beyond measure. Now, just where does one buy dried kelp? How natural is that for a chicken to eat?

I came to Greener Pastures website, whose author, Ronda Jemtegaard, wrote that it would be unlikely to find consistent information on making feed anywhere, since all chicken raisers have their own opinions. She advised reading all that one could, taking the information and coming up with a trial recipe that suited you. I really did not want to go to so much trouble. I wanted something easy, grabbed off the shelf in two seconds.

But I kept thinking of all the celiac and gluten-intolerant children (not to mention myself and my family) who might benefit from having a solid gluten-free recipe for their chickens and avoid a lot of worry.

And so, throughly reluctant, I am smack dab in an experiment on how to make starter gluten-free chick feed as easy as possible. Show me how, Lord.

Enter Miss Madelyn of St. Elmo Feed and Seed, St. Elmo, Alabama. Yesterday I explained my conundrum and desire. “Do you think I can make a starter feed without the gluten?”

“Of course you can,” she said. It turns out that her grandson is gluten-intolerant, and she completely understood my situation.

I gave Miss Madelyn my list of ingredients. She explained what would be best for a couple of them. She said, “You’re gonna have healthy chicks.” St. Elmo Feed and Seed dispenses the most invaluable of products– confidence.

So, the experiment begins. We get our chicks on Friday! I’ll report on the feed recipe in a month, providing I have not killed the chicks.

Dear hubby so irreverently says, “I know where they sell more.”

Wish us, and the chicks, well.

The Chicken Chronicles Begin

Last night we heard a very knowledgeable talk on raising chickens by a speaker with over forty years experience, having begun as a very young boy. He just loves all feathered creatures. I was captivated and sat there soaking up information you can only get from a passionate source. Unfortunately, as the talk progressed in great detail over the common and thoroughly nasty maladies that attack chickens, and the equally nasty remedies, a large dark cloud of doubt grew above my head.

I leaned over to my husband and said, “Good Lord, I think we’ve made a big mistake. Maybe we should give it up.” At this point in my life, I’m making a great effort to keep things simple.

However, my husband’s response was, “Too late. We’re started now, and we’re finishing that chicken coop.”

Thankfully there was a gentleman sitting next to me who said, “I just built a chicken house and went and got grown chickens last year. I haven’t had any of that.”

There’s such power in an encouraging word at the right time.

I have learned that when embarking on any endeavor, there’s always a whole lot one does not know, which is good, because if you knew it, you would never start out in the first place, whether raising chickens or children, getting married, starting a blog, writing a book.

You start out with a creative idea that fires you up and gets you started. At some point, early or a little later, invariably some discouragement comes to snatch the dream away. It has been my experience that if you are paying attention, there will also be an equal word of encouragement. If you do not get it coming to you, then you just have to encourage yourself. And keep pressing on.