Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chickens are home to roost

The first domestic animals of Cairncrest farm arrived today. Back in January we hemmed and hawwed over an online poultry cataolog and finally ordered chicks from Murray McMurray hatchery in Iowa. For those of you who have yet to experience the wonderful world of backyard poultry I will explain a little about the market for chicks these days. Virtually all urban, suburban, and rural chicken fanciers order their chicks in the mail. Most small farms even purchase their chicks in this manner because it is quick, cheap, easy, and usually effective. The USPS generally handles the chicks first since it is quite clear that something is alive inside the box and needs to get to its destination promptly. Also, many hatcheries do not allow people to drive up and collect their own chicks on hatch day because of concerns about imported pathogens. Chicks hatch out with a yolk sack still attached and can survive up to three days without food and water provided it doesn't get too cold or too hot in transit.

I've bought chicks from Murray McMurray a number of times and have never had a dead, or even a weak chick arrive. Every other time I've been called on Sunday by the USPS to get my chicks. This time, unfortunately, was different. I waited by the phone Sunday without results. I called the post office but no one answered. Yesterday I called again and spoke with a person, but alas, no birds in the mail. Today at 7:22 am the post office called to say our chicks had arrived so off I went to get them. When I got home and opened the shipping box I found 54 live chicks and one dead. I put them out into the brooder Garth and I arranged two days prior and promptly watched another four more chicks drop into the great beyond. Most of the chicks seemed pretty perky, but a few were still lethargic. We tried to revive the weakest birds with water by dipping their beaks and tilting their heads back with little effect. Finally, in desperation to save the three fading chicks I went to the house and scavenged some supplies I'd inadvertantly brought home from the ER a few days ago. As you can see in the photo we nursed the two of the three chicks back to operational capacity with a touch of sugar water from a big syringe and an IV catheter. And later in the day one of the formerly spry guys keeled over and refused to revive. At this point we've lost seven chicks. We can't identify any more that look ill, but we'll find out how accurate our assessments are first thing tomorrow morning.

Our original order contained 25 Cornish Crosses, which are the mutant white chickens that grow like radioactive mushrooms and are found in any grocery store in America, 25 Dark Cornish, a heavy breed we will raise for eggs (hens) and as a carcass weight and flavor comparison (cockerels) with the Cornish Crosses, and five Silver Penciled Plymouth Rocks, which are in my humble opinion the most beautiful, awesomest, most supreme chicken breed I've ever seen. I first saw them at the Pennsylvania farm show in January 2006 and promised myself on the spot I would one day have some in my flock. Today that day arrived when the SPPRs came home to roost.



Five more Dark Cornish and one more Cornish Cross died overnight. Another Dark Cornish died just after lunch, and two more appear to be on their way out. I hope that will be the last of it - all the rest are active, eating and feeding.



  1. sorry to hear about the little ones that didn't make it!

  2. Oh what a sad story... Chickens are super adorable. well, I hope you could have new ones,