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Chickens Choices & Your Food Supply

August 4, 2011

Quite some time ago – early in this blog’s life – I wrote about a chicken who was trapped under an ice cream bucket. A small confined space but content.

The heat in the south isn’t news, with many places over 100 degrees and drought in some areas stretching feed and hay supplies. An early morning storm brought some welcome rain – then continued raining, lightning and storming. Connor and I made a run out before the downpour to insure everyone was covered up for the expected hour or two of rain on the prediction screen.

Four hours later it’s still pouring rain. I went out to insure the water was draining off. Penned birds and rabbits were on higher ground for that very reason…but there was a pen of leghorns, the last batch of youngsters that were ‘loose’ in a 10×14 or so pen and some that were questionable except for the perches in their pens. I started creating drainage flows to help deal with the water, looked over the birds that were out and while soaked they looked to be moving and shaking off the cold rain well. As the water flowed through the pen I noticed the young Australorps, white leghorns and Americauna had gotten up on the high side of the pen where the bigger pen was by the hoop shelter – with some shelter there.

My heart sank as I turned to find the little black copper maran down, unmoving and appearing dead. We’d had a pair – and with one gone…but where’s the other one? *Dispair*. I picked up the ‘dead’ one and it moved – like a robot moved. I quickly propped the shovel up and dashed inside, running a pan of warm water and plunging the young Maran into it, holding the head up. I gently swished him through the water, which brought dirt and debris off the feathers. Connor fixed a warming box, then as I pulled the youngster out he dumped the dirty water outside and clean water was drawn. The holding in the warm water was repeated…then it peeped. It peep-peep-peep-peep-peeped like sleepy birds do. It warmed and opened his eyes. Once there was no more cold spots and the shivers stopped, a towel was put around him and gently dried off then held in the towel.

By this time Connor had gone out and found the other one, also chilled but shivering. We shredded paper towels into the warming box and put the towel over the box to hold heat in and help him dry. He stood – shaky but standing. We repeated with the pullet, gently cleaning the feathers, drying excess off and putting her in the box with him in the office. Both are peep peeping and Lazarus (yes we know – never name a meal…but come on – we had a pair we’d intended to keep anyway and he’s earned it!) looks to be a 1000% better than when found unmoving. Once the crisis was over and both were warming up – I thought about the last post of the pullet and the ice cream bucket. I thought about choices.

Both of these Marans as well as another black that was with the downed one had choices. They could have walked 12′ away to higher ground – adapted to the situation and survived. Instead they went for “safety” which wasn’t safe anymore with water backing up there. As we change and grow that area will be a duck haven for that very reason – the ducks can handle it. But the Marans had choices…they stuck with what they knew…that spot had always been safe. It wasn’t safe *at that moment*. The youngsters that moved 12 feet away were safe – it was a few inches higher there so they were out of the water.

As it happens it appears both Marans will survive – but another hour could have been a different story. We can’t alter people’s or chickens choices – but can try to influence them.

And despite the often said myth – no the turkeys did not drown looking at the rain. Actually they were unfazed! They greeted me at the gate with “got food? Now?” The hoop in progress – high and dry! Good test. It also held together in the little wind we got.

The rain has stopped, things are drying out and it’s another reminder that outdoor production – even with choices – is a risk.

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