New Life, New Challenges

Well, spring has sprung.

I am seeing the evidence of this everywhere. Trees and bushes are starting to bud, grass is coming up and crocuses are in full bloom.

The geese are back and heading further north. The barn is getting cleaned out and the garden is drying off, although it isn’t quite dry enough to till.

We have also received our first shipment of chicks. These happen to be well-travelled chicks. This year we ordered from a hatchery in Québec.

We have never ordered from so far away before and, due to some logistical hiccups, they were a week old when they got to Whitehorse, but they seem very lively and are thriving in their new home.

Most chicken producers raise Cornish Giants. These birds can dress out to be about nine pounds, but they have leg and heart issues which means we ended up losing almost fully-grown birds that wound up being good only for compost.

While it may be nice to have a chicken that large, the cost of the losses didn’t make it worthwhile.

A few years ago we had some meat birds that weren’t the typical breed that commercial chicken producers use. These were called Freedom Rangers. They were very active and still sized up nicely.

Unfortunately, the breeding stock left Canada and we haven’t been able to find them since. The birds we are trying this spring are called Sasso. They are supposed to be just as good as the Freedom Rangers, if not better.

We were looking for a hardy breed that wouldn’t need to be kept on medicated feed and would thrive in our less than ideal environment.

We don’t feed our birds medication, especially when they aren’t sick. But some commercial breeds seem to have their immune systems almost bred right out of them and then medicated feed is the only choice.

We also wanted a breed that would act like a chicken – scratching the ground for bugs and eating grass. Cornish Giants just use grass as a clean place to sit and eat their grain.

A heritage breed is one that has gone through the years without dependence on medication and even some modern amenities like a heated, insulated hen house.

When a chick hatches it still carries the remainder of the yolk sac. Using this as a source of energy actually allows them to go 48 hours without food or water. This makes it easy to ship the chicks long distances without any worry of them going hungry.

Once they do arrive at their final destination, though, it is very important to feed and water them. We usually dip their beaks into the water and allow them a drink, then dip them into the feed.

This is usually enough for them to figure it out. Even so, when we are brooding chicks we do expect that some won’t survive the first few weeks.

So, when we found out our chicks would be a week old by the time we got them we weren’t sure how well they would travel. The stress of travelling would or could take its toll on them and they wouldn’t have feed or water for almost an entire day.

I was expecting to see tired, weak birds, maybe even some that didn’t survive the trip. But when we opened the boxes, they were like popcorn, trying to get out. They seemed energetic and hungry, definitely hungry.

Because of their age, they didn’t need to be shown how to eat, they already knew. I couldn’t believe the amount of food they went through in the first 24 hours.

I was also pleasantly surprised they all survived their first few nights. It might be that the hardier breed also does better as chicks. I hope so.

Now that the chicks are here and installed in their new home, it’s time for us to move on to our next task, the garden. Once that is planted we move on to getting ready for the market.

And that is a sign that summer is here.

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