Living with chickens

For the past week we’ve had chickens living with us, or chicks to be more accurate.

They are about 10 days old now, and beginning to lose their yellow fluff already, with their Sussex white and black wings showing through. They spar at each other, but it looks like playful banter rather than actual fighting. They try to fly out of the box they live in, but can only manage half way up. They lay down in sleepy fluffy piles under their heat lamp, stretching their necks out and staring at me with a quizzical black eye. They pooh impressive amounts and need their wood shavings changing every day.

Mole is very involved with the chick changing. She is confident at handling them now, lifting them up carefully with both hands, while they flap and cheep alarmingly. She sets them down on the kitchen floor one at a time, and watches them like a hawk while I take the dirty box outside to tip into the dustbin.

When I come back inside she declares loudly which ones have done a pooh on the kitchen floor, before insisting that I come and look at the damage. Their little cheeps coming from under the kitchen table at dinner time add extra music to our home.

I like living with them.

I come down at night to watch them sleeping under their heat lamp, breathing in and out. I wrap them in my jumpers and feel their trembling and humming warm bodies in my hands. In six weeks they are meant to be ready for the outdoors, although looking at the snowstorms outside I am dubious.

It seems far too cold for anything to survive out there. It is a bit like having a new baby. I watch, wonder and worry about everything. I google things like “at what age can chicks have food scraps?”, “how high should their heat lamp be?” and “do chicks need toys?”. On that last point they seem to enjoy the loo rolls I’ve thrown into their box, it gives them something else to peck at. My plan is to release them into the garden at Easter time and keep them in the shed at night to harden them up, before moving them to their permanent lodgings at the allotment, in their shiny new coop.

They came from a farm in Cambridgeshire, who had a clutch of about 20 of them, and we took five. You can’t reliably sex chicks as it turns out, (unless you’re a trained chick sexer who works in a battery farm), so the farmer’s daughter gave me what she thought were girls, and we’ll see what they turn into in six weeks time. One cockerel would be nice to go with the brood, and any more will be for the chop. I guess this is the grisly part to self-sufficiency, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Earlier this week we made an outing to the Natural History Museum, to see the dinosaurs of course. Mole and Hedgehog were especially struck with a moving life size model of a T Rex, doing roars and growls from behind some tree ferns. The room was full of children staring in awe at it. This was much more of an attraction for them than any of the bones or fossils on display. I got to thinking of how birds are descended from dinosaurs, and how similar chickens look to a T Rex, when you turn him up-side-down that is. When I watch our chicks at home I wonder if the dinosaurs moved and behaved in the same way. It's fascinating and a bit frightening at the same time.

In other news this week, Hedgehog smashes not one but two piggy banks, (technically, one of them was an Elmer the Elephant bank). One of them broke on some rocks at the beach (she smuggled the said piggy bank into her rucsac for the outing), and one broke on the bathroom floor. I’ve taken it as a sign that Hedgehog and ceramics are not ready to mix yet.

This month I had a vague plan to start potty training Hedgehog, (she will be three in May), but she is not even close to ready. She likes to sit on the toilet sometimes, copying Mole, but it’s all for show. She sits on the rim for two seconds, before shuffling off again. She never wants her nappy changed, she seems happy to sit in her own pooh for hours without telling us, and when we ask if she’s done one she immediately says “No”. So I’m putting it off for another month.

Otherwise we are holed up inside, sheltering from the snow blizzard that blasts across the land. I nearly went snow blind on the preschool run today, it might be time for a ski mask, or at the very least, dark glasses, rock star style. When the snow is not blasting across your face it’s okay. Mole and Hedgehog played snow angels with their little neighbour friend for a full half hour this afternoon, which was long enough for a quick tea and cake while listening to Desert Island Discs podcast at the kitchen table.

Here’s to keeping warm and making things grow, (like chicks and children).