Marsha and Shelly were beginning to age and laid eggs less often. My thoughts turned to the prospect of buying baby chicks and raising them indoors so they would be tame and friendly. I called the farm store and sure enough, they had some Rhode Island Red pullets. Now, I was really new to the world of baby chickens and I had no idea what a pullet was. In my mind, a pullet was a chicken several months old, so I created an environment suited to teenage hens. I was surprised to arrive at the store and find out a pullet is a fuzzy, little baby chicken who hatched a day or two ago. They are called a pullet because they have gone through the sex identification process and passed as girls. I can imagine the job of sexing baby chicks must be something like, roll the baby over on it’s back, gently squeeze the belly and if a pecker comes out they go into the left chute and if it’s a hen they go in the right chute, down a conveyor belt and drop into a box for shipping?
I asked the guy who was helping me if I could choose the two I wanted. He kind of shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes, which I took as a yes. He seemed irritated when I reached out and petting first one, then another, picked them up and said, “These two will do.” He popped them into a small cardboard box with holes along the top and I went on my merry way.
When I arrived home I took one look at the wire dog crate I had set up for the new hens in the kitchen and quickly realized it wasn’t going to work. I had my work cut out for me devising a containment area for something so small. I retrieved a plastic storage box from the attic and the door from an old dog crate in the garage to cover the top of the storage box. I decided the door needed to be covered with deer netting so the peeps couldn’t hop out. What to put in the bottom of the box for bedding? Apparently if you keep peeps on newspaper it will permanently splay their legs, along with getting covered in poop the babies would be walking in. Too yucky. Then I thought about sod. I was digging new garden beds and had plenty piled up, ready to use. The chicks were taken aback by the sod as this was a new experience for them, having been raised in a factory. Soon they were scratching and plucking blades of grass to their heart’s content. It’s amazing how they naturally know what to do with sod. I placed mini food and water containers in with them and they were set.
Every day I would take the top off the box and lift them out to sit on my lap to be petted and gentled. They were amenable to the handling and soon began peeping and jumping when they saw me. They loved running around in the kitchen, checking in corners and behind things. I’d sit on the floor when I wanted them to come to me so I could pet them and put them back in the box.
As they grew, so did their personalities. My friend Angela came over one day and said one of the chickens was acting like she did, so that chicken was named Angela. The other one reminded me of my mother, so she was dubbed Carol. As they grew, I had to be sure to mark the changes in them so I could remember who was who. Angela had the bigger wattles and Carol was the boss.
They grew by leaps and bounds, big enough to climb on my shoulder, which was their favorite perch. They lost their fuzzy down and donned stiff adult feathers. Their sod had to be changed daily as their excrement became larger and more frequent. It was time to put them outside.
I created a smaller run in with Marsha and Shelly so they could all become acquainted slowly. After about a month, when the chicks were getting some size on them, it was suggested I open the door and let the young’ins out to meet Marsha and Shelly face to face. Big mistake. Angela and Carol had never known any sort of unkindness and in their youthful exuberance, they ran straight up to the big girls to introduce themselves. I stood off to the side watching as Angela went up to Shelly and said,”Hi, I’m Angela”, which Shelly responded to by jumping on Angela’s back and tearing out a bunch of feathers. Angela was dumbstruck. Then Marsha got into the act and tried to tear Angela’s throat out. I was mortified and when I could make myself move again, I had to work quickly to get the babies back in the small run and the big girls back out in their area. I was on hands and knees crawling around in the soiled bedding and under netting trying to break up the fight.
I was so traumatized, I decided to keep the big chickens separated from the babies forever. Fortunately, I still had the old chicken tractor and that became the big, bad girl’s home while the sweet, young chicks inhabited the newer chicken run.