Tuesday, April 28, 2009


We've taken the next step on the path to more self-sufficiency. We have chickens!! It has been quite an eye-opening adventure so far and has had its highs and lows.

We ordered baby chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery in February and they arrived Mar 3. When chicks are born, they absorb the yolk from the egg which sustains them for the next three days or so. In the wild, this gives the mother hen time to hatch all of her babies before having to go and find food for everyone. It also allows day old chicks to be shipped by the post office around the country.

I always knew I would order from McMurray. I had been drooling over their catalogue for almost two years, making and re-making lists of breeds I was interested in. They claim to be the oldest hatchery in the country and have been doing this for something like 80 years. The kids and I made a final list then called McMurray to order. Although we were only looking to get about 15 laying hens, McMurray has a 25 bird minimum (to keep them warm in shipping). We ended up ordering 17 layers and 8 meat birds. I thought I could give the meaties away to friends that own a chicken operation. I had decided by then that I didn't want to butcher my own as it takes a long time per bird.

My heart broke when the babies arrived. Out of a shipment of 26 (they sent an extra), most were dead any dying. I carefully took the weak ones out of the box and dipped their beaks in water but they had no energy. I spent the next two days as nursemaid to the sick ones- feeding them with a dropper, giving them vitamins and honey. I watched as they died one by one. We ended up with 6 out of that batch.

I called McMurray and they said that the babies probably got chilled in shipping. They are guaranteed for 48 hours so they sent me a new batch the next week. These babies spent an extra day in shipping and we ended up with only 7 from this batch. I talked with the hatchery again and told them that I did not want to be responsible for the death of any more chicks. They were eventually able to assure me that this was two isolated bad experiences and the next would be better. They re-sent the order the following week. This time, they arrived in Savannah the day after they were shipped from Iowa. I went to the main sorting station to pick them up. When I brought them home, they were all trying to jump out of the box and were making a racket. We only lost one tiny baby from that batch. We now have 36 chickens (!!) in the brooder in my exercise room. Soon they will go outside to their permanent homes. Here are some pics of the babies when they were smaller.