How I Killed my Chickens

In my previous post, I told the story of how I got my chickens. Summarily, we decided as a family that they would be  a good learning experience for us if we ever move out into the country and keep our own farm, as well as a great experience for the kids in general. We bought two chicks, one orange, and one black, and three pounds of chick feed.

Bringing them home

We decided to put our humble, two-chick stock in a nice sized diaper box while they were still small. We put newspaper down on the floor of the box, and gave them a bowl of food, and a bowl of water. For warmth, we attached a clip-on desk lamp with a 60-watt incandescent bulb. Gershom, about 18 months old, loved the chicks and talked about them constantly. It was my constant delight to let him into the chicken room (our unused dining room) and watch him use his baby-gentleness skills to pet the wee birds.

Keeping chicks is actually pretty simple. Each day I changed their newspaper, water, and food. I found out over time about how much food they would eat per day. I also found out that they would often step on the edge of their water bowl and spill it all over their home. I mitigated this problem by inventing a new kind of water bowl out of an old plastic bottle that I attached to the side of their box with twist ties.

Eventually, after a couple of weeks, the chicks were taking up too much space in their diaper box, so I upgraded their brooder to a 2’x2’x18″ cardboard box from the hardware store. They were elated with their new home, but it took quite a bit more newspaper to keep it covered and clean.

Taking them outside

I took them outside as soon as the weather was warm enough. I wanted them to get used to the grass in my back yard, and to learn to following their “momma” (me) around. After taking them outside a few times, I started to dig in the garden beds for small worms for them to eat. The orange bird seemed to understand that I was feeding her, but the black chick didn’t quite get it. I don’t think the black chick ate any worms that I gave her until she was almost ready to be let outside. I never left the chicks unattended outside during these early weeks, and only took them out for a few minutes at a time.

As the days warmed, I started taking the chicks out more often. Eventually the chicks were big enough that I could leave them outside unattended for short periods of time. It came close to the time that I really couldn’t put off building a coop for much longer. I soon got tired of taking the chickens in every night and letting them out every morning.

Building the coop

One day I finally cracked down and bought the lumber to build a coop. I had spent a whole week looking at coop designs and deliberating on what I would decide. I sketched a draft of what I wanted my coop to look like, and after a few days finally made the trip to the local lumber yard to load my ’02 Dodge Stratus full of wood. To my surprise, the lumber all fit. I decided to get pressure treated lumber because I figured that the coop would rot quickly if I didn’t. Looking back, I might have opted for a more kid-friendly wood selection after hearing about some of the dangers of treated lumber. (But don’t take my word for it that treated lumber is bad; I’ve been too lazy to research the subject on my own. At any rate, I would prefer to not have to worry about whether my chicken coop is poisonous.)

DSCN4713
What the coop looked like when the chickens died. I struggled with building the “cabinetry” for the nests. I figured that 6 nests would be a good number to allow our little farm to grow.

As the coop came together, I began to run into some difficult carpentry. Without getting into the details, the coop was taking a few days longer to build than I had hoped. Meanwhile, I had become even lazier with my chickens. I would leave them out all day unattended, very proud of their ability to take care of themselves. They were growing every day, and it was my pleasure seeing them grow feathers and combs. I enjoyed stepping out onto my back deck and watching them fight over small bugs and cluck at each other. They were young enough that their clucks sounded quite chirpy, but in a guttural way.

And then they died…

Within a day or so, before I was able to finish the coop, I had a very stupid idea. I was already so exasperated with taking the chickens in and out every day, and with not being able to leave our home, that I decided to try putting a small door in their cardboard brooder and sticking it in a dry place under my back deck. I rationalized, thinking that I had only seldom, if ever, seen a feral animal in my back yard. Since I live in a suburban area and my entire backyard is enclosed with a chain link fence, I figured that my chickens surely would not have the same problem with predators that country chickens would have. I quickly convinced myself…

I was only encouraged in my childish laziness after they survived the first night outside on their own. After two nights, I was wondering if I even needed to finish my coop!

It only took three nights of leaving the chickens outside for me to learn a very valuable lesson. When I went outside on that third day, I didn’t hear any chirping or scratching. My back yard was silent. The chicks weren’t in the brooder. I began to look through my yard to see if I could find where the chicks had spent the night. I gasped when I found the black one torn to shreds a few feet from the garden. I looked further for the orange one, and could only find a carcass and a few orange feathers. Evidently a cat or raccoon had eaten the orange chicken first, and then killed the black one before disappearing out of my yard.

What I learned

The lesson: I should have had a coop before I bought chickens. It was rather foolish to buy chickens thinking I would prepare for them later. The Boy Scout motto is Be prepared! I really knew better.

But I also learned deeper lesson. It was my negligence and laziness that had ultimately killed the chickens. I know that if the chickens had belonged to Jesus, he wouldn’t have allowed them to be predated (John 10:11). He would have cared enough to take them in every evening until the coop was ready.  I realized that it is the same spirit of laziness that leaves so many children in need every day, without sufficient care from their parents.

I would never allow my child to be left to the elements, and would never take my chances with their survival. It spooked me a little bit, however, to see that I would do that to another creature that was totally dependent on me for protection and nourishment. God forbid I should ever allow my own laziness to the detriment of my dependents again.

With these important lessons learned, hopefully now I know what to expect for my next set of chickens. I’ll just make sure to finish the coop before I get them.

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