Sixteen Chicks and a Kit

It’s only Tuesday and it’s already a busy week.

On Monday, we received a call from the Pandora branch of the United States Postal Service.

“There is,” a woman explained, ” a package for you.” Long pause. “And it’s talking.”

Chicks TiredThe chicks we’d ordered late last winter had arrived: five Black Australorps, five Black Giants and, as it turns out, six (though we only ordered five) Buff Orpingtons. Now ordinarily we don’t buy the animals that live here. There are more than enough domestics out there in need of a different situation that we don’t have to. But chickens? Well, they hold a special place in my heart and, frankly, they feed us. Not with their bodies; we’re vegetarians. But we have absolutely no issue with eating the eggs they produce, Chicksparticularly since the eggs they lay are infertile. This is not to say that we don’t take in wayward chickens. We do and have: Barbara the Australorp, Karen the Rhode Island Red and Big Girl, the Ameraucana,  just to name a few. But there’s something about raising a chicken from virtually her first breath. At least, there is for me.

Then, on Tuesday, today, we received a call from Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education. A couple in our county had found an orphaned red fox kit and were looking for assistance. I met Rachel and Andy in Ottawa in the parking lot of the local Rite Aid. They explained that they’d found him huddled next to a dead sibling and kept a watch out for the mother. 003When nearly two days had passed without an appearance, they took the kit in and contacted NN, which in turn called us. We provided him with a little watered down formula, which he gladly drank, and, since he was severely dehydrated, gave him a subcutaneous injection of sterile saline solution. So he’s here for the interim. Tomorrow, we’ll try him on a slurry of soft cat food and formula.

From there, thanks to Rachel and Andy, the sky’s the limit.

So. Routines.

Routines. We’re governed by them. The side of the bed we sleep on, the way we rise in the morning, break our fast, brush our teeth, the routes we take to work, slog through the day, reverse the route to work back home, eat our meals, play our games, relax, watch television, listen to music, then climb back into bed. Routines are comfortable. Routines are safe.

But they tend to engender complacency.

And then, all hell breaks loose.

BuddyHere’s a tidbit of information you may or may not know about The Quarry Farm: we practice a pretty rigid little bit of gender segregation where the outside farm animals are concerned. The girls, mostly the hens, live in their coop and are allowed free range of the property, at least the domesticated part of the property. The boys (and by “the boys” I mean Buddy, the miniature donkey, Marsh and S’more, the Nigerian dwarf goats, and Jeff, Ralph and Bernie, three production red roosters) live in a fenced-in paddock on the north side of the property. We keep them contained because Buddy, Marsh and S’more are always up for a short road trip (something the neighbors don’t always appreciate) and because the roosters are, well, roosters. Not only are their affections not always welcomed by the hens, they tend to get a little protective, a little aggressive toward anyone who gets near “their” girls. So there’s a fence. Think of it as a very large, communal chastity belt.

So. Routines.

In the evenings, as the sun begins to set, we work the property: the hens are enticed back to the coop, the duck and the geese are, likewise, encouraged into their shelters and the boys get a little more food, just a little bit of something to tide them over until morning. Yesterday, as we started our evening routine, Marsh and S’more were outside the paddock, roaming the property. While not the ideal situation and not how every day plays out, it’s not unusual for them to go over the wire. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again and there’s a routine for dealing with this, as well. Rather than tend to the chickens before visiting the paddock, the boys get their evening snack first. After all, the girls won’t go in with Marsh and S’more leaping in and out of their coop so we have to lure the boys back to the paddock. We trundle out a flake or two of hay and the boys trot along with us, occasionally rearing up and butting heads and practicing all of the other endearing behaviors that make goats such interesting animals.

GoatsEverything was going along according to routine: we had the hay and the goats had gamboled along with us back to the paddock and had run on in when the gate was opened. We carried the hay in, spread it out in their shelter and stepped back. Typically, Buddy will wade in at this point and control the feedlot. Typically. And here’s where complacency leaps up and bites: when you add a vowel and the typicalbecomes atypical. Because Buddy’s behavior is so uniform, so predictable, we’re sometimes careless about the gate. So, even as the goats were jumping to their meal, Buddy bee-lined over, pushed on by and out the open gate behind us.

Understand this: Buddy on the loose is a joy to behold and the epitome of frustration. He will trot by within hand’s reach, head high, ears back and then stop to crop grass, waiting until you’re certain he’s going to let you catch him up before taking to his hooves and trotting just out of reach. Watching him, you’ll swear he’s laughing as he passes by, nudging you in the process. And he can do this for hours, leading you on a merry chase across the property and beyond.

Last night, thankfully, it was a short romp.

With Buddy back in the paddock, we were back to routine: making sure the chickens were safe in their coop. There are thirteen hens: Karen, a Production Red; Barbara, a Black Australorp; Big Girl, an Ameraucana; and the ten remaining Priscillas, all of them Hubbard Golden Comets and the first chickens to come to The Quarry Farm. As part of the routine, we count them each night. Thirteen girls in the coop mean that none are at risk from any of a number of predators looking for an easy meal. Thirteen, for us, is a lucky number.

So we counted.

And came up with fourteen.

JeffDuring our episode with Buddy, Jeff made good his escape and slipped in with the girls. He’s done it before and we’ve even allowed him to stay in the coop for a night or two. But, as noted earlier, roosters get a bit possessive and protective of the hens they consider their own. So we decided to catch him up and take him back to his enforced celibacy. Jeff’s a docile bird, so getting him in hand wasn’t terribly difficult. Then it was simply a short walk and a quick drop over the fence. Done and done, right?

Not exactly.

As it turns out, Jeff wasn’t the only rooster interested in busting out. As we approached the paddock, Jeff in hand, we noticed Bernie scratching in the tall grass on the wrong side of the fence. Bernie, too, is a fairly docile bird, so long as there are no hens to battle over and you’re not wearing red. Having said that, he’s a bit less inclined to permit any kind of truly close contact than is Jeff. In other words, he’d greatly prefer it if you kept your hands to yourself and he’ll do whatever it is that he needs to do to keep it that way. For a third party, watching someone chase a chicken is slapstick the equal of anything that Hollywood has ever conjured up. For the one doing the chasing, though…well, that’s a completely different set of experiences. Chickens duck and jive as they run, juking this way and that in a series of quick dashes intended to confuse whatever predator happens to be chasing them. Couple that with the gathering dark and it took a good long while before Bernie was back with the boys.

As is the routine, here on The Quarry Farm.

POSTSCRIPT: Some of you may remember the storm that blew through the region this past summer. Last July, a derecho tore this county apart. While the damage inflicted on our little piece of the county paled in comparison to others, we did suffer one significant loss: Little Chicken.

little chickenLittle Chicken was a bantam hen that split her time between The Quarry Farm and a little-used outbuilding on the property immediately adjacent to ours. She would come most frequently in the mornings and evenings, those times when we put out fresh food and water for the chickens that live here full time. The derecho caused significant injury to her nesting spot, the barn next door, and, after she failed to show up for over a week, we assumed her either an immediate casualty of the storm or easy pickings for some predator.

Last Sunday, we learned differently.

It turns out that Little Chicken, pushed out by the storm, wound up at the home of an acquaintance that lives about a mile away. Whether blown there or because she wandered there seeking new and more appropriate sleeping arrangements, we’ll never know. What we do know is that she’s found a wonderful new home, a home where she’s watched over and cared for.

So, apparently, the old adage is true: it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good. And for the Siefkers, that good took the shape of Little Chicken.

They call her Clucks.

Who Are You Calling Chicken?

There are milestones in all lives: births, deaths, graduations, marriage, love. As much as this statement may sound like the prologue to a soap, these are the events that shape our lives. I’ve experienced all of the above and have to include another: chickens. I’m going to wait a few seconds while you take that in, get whatever comments you feel you have to make out of your system.

Everybody okay? May we move on?

Now I’ll say it again. As much as any other event in my life, chickens have helped to make me who I am, here and now. And, man, did I fight it.

It was Anne’s idea to get chickens, Anne’s and Rowan’s. I had … reservations. Many of them. They smell, right? They’re mean. They’re stupid. They’re noisy. They attract pests. The list was longer, but I’ve forgotten most of it. All of it was true in my head at the time and all of it, as it turns out, was wrong.

They came in a little box, delivered via USPS by our local mail carrier, Dorothy. There were sixteen of them. We had ordered fifteen, but somebody counted wrong or it’s the practice of the hatchery we ordered them from to throw in an extra. At any rate, there were sixteen Hubbard Golden Comet chicks in a little container that was half the size of a shoebox. We set them up in a storage tub in the house, dedicating a room to their safekeeping. They were tiny and yellow and fuzzy and cute and busy in their dedication to growing. I found myself fascinated and spent hours watching them, holding them, talking to them. We called them all Priscilla, each and every last one of them, and, yes, there’s a story there, but not one for the telling here, now. I discovered that all of the preconceived notions I had about chickens were, for the most part, wrong. Do chickens smell? Only because their living quarters aren’t properly maintained. If you keep their coop clean, smell isn’t an issue. Are they mean? They give what they get. If you treat them like property, like machines, and take, but never give, then yes, probably. I wouldn’t know for sure. The chickens here are friendly. Are they stupid? Well, they’re not going to be doing calculus any time soon, but, then, neither am I.


They presented us with no problems, no surprises, and eventually we moved them outside to a coop. I was still fascinated, spending hours with them, watching them live their lives. I discovered that, for me, they were more than fascinating, more than simply interesting observable phenomena. They brought me a degree of peace I’ve rarely experienced. They calmed me down. They made me think. They inspired me.

And now there are even more than there were to begin with. Big Girl, an Ameraucana, came to us through Nature’s Nursery. So did Audrey and Miss Kitty. Barbara, Karen, Nancy, Jeff, Ralph, Bernie and Sid all came to us from people looking to find a new home for birds they found they couldn’t handle. Most of these birds are still with us, ranging across the property and perching in the trees. Others haven’t fared as well.


Audrey was found wandering along Interstate 75 somewhere south of Toledo. She was so docile when I picked her up from the people that had found her that I honestly believe she’d have been content sitting in my lap for the hour-long drive home (she didn’t; I transported her in a dog kennel). She’d been debeaked. Most hatcheries offer this “service.” A hot wire is used to slice a chicken’s beak from its head. This is done while they are chicks. The idea is that irritable chickens that have been debeaked will do less damage to other nearby chickens and, I suspect, to the hands that feed them. On the downside, this practice can also lead to feeding difficulties and respiratory issues. Even so, Audrey was one of the most benign animals it has ever been my good fortune to meet. She was nearly always the first one to greet us in the morning and would come and sit in our laps. She established a relationship with Buddy, a miniature donkey that lives here, and would spend a part of her day riding around on his back. She lived with us for just over a year before she died.

Miss Kitty

Miss Kitty died yesterday, much to our sorrow. He (and, yes, Miss Kitty was a rooster, though we didn’t know that when we named him) was, we assume, a meat production bird. Initially we believed that he was a Catalana hen (hence Miss Kitty). It wasn’t until he started crowing that we suspected the truth. He grew extremely large extremely fast and, as a consequence, developed a host of physical issues. He was less than a year old when his body simply and finally failed. Over the last few days of his life, all of the hens cared for him. He was never alone, one of the girls was always nearby. They were warm days and dry, and he spent his time lying in the shade of a crabapple tree or under the branches of an elderberry.

Big Girl

And then there are the successes. Big Girl came from a pretty rough neighborhood near downtown Toledo. How she got there is anybody’s guess, but we know how she came to be here. She was rescued by an elderly man who drove off a group boys. They were menacing her with sticks and stones. He called Nature’s Nursery and Nature’s Nursery called us. She was nervous, at first, and maintained her distance. If you took a step toward her, she took a step away. She stayed that way for months. Now she’ll shift out of the way if it pleases her, otherwise we have to step around.

Bernie and Barbara and Karen were part of a flock that kept dwindling, their coop mates the victims of an undetermined predator. Ralph and Jeff were abandoned (Jeff because he crows twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and Ralph, I suspect, because he’s cock of the walk and not afraid to let you know it). While these two do lock horns, so to speak, they spend the bulk of their time pointedly ignoring one another. Sid was simply unwanted.

I suspect that our flock will grow again this year. I sincerely hope so, at any rate. I look forward to it. I gain far more from them than I give.

And I’m not just talking about eggs.

The Quarry Farm Musicians: Audrey, Buddy and S’More