4.04.2014

The Shark Cage

Baby chicks are adorable balls of fluff. Chickens, baby or full grown, are also predators, and not above cannibalizing their own, alive or dead. Natalie of the wonderful Chicken Blog wrote of having a "shark cage" to protect her hens from predators. I've had to create a shark cage to protect some of the chicks from each other.

Feather picking can happen for any number of reasons. Boredom, noticing new blood feathers emerging (the sight of blood gets them into a frenzy, just like sharks), too small a pen, poor feed, too hot... the possibilities are many. This flock is the first I've raised - and I think I've raised at least four - that this has ever happened. After finding three butt-pecked chicks (now five-week-old pullets) in the space of thirty minutes, figured it was time to change things up for the flock.

It was time to move them to the Big Blue Room.

The first of the butt-picked. My cuddle buddy, a rooster.
First, sequester the butt-picked. Sprayed Blue-Kote on their backsides to clean and dye the area so the red isn't so obvious, which in turn dyes my own hands & arms in the overspray. It's the gentian violet. Awesome. Great for temporary tattoos. Left them in the living room with towels, food & water. They mostly pooped on the towels. Mostly.

Next, I looked around, and figured the easiest place to put the new digs was directly behind the 10'x10' coop (the Home Despot modified shed), under the sprawling oak. Good protection from any northern winds, and a nice combo of sun and shade for the pen. Snagged a roll of fencing, moved a pallet of rotting straw that was in the way, set up a pallet against the coop as a temporary roost. Trimmed the low oak branches, moved rocks, set up a protected feed/water area. Put eyebolts on the coop wood trim, attached a large tarp for rain protection, then bungied the opposite ends to the oak branches. Set up a "shark cage" within the new digs for the injured pullets, and set up the heat lamp so the heat would be shared by both areas.

The new palace.
Last but not least: capture then move the 27 pullets from the porch pen to their new digs. One chick eluded my grasp and managed to fly over into the duckling pen, freaking out the ducks. The ducklings huddled with fright in a corner as the chick strutted around, proud of her skills. [Spouse laughed when I told him this part. "That's right, b*tches, I can FLY!"]

Duckling: "What-what-WHAT???"
The chicks were in turn freaked out by the Big Blue Room at first. "No porch wall! No ceiling! What's this weird stuff beneath my feet? AIIEEE!!!!". Took a better part of an hour for them to calm down and come out from under the pallet. Took a little longer for them to forgive me.   

A few of the chicks, now on top of the pallet. They learn fast. 

Overnight, a cold front blew in (of course!), and this morning found part of the fence blown down. Thankfully it was early enough that the mature hens hadn't decided to check out the new girls, and the new girls weren't too keen on exploring yet. Threw some chopped lettuce into the center of the pen to distract the chicks, then fixed the fence. 

Whew. Quite the 24-hours for chicks and human alike. 


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