Sunday, April 6, 2008

Worms and dingleberries

So, be warned. This post is not for the easily grossed out.

Thursday night, I picked up the single book I own on chicken care (Barbara Kilarski's Keep Chickens). It is a very general book about backyard chickens, half selling you on the idea (lots of funny stories) and a bit about logistics and how-to. I found the bit about caring for newborn chicks, and noted this bit: "Pasting up occurs when a chick's droppings cluster up and adhere to its behind (the vent), preventing the chick from passing new droppings. It's the chicken version of constipation....If you see that a chicken is pasting up, pick it up and use a damp, warm washcloth to gently remove the material from the chick's rear end. Try not to get the chick too wet..."

Let me summarize, for those who didn't get the sanitized version. Dingleberries can be fatal to chicks, so to get rid of them you have to wipe the chick's butt. You have to get a hard, crusty dingleberry off, but without using too much water, and presumably (I don't think I'm stretching to guess this) without putting all the butt feathers out.

This is not an easy task. Friday morning found me spending 5 minutes with a damp washcloth on each of about 4 chicks, wiping gently while the chick peeps crazily with alarm. Saturday, I used a wetter washcloth. Saturday night, I made a chick bidet out of an old lid with warm water in it, and soaked each dingleberried chick for a moment. Oddly enough, the chicks seemed to like the warm water treatment best, and I could save most of the wiping for the drying-off phase. I'm going to stick with the bidet method, I think, but I have to say I will be glad when they outgrow this phase. My book, slim volume that it is, does not tell me how many weeks this will be.

If that is the lowlight to date, the highlights. First, and most obvious, there are the moments with the warm, soft little featherball cuddled in our hands. Second, and less obvious of a treat for the humans, is catching worms and offering them to the chicks. Here's the technique: after digging up the worms, we put them in a bowl in the brooder. Several chicks come to look curiously at the wiggling things, and then finally one will peck and make a grab for it.

Now the fun begins. When a chick gets the worm, the smart thing to do would be to nonchalantly walk off in a corner and eat the worm at one's leisure. But chicks aren't that kind of smart. Instead, they begin peeping like crazy, running across the cage, and seemingly shouting "I GOT ONE! I GOT ONE! I GOT ONE! LOOK AT MEEEEE!" and all the other chicks come running after, grabbing for the worm, trying to steal it. This, while there may still be 5 more worms, wiggling but ignored, in the bowl, until some other chick gets the bright idea to look for another. The chaos in incredible.

I tried, when one chick got a worm, to pick up the chick and hold it so it could eat in peace, but the moment she was in my hand, she dropped the worm and ignored it. Emily figured out the best way to get them to take one is to dandle it from her fingers, as if she is another chick who has a treat worth stealing.

We generally, so far, find this amusing for at least 3-4 rounds of worm-hunting, and then we get tired and go do something else. Fifteen minutes later, if we peek in, they are all snuggled up, exhausted by all the action, asleep in a circle around the heat lamp. Calm resumes, at least until the next worm feeding.

2 comments:

Salar said...
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Ser said...

Chicks--so like kids, at least mine. They want what they don't have and don't really care about it once they have it, except for bragging rights.

Oh, and you have to wipe their butts.