Being a Chick Mom and the Saga of Stinky Butt

Collage of photographs of woman and chickens
Three fluffy chicks
Chick with piece of red yarn on leg
Chicken with red crown on fence
Collage of three photographs of chickens

On March 30, 2020 I became a mom to fluffy baby chicks.  With the pandemic my husband decided it would be a good idea to have chickens for eggs, as we didn’t know what the pandemic would do to the food supply.  I wasn’t prepared, though, and only had a few hours to get everything ready for 11 baby red leghorns.  I learned one very important thing about baby chicks: almost anything can kill them.  One chick died a few hours after getting to the house. 

Murdoch’s guarantees the chicks for 24 hours, so my husband went and got another chick, this time a gold star sex link.  Over the next two days 5 more died.  I was so stressed, and sad.  I love animals, I have a cat and two dogs, but I’ve never had chickens so I read everything I could find online about them, and even took some classes via Zoom.  I checked on them every other hour the first few weeks.  One thing I learned is that they need it to be very warm, 95-100 degrees that first week, and 5 degrees less each week until at about two months old they could handle normal temperatures.  I had to get a heating lamp that first day.It was really hard getting everything they needed during lockdown, especially since I’m high risk and am staying away from people.  

I found a thermostat at Petsmart to control the lamp so it would turn off/on to keep they’re area at the right temperature.  The thermostat was actually for lizards, but I read about it on a chicken blog, and it worked great.  I used the curbside pickup option at Petsmart to get it.  I also bought a baby monitor to watch the chicks so I didn’t have to go up and down the stairs to check on them every hour.  The monitor also told me the temperature, so I knew if it was too hot or cold for them.  I used Shipt to get it from Target by the next day. 

That monitor saved one chicks life, her name is Henny Penny. I noticed she was not running and pecking like the other chicks.  She was only 8 days old at this time, and usually the chicks moved as a group, running and pecking around together. She looked sad.  I knew from all the articles I read that this wasn’t a good sign.  I went to check on her, and I noticed her butt had lots of dried poop. 

Baby chicks can get what’s called pasty butt, which is when their poop is runny and sticks to their downy butts.  When it dries it’s hard as concrete and glues their vent shut so they can’t poop.  It will kill them within a day, and is a common killer of baby chicks.  I used a wet q- tip and Vaseline to soften the poop.  Once it was cleaned off, she pooped! Then she hopped happily around and started eating.  So poor little Stinky Butt ( that’s what I nicknamed Henny Penny) had to have her butt cleaned every day for a couple of weeks.  It was kinda gross, and it was stinky.  If I didn’t, she would plug up and not be able to poop and die. Once her feathers grew in she didn’t have to worry about pasty butt anymore, and I didn’t have to clean her anymore.  She still has kind of a poopy butt but with her feathers she won’t get pasty butt, and she’s a very happy chicken. 

She was the runt, but is now the same size as her sisters and eats normally, and lays as many eggs as her sisters.  As stressful as the chickens are I really love them.  They’re whistle trained, and come running when I whistle, like puppies.  They sit on my lap, and my shoulder, like parrots.

The Gold Star sex link chick we named Goldie.  She is the best layer, she lays 6 eggs a week.  She is also the only brown egg layer.  She started laying a whole month before the other chickens, and she is the friendliest of the chickens.  She’s very smart, too.  Posy is the next chicken in the pecking order.  She’s very smart, I used to call her Einstein when she was a chick because she figured everything out first.  She’s friendly, but more with me and my husband than strangers.  Then there’s Wanda, who likes to wander.  I had to fix a hole in the fence because I found her in the neighbors yard.  Dottie is sweet, always listens and comes in when it’s time for bed.  (Some of the other girls have to be chased now and then, because they want to stay outside.  Ever try chasing a chicken?  Excellent cardio!). Last, but not least, is the rebel, Princess Lay-A.  She is the one who will bite if you pick her up, and she is the last one to come in at night.  She comes really slowly, too, just to let you know she doesn’t want to, but it’s sundown so she has to. 

Even now that it’s winter the chickens are still laying 3 eggs a day. I didn’t know this before I became a chick mom but chickens usually don’t lay in the winter.  They need 14 hours of sunlight and 75 degree temperatures to lay, plus a protein rich diet.  In the summer and fall they lay 5-6 a day, so they lay less but still laying.  Their coop is insulated, so it doesn’t get below 50 degrees in there, but I don’t use a sunlight.  I feed them plenty of dried crickets, grasshoppers, and mealworms on top of their layer food, along with fruit and veggies.  Plus, I get live crickets delivered from Petsmart a couple of times a week for them.  It’s fun watching them eat the crickets.

Petsmart offers free same day delivery, and I get 200 live crickets.  I put them in the coop, and with 10 minutes the chickens eat them all!  I figure it’s winter and there’s not many live bugs in the backyard for them to eat, so this way they get to hunt. They keep me busy, and are a lot of work for 6 little hens.  I take a lot of pictures of them, my cat and dogs for Instagram.  They all get along, my kitty will eat grass along side her chicken sisters.  These past 9 months I’ve had my husband, a cat, 2 dogs, and 6 chickens to talk to and hang around.  That’s been my family, my crew.

   We work from home, get everything delivered.  Here and there I’ve seen my parents, and my husband has seen his parents.  Thanksgiving and Christmas we didn’t see our family, my sister and her family had COVID and my sister in law  and brother-in-law’s families had COVID.  Since I have psoriasis I take Cosyntex which lowers my immune system.  I also have asthma.  My husband has diabetes.  Until we can get the vaccine it’s just us and the animals.