We knew we would have trouble remembering who was whom, and we also were quite interested to see how they developed as they grew. So some form of identification was a must. We ended up going with coloured clip-on leg-rings, which we got from a local seller: MKB. We started off with tiny little 8 mm leg-rings. Red, blue and yellow for the Rhode Island Reds; purple, green and sky blue for the Welsumers; and blue, pink, purple, red and orange for the Dorkings.
The leg-rings actually lasted quite well – stayed on, easy to fit, and didn’t seem to cause the birds any trouble after the first few minutes’ annoyance. And they were big enough to last for three to four weeks. Which might not sound like much, but you need to remember that the chicks were doubling in size every ten to twelve days! Which brings me to our next topic.
Chicks are notorious for getting sick very quickly. We decided that the best way of making sure they were healthy was to weigh them regularly. Which turned into “daily”. (It’s a tough life!) It took a bit of ingenuity, and a surplus set of digital kitchen scales. For the first few times we just put a paper towel in the bowl and plopped the chick in, with the other hand hovering over the top to keep them there. It didn’t take them long to be able to leap out again. Mostly they just hopped up onto the rim of the bowl, but this usually resulted in the bowl tipping off and chick and bowl tumbling to one side. Not ideal. Jo reckoned that she should be able to train them to sit on a perch … so Stewart rigged up a piece of wood that slotted nicely over the platform of the scales. With a bit of coaxing (i.e. bribery with mealworms) they soon worked out what we wanted them to do. Actually the toughest part was trying to keep it to one bird at a time – even Bessie wanted to be part of it!
The Sammies were also weighed daily – even more essential with them, as chicks brooded artificially are usually more susceptible to things like coccidiosis. They also learned quite quickly to associate being sat on the scales with a treat of some sort. Very biddable!
There are two schools of though, when it comes to chicks raised under the hen versus under lights. The first argue that chicks raised under lights tend to eat more (because the light is always on and hence food always visible), and are usually less active and/or stressed than hen-raised chicks (smaller space; more siblings; greater temperature stability; nothing new for them to get used to in their immediate environment), so should put weight on faster. And certainly your average meat-hybrid Frankenchicken is given those conditions to enable them to grow super fast, so it seems to make some sense.
The other school of thought argues that chicks raised by a hen are less crowded, fed more variety, exercise more, feather up faster, and are generally healthier than their intensively-raised siblings, and hence will grow faster.
Time for a chart!
The bar graph above shows the average weight gain of each group of the bubs per week for the six weeks of the brooding period (i.e. while the Peeps were being looked after by Bessie, and the Sammies living inside). We’ve split the Sammmies into their two breeds to better contrast with the Dorkings (the Peeps). Dorkings and RIRs are both considered heavy breeds, and the Welsumers a light breed.
You can see that both groups dropped back a bit in their sixth week. In the case of the Peeps, this is because Bessie left them at five weeks old, so this final week is them reliant on generating their own body heat for the first time. In the case of the Sammies it’s because we had a suspected case of coccidiosis on November 19th, and the whole group were given antibiotics. As you can see, it does definitely knock them back. (A much bigger dose – and a more aggressive (and expensive) antibiotic – than the stuff that is routinely fed to Frankenchickens as a prophilactic/growth promotant.)
If you’d like to see the actual numbers for each chick over this period, that data can be viewed here.
It’s worth noting that six weeks is the age by which most Frankenchickens are slaughtered (i.e. what you eat when you buy chicken from a supermarket or restaurant/takeaway).
Getting to know you …
By around seven days old, both sets of chicks were starting to display fairly distinct personalities.
Bessie’s Peeps were utterly fearless, right from day one. Little pink leg-ring was the friendliest – she’d come and sit on the edge of the doorway and peeble away to us. The biggest of the bubs (blue leg-ring) wasn’t that keen to be handled, and would tend to scoot away to the back of the broody when everyone else was being weighed. Little purple was quiet, red a bit shy, and little orange leg-ring inquisitive and bold, despite being the smallest.
The Sammies had also been handled every day since hatching. Our relationship with them was different – they were in the house, next to our bedroom, and so we went in and looked at them (talked to them, cleaned up after them, watched them sleep …) quite a lot. Welsumer purple and RIR yellow were the bolshiest to begin with. (We had no idea whether they were girls or boys – unlike the Dorkings, male and female Welsumers and Rhode Island Reds look pretty identical for the first four weeks or so.) This had all changed by the end of week two: now it was RIR red bossing everyone (we were pretty certain he was a boy by then – big thick legs, a real imperious stare, and the desire to dominate everyone, including us). His behaviour, his stance, everything about him just shouted one name: Buster.
The other Sammie to collect a name quite early was Welsumer purple. The eyeliner markings were quite striking, so we’d started referring to the chick as “Cleops” – ‘Cleo’ if female, ‘Kheops’ if male. We’d started to develop a bit of an attachment, and by four weeks old had decided to keep her … if indeed s/he turned out to be female.
By four weeks, all of the bubs had acquired (temporary) names.
Dorking Pink had become known as “Lily”, after both the song ‘Lily the Pink’ (her leg ring was pink) and the Australian Lilypily tree (which has pink fruit, and which Jo loved as a kid). She was also the friendliest of the Dorkings, seeming to quite enjoy human company. She was also looking like she’d grow into a big girl, which Dorkings should be. We’d decided that she was the one we’d keep.
But … there was also little Orange leg ring. Who was bold and inquisitive, and also loved to climb up onto Jo’s lap, or leap onto her shoulder (or head). She’d become known as Frida, after the painter Frida Kahlo. Not as big as Lily, but hard to let go. (Maybe we could keep one more?)
The biggest of the Dorking bubs was Blue leg ring. She became known as Alice, after a song Jo’d had to sing on stage as a child (“In my sweet little Alice-blue gown”).
The reasons behind the other two Dorking chick names are a bit more involved. Purple leg ring became known as Madame Cholet – she’d started off with a purple leg ring, then been given a green leg ring when they went up a size (no purple available). Purple and green are the official colours of Wimbledon, which suggested Wombles … so Madame Cholet she became. It actually suited her quite well – she always had a very clean face, and seemed quite a refined lady. And rapidly became very plump!
The fifth Dorking was little red leg ring. She hatched with only four toes, so we referred to her as the “little red four-toe” chick, or LRFT. Which sounds a bit like “left”, which in French is “sinestre” … which elided (eventually) to “Cindy”. (Told you the reasons were convoluted.)
Naming the Sammies was a bit harder, as we had no idea what gender most of them were until they were six weeks old or so. As a result, names tended to either be gender neutral, or to change as they grew.
Rhode Island Red blue was fairly bossy, and had reasonably thick legs (not as thick as Buster, but still pretty sturdy). So s/he became known as “Barney” – in Aussie slang, “to have a bit of a blue” is to have a fight … and another Aussie slang term for “fight” is a “barney” …
RIR yellow got a nicely gender neutral name – Big Bird. S/he was the smallest (yep, more Aussie humour) and was very yellow, and had a yellow leg ring …
The two Welsumers also had names based around their leg ring colours. Welsumer green became Basil (he was a bit obnoxious, like Basil Fawlty), and Welsumer blue became Sky (the leg ring was a pale blue).
So. They all had names. For now …