We found 28 birds in the box. We had received two extras, one an exotic breed freebie, the other an additional bird to help raise the temperature in the box to assure safe arrival.
We were total beginners at this chicken keeping practice but had purchased Ashley English's book Keeping Chickens and read many others.
We had purchased a galvanized water tank to use as a baby house, set it up in the basement on a raised platform, carefully hung a heat lamp on an adjustable chain above with thermometers to check the temperature which needed to be kept at specific readings each week. We placed flake, feed, and water. We lifted each chick out one by one and gently placed each little beak into the water to teach it to drink. We monitored their baby bottoms for any dangerous pasty buildup. We kept their water clean.
Then we stepped back and watched those sweet babies go about the business of living.
We had hired an Amish man to build the chicken house and put up a fence around the new chicken yard. When the chicks were three weeks old we moved them in. Three weeks later they were allowed out into their yard for the first time. When checking that they had all hopped back in for the night we quickly discovered that the exotic breed chick was not in the house with the others.
Being so different this little one was easy to identify as missing. Anne and I searched their yard as long as there was daylight to see. Hearts heavy, we had to give up and hope for the best. In the morning redwing blackbirds were complaining about something they felt was threatening their nest. Searching just outside the fence I found this little one trying to find a way back into the chicken yard. It had survived all night without protection.
As the weeks progressed we realized that there were two male Rhode Island Reds among our birds and that the 25 requested hens were indeed hens. How they can sex day old chicks so reliably I cannot say. The exotic breed bird was still a question mark until one day we heard an adolescent crowing and realized it had come from this little one! We had ourselves a Silver Polish rooster!
Eventually, John Wayne and Number One, the other roosters, went to our Amish friends along with 20 of our hens to be "processed" for us and for them. Since Jerome was still living in Illinois, and Anne was going back to Ohio and I was traveling back to Illinois regularly, we boarded the remaining 5 hens and Big Guy, as he came to be known, with our Amish friends for their first winter.
It was really an experience to see how they became attached to our birds. I visited them every couple weeks bringing feed and letting them hear my voice. Any eggs they kept and the blue/green eggs were an especial delight to the children. When I picked my little flock up the following April to bring them back to the farm, the mother, Lovina, leaned into the car and said goodbye to each of them, using their names. She was especially fond of Big Guy.
Truth be told, everyone loved Big Guy.
He was especially good with his girls. Protecting, breaking up squabbles, announcing whenever he heard a door open or a car approach. During the spring and summer you needed to keep an eye on him when in his yard as his wings and especially his spurs could be dangerous. And he was truly handsome.
This week he began to slip away from us. Recognizing that he was now vulnerable to attack from within his flock, we sequestered him in the annex and the senior bungalow next to the main chicken yard. He made his way back to the chicken house for two nights, but was unable to hop up to the roost. He slept in the bungalow, unable to walk for his last two days. He was 8 years old, the last of our original flock.
He's buried near Phoebie, Minerva, Rosie and LadyHawk under a cairn in the chicken yard. It is quiet now out here on the farm. We miss him. We thank him.