There is a whole chicken world out there. Books, products, blogs, classes and forums.
It is kind of like the baby industry. With some glaring differences.
First, you choose everything about chickens. You select exactly what ones you want – hens, roosters, layers, meat birds. Any color you can think of is an option – black, red, white, gray, blue, lavender. And any pattern nature has imagined is possible, including solid, stripes, laced, patchwork, polka dots. Even the gender is guaranteed to between 90% and 100%.
Large, commercial hatcheries meticulously track fertilization and incubation dates, calculating how many viable eggs they will have at a particular time. And you order accordingly, selecting your exact hatch date.
The baby chicks are packaged into a cardboard box with the kind of disposable handwarmer generally used for skiing. There is a prominently-displayed sticker indicating “LIVE ANIMALS” located amongst the air holes. Then the chicks are in the custody of the United States Postal Service until the postmaster for your local branch calls you directly on your cell phone to come pick them up. Now.
This is very different than the luck of the draw, genetic lotto that is human conception. Pregnancy is nine months of uncertainty and imprecise monitoring. And when you get close, you have no idea when the baby is actually coming. Or what you are getting or how it will arrive.
Once she is in your arms, the gut-wrenching questions about care, that you desperately hope will provide some semblance of control, are endless. Will you breast feed? Sleep train? Use crib bumpers? There is no consensus. Consult whatever book, blog, podcast, doula or expert you want. Someone loves and/or hates what you are considering.
Soon enough you learn that other opinions don’t matter anyway because the baby is in charge. In my experience, she doesn’t care about your best laid plans and hasn’t read the same literature about peanut immunities. The infant that you wouldn’t let near a pacifier because it may affect her ability to nurse suddenly starts sucking her thumb … and what the hell are you supposed to do about that? It’s not like you can cut it off. And so you realize that everything is temporary anyway. Soon enough, the baby that eschewed the boob for the bottle is eating solid food and drinking whole milk from a BPA-free sippy cup.
One issue becomes moot to make room for the next one.
Virtually overnight, they are talking and asserting themselves and making decisions and buying lunch at school. And everything you tried to keep away from them – Doritos, Mountain Dew, GMOs, public toilets – they eventually have access to. Little by little, they go out into the world with what you have taught them. All you can do is hope they were listening. At least a little.
In contrast, the advice for the care of tiny chicks is largely standardized. Heat, water, food. There are variations, of course, like the method you use to warm the brooder (heat lamp, radiant heater, etc.) or the kind of feed you provide (medicated or not, organic or not). Perhaps some kitchen scraps. Many people add apple cider vinegar to the water, others add electrolytes. But that’s pretty much it.
Chickens have always been on the bottom of the food chain, considered disposable livestock, left to fend for themselves while they were reliable layers of eggs and then headed for the stew pot once they weren’t. Most vets won’t see or treat chickens. So, you are mostly on your own.
But the status of the lowly chicken is being elevated to that of backyard pets. Jennifer Garner *girl crush* even has a flock. Now hens are trending as a fully-supervised food source, a continual source of compost, a collection of gentle souls, a return to roots.
Like children, chickens eventually mature, of course. But they can never leave you. They are fully dependent upon your choice of feed, whether you free range them during the day, the sturdiness of their coop at night. They get no choice.
It’s not truly animal “husbandry” … but more like another form of motherhood. With more control.