To paraphrase Yukon Cornelius, it was not a fit night out for man nor beast during last Thursday’s snow and wind storm. The heavy snow and strong winds knocked out power for thousands of Mainers. And that included the ones who had tiny, fluffy beasts who were suddenly without heat.
OK, so baby chickens are hardly what you’d call beasts. But that aside, spring is when a lot of people in Maine purchase chicks, and many of those same people were left scrambling when brooders and external heat sources suddenly went out along with the power.
This is no laughing matter as many of these chicks were just days old and at that age need to be in an environment that is at a constant 95 to 100 degrees. Anyone who has lived through a Maine winter power outage knows those kinds of temperatures are impossible to maintain without an alternate source of power like a generator, or alternate heat like a wood stove.
For everyone else, it was any port in the storm. By Friday morning when power had been restored, many had taken to social media to share their experiences.
For some, losing power meant digging out those chemical hand warmers that skiers, snowshoers and other winter outdoor enthusiasts use, wrapping them in cloth and placing them near the chicks. For others it meant taking their chicks and brooder out to a running car with the heater on. And for at least one mechanically inclined chicken owner, it meant hooking an electronic inverter upto his car and using the electricity coming from his car to power his brooder.
Everyone loves barbecued chicken, but during Thursday’s storm it was not to feast, it was to save the chicks. Propane grills and barbecues were lit to supply enough temporary heat to keep the birds warm until the power was back on. Some did the same thing with gas-powered kitchen ranges. In these cases, it’s important to note it was done safely, with proper ventilation and the chicks were under constant human supervision.
The final line of defense was simple human-to-chick contact. People were bringing their chicks to bed with them. Instead of sitting on them as a mother hen would do, they were placing the chicks on their own chests and covering up with blankets to hold in the warmth.
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At least one human chicken mom, who was without power for a short while until her husband got the generator running, was forced to use a blow dryer to warm up her chicks after they had fallen into their water dish. Then to keep them warm, she put them under her bathrobe next to her chest and sat with them until they calmed down and began making contented baby chick peeps.
On Rusty Metal Farm, I’m one of the lucky ones. We have wood heat and a generator, so power outages are really a nonissue. Of course, that’s not to say there have not been times I’ve had to take some swift emergency response action when it comes to my own hens.
Every so often I’ve had adult hens convalescing in my basement in a nesting box next to my wood stove after they spent an unplanned evening outside the coop during the winter and gotten thoroughly chilled.
Several times I’ve had wounded chickens down in the basement recovering in solitude. Plus, when they are down there I can monitor their health and make sure they are eating and drinking, and I can easily give them medication.
And yes, I have actually made “num num” noises in an effort to get a sick chicken to eat. They’ve also spent time out in my heated shop to rest up from an illness or injury. In fact, because she spent so much time out there for various ailments and wounds, that’s how Shoppie, my elderly silver Wyandotte, got her name.
As for keeping chicks warm, instead of investing in a brooder, I will rig up a Rube Goldberg type contraption in the garage that involves a large box with shavings for the chicks and a heat lamp suspended from a beam 16-feet overhead and anchored to cinder blocks to keep it from crashing down into the box. By the time I perfected that particular system several years ago, it felt like the chicks were old enough to move out into the coop.
All this to say, there is not much those of us who love our egg-laying gals won’t do to keep them comfortable and safe. I’m just a bit relieved I’ve never had to bring any to bed with me yet. I don’t know how I’d have the heart to ever make them leave.
Bangor Daily News Homestead features writer Julia Bayly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.