I got a hilarious email last week, mid-way through our whirlwind 36-hour roadtrip. “YOUR CHICKS HAVE SHIPPED!” I read as we transitioned from the swimming portion to the supper portion of the trip. Whaaat?
Unfortunately, there was an oversite (sic) with our cancellations and it was missed by our packer. Your chick order was shipped as originally ordered. I am very sorry about this. We of course have not charged you for these chicks and hope that you are able to find a suitable home for them. Again, I apologize for our error. It was an honest mistake. Your chicks will arrive within 48 hours or less.
In March I had placed an order for 15 chicks, an order which I had to promptly cancel when they declared that the ship date would be mid-July. The cancellation was confirmed, but as it turns out, they were dead-on with their shipping estimate.
There I was, in Frankenmuth, MI, still dripping wet from exiting the splash park pool within the crazy-big hotel, and I find this declaration in my inbox. What else could I do but laugh? Punch drunk from the 4am rise and 8 hour driving fest, the news was hilarious. Of course there is a box full of chicks racing me home, chicks which I am (clearly) unprepared for, but they’re all females, they’re a mix of several rare breeds, and they’re free. So I took it as a token of good fortune.
They won the race, by about 12 hours. Andrew received the wake-up call from our local post office announcing their arrival and left them secure on my desk to await my own return. My own wake-up call came from the startling revelation that I was out of chicken feed. Completely out. There was some turkey feed, but the pellets were garishly big for the tiny beaks and crops. But the pig feed, I thought, ground to the consistency of cream of wheat, was perfect. So I laid down some turkey pellets, crushed as best as I could by hand, some fine grit for them to sock away in their tiny gizzards, and sprinkled pig feed over the top like powdered sugar.
I opened up the cheeping box that had transported the 15 and found that 2 of them did not survive the trip. That’s a pretty high rate of mortality for shipping, in my experience. The box seemed way too big for such a small amount of chicks and I wondered what kind of rinky-dink hatchery I was dealing with. Another chick died later that evening. There was a dead one waiting for me the next morning and at least two others tipped over throughout the remaining day. The cause could no longer be poor shipping conditions; these now-dead chicks had weathered that well enough. Was the temp too hot? I’d never brooded chicks in July; I adjusted the heat lamp. The next day brought more of the same. Each visit to the brooder provided another fatality. What the hell is going on——–the feed! I realized. Could some of the feed been medicated? I called the feed mill and quickly got my answer. The hog feed. It was laced with Carbadox, a prophylactic medication to treat swine dysentery. Sonofabitch. I was furious.
I was most furious with myself – it’s a lesson of Animal Husbandry 101 that you absolutely do not mix prepared feed between species. I knew this through the many sheep sessions I’ve taken; any feeds containing copper can become toxic to sheep and I’ve already experienced a mini-heart attack when they busted into the chicken coop for an all-you-can-eat buffet of layer mash. It was free of copper, so no harm done. I know that one has to be careful to segregate feeds with the appropriate species, but I’d dismissed most of it because I don’t use medicated feed. Grain is grain and while the hog rations were not necessarily going to meet the specific needs of just-hatched chicks, offering it for one day, until I could get to the mill for the proper stuff was not going to kill them.
But of course it did. Because I let down my guard when I was buying that one bag of hog feed and forgot to ask if it was medicated. Because I just couldn’t wrap my brain around how we were going to best feed those hogs, and thought that having one bag on hand to get us started, while we figured it all out, was a smart move. I got caught up in determining, with the office staff of the feed mill, which rations were appropriate for the size of the hogs and completely forgot to ask if it was medicated. It’s no one’s fault but my own; most of the standard (conventional) feeds are medicated and I’ve had to go out of my way to ensure that I don’t medicate either the layer or broiler chickens. It is, in fact, the status quo to medicate the hell out of our livestock – be it chicken, calf, hog, lamb. We know this to be true in large factory farm operations, but it’s also the accepted standard for the backyard farmer who sources from the feed mill or farm store. This is no surprise to me, but I became comfortable in rattling off the sku numbers of the feeds I knew to be safe. Had I access to organic grains near me, all of this would be moot. But.
I am angry. That I made such a foolish, naive mistake. That I forgot to ask about medications in my feed. That I have to ask if my feed is medicated. That a drug that is banned in Canada, Europe, and Australia as a known carcinogen and teratogen is by default put into our food supply. That I’ve fed about 20 lbs of the poison to my pigs. Because the whole point in raising these hogs ourselves is to insure, as much as possible, that they are not fed shit like that! I am angry that, from 15, I now have 6 chicks left, and who knows how their development might have been compromised.
I. Am. Pissed. Because now I also have to ask if my (“safe”, high quality, but conventional) chicken feed contains arsenic. I have to come to terms with the fact that I’m not aggressively protect myself, my family, my customers as well as I thought from the myriad of poisons routinely shoved into our food. The realization hits me like a ton of bricks, while in the same breath I hope vehemently that my raw milk farmer doesn’t get arrested for selling me his painstakingly-clean product that I seek out so deliberately.
But I can rest easy that my hogs are not likely to contract dysentery, right?