"You have how many baby chicks?" Minnie asked the farmer at Hereford, England.
"90,000. That's 30,000 in each of these three buildings."
You know we had to look, and he was proud to show us.
Feed and water were suspended from the ceiling so nothing could be knocked over. I asked what the bedding was. He reached into the six-inch depth, and grabbed a fistful of shredded English paper money with silver threads glistening here and there. "When the chicks are removed after 39 or a few more days, these buildings will be cleaned out and scrubbed; you could eat off the floor."
When we were kids our family raised 100 fryers each spring under a heat lamp in a brooder house. We'd rush home from school to play with them. To hold a baby chick to our ear and hear it cheep was worth the all day wait. If it didn't cheep (talk), we'd report it to our parents as sick, and they'd come investigate. Once the chicks grew feathers they weren't as much fun, or as easy to catch, and their beaks were weapons.
Dad checked on our new brood every couple of hours day and night for the first few weeks. Fire was a concern. The heat-lamp could catch the straw and newspaper bedding on fire. Our new friend had a couple of farm hands, but the ultimate responsibility for the care of the chicks was his. I'd call it "FIC": Fowl Intensive Care. And he had a dairy operation with 100 Holstein cows. I think the B&B was for some outside company. They were too busy to get away.
"When the chicks arrived two girls sorted them by the shape of their wing feathers, tossing pullets one direction and roosters the other. Pullets are kept a different number of days from roosters," so said our new friend.
Because we were interested, he told us of a peculiar situation he'd had with one new batch of chicks. They wouldn't drink water. The "why not" was a mystery. Three-day-olds aren't much more than a cotton-ball with feet and a beak, they need hydration.
Puzzled, he held one chick at the water-er tapping it's head so it's beak touched the water. The other 89,999 waited for the verdict. Our friend couldn't give up, too much was at stake. After several minutes, whatever blocked the idea dissolved, and the chick took a drink. Instantly, the message transmitted to the rest, and they all took a drink, thank goodness.
Gracious hosts, they fed us well in the mornings - the King's Breakfast: meat, eggs, bread fried and toast, grilled tomatoes, cheeses, and tea; whatever we wanted. Then we took day trips, but that's another story. In the evening they invited us for brandy and a visit. Their home was new-built to look like the old black and whites. Timbers for their blacks were more than 250 years old and came from an old ship. That's recycling.
We never thought of any consequences for visiting the chicken operation, but back in the States, Customs intended confiscating our shoes until we convinced them we wouldn't be on a farm at home.
Minnie says I can't say we stayed at "the chicken ranch," but what would you call a farm with 90,000 chickens?
copyright 2005 Red Convertible Travel Series