I stopped at the feed store to pick up milk replacer. I left with a box of chicks.
When I stepped up to the counter to place my order, the clerk asked me if I wanted some chicks. There had been a mistake with an order from the hatchery and the chicks couldn't be returned, so the feed store needed to find a home for the chicks before the end of the day.
My first response to the question was all-out laughter. This is the third time in the past couple years we have taken in ordered-by-mistake baby poultry. Twice it was happenstance that I needed milk replacer on the same day that chicks arrived; the other time, the feed store actually called to see if I would take an erred order of ducklings.
After a good laugh, the wheels in my brain started turning. The clerk had explained that the chicks were Black Silkie Bantams. Dan and Monika were both enrolled in the poultry project in 4-H, but I had missed the deadline for ordering chicks in time for the county fair.
The kids were disappointed, and I felt like a bad mom for a couple days. Perhaps this box of Black Silkie Bantams was a chance to show chickens after all.
As an aside, Dan and Monika first signed up for the poultry project back in 2015. They each picked a layer breed and we ordered chicks. The chicks arrived the same week as the avian influenza outbreak and the project skidded to a halt. As a result, we still have a ridiculous number of prolific layers running around the farm. Who knew Black Australorps were so proficient at hatching out their own chicks?
I called Glen for confirmation. He's the poultry expert in our family. He showed chickens for years in 4-H at both the county and state fair. He agreed that Black Silkie Bantams would be great chickens for a 4-H project. The silkies' smaller size and gentle temperament would make them great for poultry project beginners.
So, home I went with 15 little black bantam chicks. The kids were ecstatic upon discovering the surprise chicks.
While the kids were inspecting the chicks, Dan proclaimed, "Mom, they have five toes." (Most breeds of chickens have four toes.)
Five-toed feet are only one of the qualities that make silkies so unique. As the chicks grew, their down was replaced with wispy feathers that look more like hair than normal feathers. Their heads are crowned with a puff of these silky feathers. Their legs and feet are covered with fluffy feathers as well. In short, they look like sooty powder puffs.
Funny looking or not, the silkies have been a fun project. Dan has taken charge of the project and been solely responsible for taking care of the birds. Under his care, all 15 of the chicks have become very nice looking birds. In contrast, it's hard for our young kids to be completely responsible for their dairy projects - quite a bit of parental help is still required. Monika decided not to continue with the poultry project; she enrolled in the dog project with our new dog and decided two animal projects was enough. (Bless her practical heart. She didn't get that from her mother.)
With the county fair quickly approaching, we started helping Dan sort out a cockerel and two pullets for his breeding trio. The process gave us another good laugh. It turns out that silkie cockerels (young males) and pullets (young females) are almost impossible to tell apart. We found a poultry bulletin that explained the differences we should look for, but the final word in the bulletin was that none of these characteristics is a guarantee of gender; the only certain indication is egg laying. Suffice it to say, we're going to help Dan do the best he can picking out his chickens and hope that the cockerel doesn't lay an egg at the fair. (We'll be OK if one of the pullets crows, because apparently silkie pullets are capable of crowing like roosters.)
If you'd like to see Dan's funny chickens, come find us at the Stearns County Fair.
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 75 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children - Dan, 9, Monika, 7, and Daphne, 3. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.