Warning: Chickens are addictive and you may soon gain the label of “The Crazy Chicken Lady”
There is nothing more adorable than a day old chick especially if you’re the proud new owner. They’re so fluffy, surprisingly aware and the little noises they make are so endearing “cheep-cheep-cheep”.
All your supplies should be ready and in good order for the arrival of your new flock. Baby chicks are usually better off raised indoors for the first 4-6 weeks depending on weather and conditions of their future coop. This way the temperature can be monitored and maintained, as well as keeps them away from predators like the family cat or dog. I had a terrible experience with THE CAT. The chicks were kept in one of our bedrooms and he must of heard the door not close tight so while I was in the kitchen I heard the bedroom door open. I went running down the hallway and there he was with one of my baby chicks in his mouth. The noise that came from me yelling at him was piercing. I flung myself at him grabbing my precious baby chick from his mouth. Oh if you could have seen the look on his face, it is one I will never forget. All was just fine the baby chick was unharmed, THE CAT however was scared for life.
You will need a re-purposed or borrowed large plastic tub (with the lid off). This works great for the first week depending on the quantity of chicks you have. Layer the bottom of the tub with newspaper and add an inch of pine shavings. A height adjustable heat lamp and thermometer are essential. Day old chicks need temperatures of 95 Fahrenheit which should be lowered by 5 degrees per week. You will also need to purchase organic chick starter food, feeder and proper water container for chickens so they don’t drown. The next step as they grow can be a large wire dog kennel. You must put cardboard along the bottom part of the bars so they don’t escape between the bars but it works great with a slide-in washable tray and the heat lamp over top. After my chickens out grew the kennel I then moved them into my dog’s exercise pen with the bottom bars covered in cardboard and a tarp on the floor. This set up it allowed me to still use the heat lamp and gave them ample room to run and use a couple of low perches. If you don’t have dog supplies a proper chicken brooder box is another option. They are available at feed stores, but there are lots of DIY ideas on Pinterest for brooders. I prefer to use what I have, modifying it to my needs.
At four to six weeks old it’s time for them to leave the house. I like to treat them like seedlings, hardening them off for a few days by putting them outside during the day and bringing them inside at night. This makes for a less stressful transition for them.
Half the fun of raising chicken is deciding which ones to purchase. With so many different breeds of chickens the process of choosing is daunting. However, there are a few different things to keep in mind when choosing the breed you want. Here are a few things you need to consider:
- How cold do your winters get? Certain breeds of chickens have better cold hardiness
- What colour eggs would you like
- Will your hens free range
- How long do you want them to lay for? The more eggs they lay in a year the shorter the time for laying. They only have so many eggs and when their gone their gone.
- What size hens do you want
- Is egg production your main focus
- Do you want a breed that is more friendly
- Is a heritage breed important to you
Finding your Chicks
This can be a little tricky depending on where you live. Baby chicks are almost impossible to find in a major city so you may have to travel to the outskirts to get your chicks. You can order on line from hatcheries where they get shipped in a box, but most hatchery’s have a minimum order and do not ship small quantities. If you are having chicks shipped they can last up to three days in shipping but not any longer so make sure you pick them up from the post office immediately.
There are some hatcheries that are willing to sell small quantities and a variety of chicks but expect to pay more. You can buy chicks which have been “sexed” meaning you have a much better chance of getting hens instead of roosters but keep in mind errors can be made when sexing chickens so this is not guaranteed.
Feeding your Chicks
Your baby chicks will need a starter food which is available at most feed stores. This food is very high in protein to encourage fast growth. Once your chicks are 6-8 weeks old they can then be switched to a grower feed that they will remain on that until they start to lay egg. Once the hens start laying eggs they are switched to a layer feed. Baby chicks need a constant supply of food and water.
Not into Chicks, try Pullets
Many small hobby farms and hatcheries will sell pullets. A pullet is a hen which is under a year old. Most people refer to a pullet as a young hen who doesn’t yet lay eggs, typically 6-22 weeks of age. Pullets are more expensive but you don’t have the effort of raising them from chicks, but you won’t have the fun either. The other drawback to pullets is that they will never be as friendly as the ones you raise from day one. One benefits to pullets is you are way less likely to get a rooster and you don’t have to wait as long for eggs.
I hope this gives you a good overview into starting your own flock. Chickens are versatile easily going from urban to rural environments so don’t be limited by your postal code. Good luck and enjoy raising your own hens.
Do you raise chickens? Share a photo of your flock with us on Facebook!