Spring is coming! I can feel it! Can’t you? Ok, so there’s still snow on the ground and there’s still snow in the forecast, but… I mean, it’s coming… right? Let’s just say it is.
“Chick Days” happens at our local farm store toward the end of March so I’m getting ready!
We have only six chickens on the Farm right now and I’m looking to at least double that if not more and possibly add in some turkey and pheasant. But, that’s for another post. Let’s talk chickens!
When you go to the farm store, you will find a few varieties of chickens and each one of them look soft, fluffy and adorable! How do you choose? Your farm store will usually sell the most popular breeds. Some common breeds that lay well are Australorps, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks and Speckled Sussex. My favorites are Black Australorps and Speckled Sussex. In my experience they have beautiful temperaments as well as an egg production of nearly 300 eggs per year!
For chicks, I prefer wood shavings. They are inexpensive, small, absorbent, and compost well. When my chicks become teenagers (pullets), I add them to the chicken house. Here the bedding is a thick layer of straw. I find the hens love to scratch their way thru a fresh layer of straw in their house.
Baby chicks need protein for growth, but as they grow, they will need less protein and more energy. Chick starter ration found at your local feed store is a good choice at this stage. At about six weeks, you should change their ration to grower feed. This is fed to them until they reach a layer age which, for most breeds, is around 16-20 weeks. At this point you can switch them to layer pellets and oyster shell/grit (to help create the egg’s hard shell).
Feeders and Waterers
The best feeders and waterers are the ones that will keep the chicks from standing in them as much as possible! Chicks will stand on or stand in their feeders and waterers and do what birds do… poop! Keeping the clean-up as easy as possible is in your (and their) best interest. Take a close look at what the farm store is using for their feeders and waterers for the chicks. They likely have a set-up that requires the least amount of maintenance.
You’re going to need a heat lamp. The chicks need their brooder temperature to be around 95 degrees. If the temperature is too hot or too cold, your chicks will show signs of suffering or may even die. This is something you need to get right. You can raise and lower the temperature of the air in your brooder by raising or lowering the heat lamp itself. If the chicks seem huddled underneath the lamp, it’s likely too cold in the brooder. If they are as far away from the lamp as they can get, it may be too warm. Watch your chicks for signs and you’ll soon learn what makes them happy.
As they begin to lose their downy fluff, they will be replaced with their adult feathers. As this happens, you will be able to raise the lamp incrementally to help them adapt to life without the heat lamp. This should happen around the six week mark depending on outside temperatures. Again, watch your little flock closely and they will give you cues.
A word of caution about your heat lamp: secure it well! A heat lamp that falls can easily burn down whatever building you are keeping your chicks in. Easily. Use an abundance of caution!
You can make a brooder out of almost anything (Check out these ideas on Pinterest)! My suggestion is to think to the future as much as you can. You can house a couple of day-old chicks in a shoebox, but by the time they reach 2 weeks old, they will have outgrown it and will need another brooder. I start my chicks in the same brooder they will be in until they are turned out with the older chickens at around 12 weeks. Figure a 12-week-old chick will then weigh 3-4 pounds depending on its breed.
Some suggestions for DIY brooders are plastic tubs, rabbit hutches, a dog kennel or wooden boxes. Although you can certainly make a custom brooder, you can also improvise with what you have. Be sure it is secured on all sides so the chickens can’t get out and predators can’t get in.
Chickens are one of the easiest and most economical farm animals to keep (check out my other monthly budget cost savings ideas here) and equally one of the most rewarding. They are friendly and sweet and make you breakfast! What’s not to love!?