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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Keeping Chicks

A day-old chickImage via Wikipedia

Spring is around the corner and the feed stores are filling up with sweet little peeps coming from brooders full of chicks. At work our brooders are full and it has been dang hard not to scoop up every single chick we get in.If we lived on land and not in the city I'd have two big flocks of chickens one for laying and one that was all of the amazing breeds out there that I would have just for their looks. I have resisted so far but probably not for long.

Not for long for a couple of reasons,the first I can't not bring some home, the urge is like an addiction that I keep at bay by my strong sense of common sense and the second is our 2 older hens are no longer laying. But you see the second reason gives me room to feed my need for chicks.

The second reason is also something people have to realize before they start having chickens,what to do with the hens once they have stopped laying? Here we will butcher the hens and have them for soup,not everyone's cup of soup but it is our solution.Sometimes a person lucks out,sort of, and their older hens die on their own before you have to think of this problem.And there is always some city-fied critter eying your coop like a 24 hour drive thru to take care of this point too.

Having Chickens is a long term commitment..period,end of story. They are like having any other animal that you bring into your life.They need care,food,shelter and protection.Chicks are darling little puffs of sweetness for the first few days and then it all begins to change.Just like that sweet little baby you brought home from the hospital grows into a cranky teen but faster. Fortunately Chicks won't argue with you about every little thing, demand more cell phone minutes and another pair of shoes .

Once you have chosen the breed of Chicks you want you are going to need to set up your brooder before you bring chicks home.Having things all set up and ready to go will make for an easier transition for the chicks and make things simple for you. You will need a large box of some sort that is about 3 feet long.You can ask at your local stores that carry appliances if you want to use a cardboard box. Otherwise good luck on finding one made from something else.Also for the box you will need some sort of screen for over the top so the light can get in,no other pets can get in and the chicks can't later fly out which they will try. You will also need some pine shavings for in the bottom of the box, be sure it is PINE not cedar,the oils in the cedar are not good for the chicks. You will also need a feeder and a water.You can find these at feed stores.Don't feel you have to buy the jars for both of these you can use any narrow mouthed canning jars instead. And most of important is a Brooder light to hang over one end of the box to keep your babies warm. Growing up my parents used a high watted light bulb and a hanging light,nothing fancy at all, it works it is a choice.You can also find Brooder Lights with a shield to focus the light a bit more,these use a larger bulb that are found near the lights at feed stores. You will need to be able to hang you light above the box towards one end.This allows the chicks to move in and out of the heat of the light.

You will also need some Chick feed.There is specific feed for chicks that they eat for the first 3 months.This feed comes medicated or not.I always buy the medicated. Why? Because it's like getting my kids their shots but in some ways better.The medicated feed protects the chicks from some diseases that are naturally in the soil ,don't panic here,these are things that effect chickens not your family. The other up side to me about the medicated feed is by the time the chicks will be laying the medication has worked its way through the birds body.This means that if your goal is to have your own organic eggs you will have them any way.

Everything is set up and you have brought home your chicks.What is it like to have them around? That depends on where you end up keeping them.We keep ours in the dinning room (No comments from the Peanut Gallery. Hey, the first person to leave me a comment about the origin of that phrase will win a prize.) and then later move them to the garage. The chicks need to be some place safe,draft free and dry.The box is big so finding a spot is interesting and a trail of patience in the end.
*** I just want to add here about how much this could cost you.When people come in to buy chicks and the set up things it runs for 4 chicks and the "kit" right around $70. I know that may seem like a lot but I have two solutions.Shop around for your supplies.And think of it this way it is an investment that will last about 2 years. It all evens out once the hens start to lay.

I like having the chicks near by so we can talk to them.I find by talking to them they seem to bond a bit more with us. Besides that it gets us in the habit of checking their food and water often.We can also keep an ear out for any stressed out peeping.And well they are so cute we spend lots of time just watching them go about their days. Eventually the charm wears off and everything is covered in dust and out to the garage they go.

This is usually around 3 weeks.The chicks have grown and started feather out. They are also bigger,scratching around more and trying to fly a bit.They are starting to smell more by then too.This is a good point to talk about how often you will need to change their bedding.I use my nose for this one, about once a week is about how often we change their bedding.

Checking their food and water is important too. Checking it a couple of times a day works well. We put out smaller amounts of food so that less is wasted.We don't use the jar for the food and the little ones will sometimes poop in the feed meaning you wil have to change it if there's poop in it. Chickens in general drink lots of water so changing that is important.

Chicks are kept in their Brooder for 8 weeks and during that time you will need to raise the light up one inch per week.As the birds feather out they don't need as much of the heat and you are preparing them for outside temperatures.While the chicks are indoors you will know if they are warm enough by their movements. If the chicks are huddled together under the light they are either getting ready for nap time or they are too cool.You can move your box or lower the light a little bit. If the chicks are crowed at the end of the box where the light is not so intense they could be too hot.Again move the box around or raise the light.

Some other chick behavior that may surprise you is their sleeping habits.Chicks sometimes just fall over and are asleep.They fall asleep on top of each other or even in their feed bowl.Just like a baby who falls asleep sitting in their highchair,clunk they are out like a light.

At 8 weeks your chicks can go out to the coop to live.Some people choose to build the coop before they bring chicks home so it is already to go.Others build the coop during the 8 weeks they are raising the chicks.Either way make sure you are ready,the time goes by faster than you think.

We are beginning to really get the spring chores rolling here.Yesterday we had soil delivered for more garden beds and some gravel for around our fire pit and under the clothes line.I planted 2 kinds of Swiss Chard and Sweet Peas and 3 kinds of Lettuce. The excitement is building here.My Dad was here the other day and has offered to teach us how to graft apple trees.I want 2 Gravenstein Apples and they are hard to find.My Dad's solution is to get some cuttings from a family friends trees and graft them.I am most excited about learning this new skill.It sounds easy and will add to our Homestead nicely.My Dad also brought us an assortment of seed potatoes for the garden.It's not too early here to plant them,we just need to get the bed built for them. Things are good and we are all happy and well.Not much could be better than that.

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  1. Will you be participating in Tour de Coops?

  2. What a great primer on chicks. Thanks. I'm getting ready to bring some home. I hadn't realized that they'd need to be inside for up to 8 weeks. Food for thought.

  3. greendeva3- No because we live in Beaverton.

    Conny- Yeah Chicks! They really are easy they just need little bits of care here and there.I have put the chicks out at 6 weeks if the temperature is warm early.Don't you live in N.CA? You might be able to put them out sooner because you guys tend to be a bit warmer.