Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Getting Started With Baby Chicks

So you are thinking about chickens, or you have already decided to proceed.  You'll probably belong to one of two camps:  either you will study and think and plan and draw up coop plans and research a zillion sites online (and on and on) - OR you want chicks NOW!

Well, either is okay.  If you want to study and get a good handle on everything before you start, you are in good shape and can plan to purchase or order chicks in the Spring.  If you want some now, you are not out of luck.  You can order babies online through about November.  Now is better than later, because we still have a few warm months left and you have the advantage of your chicks coming to maturity just as the days lengthen in the Spring.

Head out to the store and purchase a baby pool.  It will probably be on sale because summer is ending.  Then head to the feed store and get "chick starter", a chick feeder and a drop light for warmth.  Order a waterer with chicken nipples. Now, order your baby chicks.  There are a number of places to order online and you can spend a LOT of time perusing your choices - here's my recommendations:

  •  I have had good luck with Murray McMurray Hatchery in the past.  There's only one catch....you have to order 25 birds!  You can split an order with a friend, sell a few as they grow older or just enjoy selling a lot of eggs.  We'll talk later about using your chickens to cut down on flies for your cows, so 25 is not an unreasonable amount.
  • Deciding on a breed is not easy - I have gotten Buff Orpingtons (sweet and good mothers), Rhode Island Reds (kind of cranky) and everything in between.  Murray has an assortment called the "rainbow layers" that has white egg layers, brown egg layers and Auracanas which lay green eggs.  It makes it a little easier to figure out who is laying and is kind of fun to have green eggs.  If you plan to have them free range, you may want to consider Barred Rocks, as they are a little more hidden from predators by their coloring. Realize that heirloom birds do not lay as well as more recent hybrids. 
Now - how to set up.  Place your baby pool in a basement or garage where it will be protected.  Put about 3" of pine shavings in the bottom and hang your drop light about 12" above the shavings.  Place the chick feeder in and prop your waterer on two 4x4 blocks so the nipples hang down between the blocks.  When you place the babies in you will need to flick the waterer back and forth to attract the chicks' attention.  Pretty soon, they will all be reaching up to drink as you hear tick! tick! tick!

You now have 4-6 weeks to figure out their winter housing.  After that, they begin to lose their baby feathers and start scratching.  The resulting dust is nothing you want indoors!  If your little gals are able to jump out of the pool, you will need to make a circle of netting or cardboard around the perimeter to keep them in.

There is a plethora of choices in chicken housing.  Decide whether you want a movable or stationary coop.
Next week there will be more about house choices. See you then!  There's a whole lot more!

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