Thursday, February 26, 2015

Baby Chicks 2015

Last night we purchased our 2015 batch of baby chicks! 6 more hens will be joining the egg laying ranks this summer! We got another Ameraucana, another Black Jersey Giant, 2 more Rhode Island Reds and 2 Barred Rocks. We were kind of hoping to find breeds we didn't already have, but we've been happy with all of these over the past couple years, too. The company 4H orders from in May has Buff Orpingtons and Silver Laced Wyandottes we're eyeing, too...

Caring for baby chicks is fairly easy. The key is keeping them warm and safe, with a steady supply of fresh water and food. Start up cost, including the birds, is under $50! Sure, buying the fancy waterer and food dispenser is convenient, and a plastic bin may be a little easier to clean up, but they are not necessary.

You will need:

Baby Chicks
Cardboard Box or Large Plastic Tote
Pine Shavings
Heat Lamp w/ Bulb
Shallow Water Dish w/ Marbles or Purchased Waterer
Shallow Food Dish or Purchased Feeder
Chick Starter Feed (we use unmedicated)
Duramycin - 10 Powdered Antibiotic (optional)

Below is a photo of our set up this year. We use a purchased waterer, as we have to refill it less, but you can also use a shallow bowl filled with marbles (to prevent drowning), and a cut off an instant soup bowl for food (couldn't find our chick feeder!). We set the water on a salad plate to prevent chips from getting into and soaking up the water. We've always just used a cardboard box, but a plastic tote, or even an old galvanized water trough works! You'll want about 1/2" or so deep layer of pine chips in the bottom for bedding. Keep the box away from drafts.

As you can see, we secure the heat lamp to a dining room chair. You will want the temperature inside the box somewhere between 85 and 95 degrees for the first week or so. If they congregate directly under the lamp, and refuse to leave the huddle for food or water, it may be a little too chilly for them. Adversely, if they are as far as possible from the heat source and panting, raise the lamp. Put the food and water a little ways from the lamp to encourage movement.

Personally, we put powdered antibiotic in the water for the first week we have them, to address any illness they mave have gotten from other chicks, or during the stress of travel. After the first week, and for the rest of their lives, they will only be treated with medicated water in the case of illness, never as a preventative measure. Nor will they be fed any sort of medicated feed!

If you want your adult chickens to be friendly, handling them gently several times a day is the key. My adult birds come when called, many seek out human attention on their own, and the majority can be carried around without any complaints (with a few exceptions, roosters and dominant hens are less likely cooperate...) by doing so. Be exceptionally vigilant around small children and cats or dogs who are not familiar with baby chicks when handling them.

As soon as they get their first set of feathers, you can remove the heat lamp. Eventually, they will be moved to a bigger/longer box, which we create by cutting the ends out and taping them together with packing tape, with chicken wire laid over the top to prevent jail breaks! As soon as the weather breaks, we'll set up a temporary corral in the yard and allow them supervised forraging time a few hours a day. If you already have adult chickens, be sure to keep the younger flock separated from them until they're ready to live in the coop full time. (But, that's an entirely separate issue we'll address when that time comes!)

***All this said, A lot of people have expressed interest in laying hens, but before purchasing, be advised that chickens only lay eggs for 5-7 years, but may live in captivity several years there after. I have heard that animal shelters have begun seeing more and more spent hens. Either resolve yourself to humanely butchering, or plan to keep the birds into retirement. Baby chicks are cute, but they soon grow up! Venturing out into subzero temperatures 3 times a day to refresh frozen waterers and raking out poopy, stinky straw once a week or so isn't exactly fun. You may have problems finding a vet that handles poultry. You may be required to research and provide medical care on your own. Don't go into it lightly!***