Since becoming a “chicken lover”, I never thought I would find so much joy in watching chickens grow from the baby chicks we purchased from the local farm store to egg laying, pest eating, friendly chickens. We have had a lot of trial and error with raising chickens, from designing and building inexpensive coops to keeping predators away. We lost a few to coyotes and hawks, but we were able to learn from our mistakes and create a safe, healthy, happy, and free ranging environment for our hens and rooster. For first timers, I highly suggest you research the type of hen you want to have. In our experience, Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Barred Rocks are very friendly with kids and GREAT egg producers. They both lay brown eggs, but if you want an “Easter Egg” assortment, an Ameraucana is a great hen to add to the mix. They will lay light green eggs, and are nice hens as well. Barred Rocks, however, are great for both eggs and meat production. I bring this topic up only because one day your hens will stop laying eggs (egg production slows after 2 years) and if you are a true homesteader, efficiency is key. You do not want to your chickens eating up your feed bill while not providing you with anything in return. So think about what you really want out of your flock, and go for it! Experience comes with actually DOING! “An ounce of experience is worth a thousand expert opinions!”- Crab
For first timers, I suggest buying baby chicks (around $2 per chick) from a local farm store (feed stores and Tractor Supply stores). Here are a few tips to help get you started when you bring your chicks home 🙂
**Have the Brooder Pen Ready!**
- Large plastic tote, have lid handy (inexpensive and at any Wal-Mart, $8-$15. Good idea to buy 2*)
- Heat Lamp with 250W bulb (red bulbs are preferred, but clear ones work too, around $10 for lamp and $5 for light)
- Shavings or hay for the bottom of the pen
- A water dish for chicks (Feed stores sell these and are preferred as they are designed so that baby chicks can not drowned themselves, $5)
- A feed trough or pan (get one that has optional cover as the chicks will start sitting on the edge and poop in their food..not fun to clean, $5)
- Chick Crumble to feed your chicks (at feed stores in large bags about $14)
- Love and affection!
We would always have around 10 or more chicks at a time and they all fit comfortably in the tote until about 6 weeks. They will start flapping their little wings and wanting to move around by then, so if you need more time to build a coop, you can set the lid of the tote half way over the top just to perturb them from jumping out. They will tend to get creative and use their water dish and such to escape their pen, so you do need to check them throughout the day.
Clean the tote at least every 3-4 days for the young chicks and as they get bigger you may need to clean it every 1-2 days. Cleanliness equals healthy chickens!! *It is a good idea to have 2 totes, this way you can keep one tote clean and ready so you not only have a place to put the chicks when cleaning their original home, but keeps the whole cleaning process from getting overly time consuming. We would always have one tote ready to go with shavings or hay, and immediately clean the dirty one and have it ready to go. It also comes in handy if you need to separate your chickens for space or health issues.
**Important to Remember**
- Check food and water throughout the day as the chicks will eat and drink A LOT!
- If the chicks are kicking shavings/hay in their dishes, put a small board or something under the dish to get it off the ground. (Once they are in a coop you can hang their water and feeder from the ceiling to keep clean)
- If you see a chick that looks unresponsive or ill, remove them immediately into a separate pen! They may be sick. I have only had this happen to me once where I lost 2 chicks out of 15, which I ordered from a hatchery online. However, they did provide us with a few extra chicks in our order in case this happened. I think the trip may have caused them to fall ill.
- Hens are called PULLETS as baby chicks and some suppliers do not know the difference between roosters and pullets before 6 weeks. So make sure who you are buying from can give you what you need, this is known as a “straight run”. (We added one rooster a year or so after raising our first batch of hens, that is for another blog though :)).
- If your chicks are directly under the heat lamp and huddled together, they may be too cold. Get a larger Watt bulb or move the light closer to the chicks.
- If your chicks look like they are trying to “get away” from the light, they are too hot. You can simply move the lamp up higher or get a smaller Watt bulb. **I always clamp my light right on the side of the tub at an angle or directly down in a corner so the chicks can move under the light or have space to get away if needed.**
- ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER HANDLING CHICKENS! It is good practice for you and for the kids (if you have any) to always wash your hands immediately after touching, feeding, cleaning, etc. It is also a good idea to wear a mask (one of those standard over the ear elastic band type) when cleaning the pen/coops. I only use one when cleaning the big coops, but it doesn’t hurt to form good habits.
It is best to have a coop ready before you even purchase your chicks, but if you are as excited as we were, you may just have the chicks and build their home before they are too big for their pen (thus the lid/space issue). Coops come in all shapes and sizes, DO NOT OVER THINK IT! We definitely did :). But that is for another blog, as we have a new coop design we want to build and share soon.
Post any comments or questions!