Raising Baby Chicks

After a dog decided to help itself to the chickens at the barn we were in need of restocking.  I debated, contemplated, and debated some more as to whatbreed of chicks to buy. I really wanted some new Frizzle Cochins and some Blue Silkies but when I tried to place my order I couldn’t get all the different breeds I wanted to be shipped on the same day. I opted to order a rare breed mix, which meant I wouldn’t have any idea what breeds I would get.

The chicks arrived on a Sunday morning in April. In the past the post office has been really good to call me first thing in the morning to tell me my chicks had arrived but this time they didn’t call until 10am. I happened to be at church until noon and the postman was only going to be at the post office until 11. Needless to say I didn’t get my birds until Monday morning.
I was worried the chicks might be dead by Monday but when we opened their box they were all alive, well, and HUNGRY!

As always, the kids were delighted to play with the baby chicks!

I purchased 25 rare breed chicks from McMurry Hatchery. When they arrived I moved them into a small card board box with some food (chick starter) on a paper plate and a Mason jar poultry waterer. I placed rocks in the water to prevent the chicks from getting too wet or drowning. A baby bird can drown in a very little bit of water OR they can get themselves too wet to move around, which causes them to freeze to death. Unfortunately we experienced this problem first hand this year. When the chicks were about 3 days old I failed to put the rocks in place after replacing their water. A few hours later I returned to check on the peeping little things to discover that about half of them were soaking wet and nearly dead. Two of them, I was sure, were not going to make it. J5 and I spent the next 2 hours holding the chicks up to the heat lamp to warm them and dry their downy little bodies. In the end we did lose a few birds and a valuable lesson was learned to keep rocks in the water!!

Birds grow fast! After only one week the chicks were too big for the card board box. We moved them to a make shift brooding box made out of plywood and floor joists. This is a picture of the box we use for our pheasants but the chicken one is basically the same only larger and without a top.

After a few weeks in this box they were flying up to roost on the sides and venturing out of the garage into the sunshine. I never worried about the chickens flying out of the box because I knew they would come back as soon as they felt scared or when they got hungry. Pheasants aren’t that smart and would never go back to the box if they got out.
Finally the chicks were far too dirty and smelly to be living in my garage. The weather had warmed up and their feathers were growing nicely so we shipped them off to the barn to make friends with the full grown chickens. Typically integrating two flocks of birds can be tricky business, especially when one flock is very young, but our barn and chicken yard is very large so there haven’t been too many problems. We put the young chicks box inside the barn so they felt comfortable and they are still venturing there to eat and sleep.
Raising baby chicks can be great fun and a good learning experience for young children. If you are looking into getting your own small flock of backyard chickens here are a few things to remember:
  • FOOD: Chicks don’t need to eat for the first 48 hours but after that they will eat a lot. They should only be fed Chick Start as it has all the necessary nutrients. Avoid feeding small chicks table scraps until their feathers have grown in.
  • WATER: Small birds drink CONSTANTLY. Be sure they never run out of water as they will not survive more than a few hours with nothing to drink. I am always amazed at how often I have to refill water containers (both with chickens and pheasants).
  • TEMPERATURE: Day old to week old chicks should be kept at a temperature of about 90 degrees. A heat lamp is a must until they are old enough to have some feathers. Even after they have a few feathers they should be kept at around 70 degrees. Their box should be big enough that they can get away from the heat source if they are too warm, in which case you may want to consider raising the light to a higher position. If the flock is constantly huddled directly under the lamp you will need to lower it or get an additional light.
  • PREDATORS: Chicks tend to die quite easily for apparently no reason, but nothing will thin out your flock like a cat or a dog. If a cat finds access to your birds it will take one bird a day for its lunch or dinner. If a dog finds easily accessible birds it will kill all of them just for fun. Rural areas may also have trouble with hawks. I watched a hawk circle my chicken yard one afternoon for about 10 minutes but it never dared venture too close because I was fairly close by.
If you have been debating on whether or not to raise chickens just go do it! There is nothing more environmentally friendly than a chicken (they eat yourtable scraps, they fertilize your garden, they give you eggs!). Chickens make easy and enjoyable pets and they are beautiful yard ornaments!

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