Last week we talked about questions to ask before raising chickens. Whether or not to start your own flock is not a decision that can be taken lightly, but if you’ve done all of the necessary research and preparations, then starting out with a bunch of freshly-hatched chickens can be fun and exciting. That’s what we’re going to talk about this week, and I’m glad, because this is the good part!
There are many good reasons to start out with laying hens instead of baby chickens. It’s less expense in equipment, for one, and it saves you the hassle of raising chicks. If you plan to start with grown hens, look for them on Craigslist, at animal shelters, in the classifieds, or from local farmers. You can also contact local farm or home-school co-ops to find people willing to sell their hens.
We tend to start our chickens out as chicks. It’s a lot of work, but I love the experience of it, and I love that my daughters are getting experience raising chickens.
Buying Your Baby Chickens
There are several ways and places to buy your chicks. There are many reliable mail-order businesses, which are nice because you can pick nearly any breed. The baby chickens will be mailed shortly after they are hatched, and you’ll probably have to pick them up at the post office when they arrive.
Of course, it’s always good to support your local farmers, too. Farmer’s markets sell chicks, as do many hardware stores (although sometimes these chicks have been mail-ordered, too), co-ops, and farms.
Keep in mind that many places have minimum purchase requirements for chicks. It’s somewhat inconvenient, but meant to dissuade people from buying chicks for Easter baskets and other non-agricultural purposes.
Set Up for Raising Chicks
Chicks don’t require a ton of supplies, but it is sort of specialized equipment. Here are the things they cannot do without:
We usually use large storage containers for our baby chickens. They need something that is big enough to fit them and their supplies and give them moving room, and something tall enough that they won’t be able to fly out of when they start to get bigger. (Some breeds are more likely to fly away than others.)
You could set food out for them in a bowl or a lid if you liked, but the chick feeders are specially designed to reduce mess. Chickens have a natural instinct to scratch at their food, and it’s harder for them to spread it out all over the pen and lose it if it’s in a proper feeder. (Find one here.)
A waterer base
There are different sizes of waterers. The big ones are nice because you don’t have to refill them as often, but they also take up a lot of room. You’ll probably be cleaning shavings out of the bottom of these at least once a day anyway, so for that reason we tend to buy the smaller waterers. (Find one here.)
Heat lamp with a heat bulb
You’ll need a special brooding bulb that is able to keep the chicks at 95° for the first week or so. After that, you can drop the temperature about five degrees per week. (Find a simple heat lamp here and heat bulbs here.)
We tend to use pine shavings to line the bottom of the chick pen. They poop a lot, so you’ll need enough shavings to be able to change them out frequently. On the bright side, it makes for excellent compost material. (Find pine bedding here.)
Chick food is not the same as chicken food. Most chick food is in crumble form because it’s easier for them to eat. Organic chick food is available, but can be difficult to find. Make the decision ahead of time as to whether or not you want to feed your chicks medicated food, and make sure you know what you’re getting when you buy it. (Find organic chick food here.)
Have everything set up well before your chicks arrive. They will do better if their home is well-warmed by their heat lamps before they are placed inside the pen, and they will have to spend less time in their take-home box if you aren’t scrambling around to get everything set up.
Make sure your chick home is in a safe place. No cats or dogs should frequent the area, it shouldn’t be drafty, and curious children should know the rules, too.
A Few Chicky Surprises
- Chicks are messy. Their perfectly arranged little home will quickly go awry. They will scratch out their food, fill their waterer with shavings, and poop everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. If you don’t clean their pen regularly, it will smell awful.
- Though they start out all cute and fluffy, chicks grow into half-grown teenager birds quickly. Half-grown teenager birds are not cute. They are gangly and funny looking and have patchy feathers. But you will love them anyway.
- Chicks can be mean to each other. Especially if you end up combining chicks from a few different flocks or locations, expect that they will have to establish a pecking order. It can be hard to watch them bully the newest chick, but eventually all will settle down and the chicks will get along.
As I’ve been saying all along, raising chicks is hard, fun, and totally worth it for me.
Are you considering starting your own flock this year? Tell me about your plans in the comments!