Chickens the gateway farm animal…

Let me tell you the story about my first batch of chickens that was ordered. It was disastrous, and I am not sure how I ever thought about getting more. It was the spring of 2009. I had only been in my little farmstead house for six months or so. I had been dutifully doing chicken research, and my then live-in boyfriend and I decided to order 30 chicks. While waiting for delivery, we built a coop from pieces of plywood, and we built a “chicken tractor” that was to be moved around the yard; protecting the chickens inside the caged area. Of course we didn’t have any plans for said chicken tractor, or the coop for that matter, but we made plans and started building. The coop was easy; still standing today, and used for new chickies getting acclimated to the bigger girls, but protecting them too as the pecking order can sometimes be cruel. We had overbuilt it by about 500 pounds. It was ginormous and heavy. So we used it as wall coop at one end of the chicken yard. Oh, and it was painted bright PINK — an Lowes “oops” paint! The tractor has thankfully since deteriorated.

We finally got the call from the post office that they had arrived, and I had taken the day off. The peep-peep-peep from the box was adorable. 30 little day-old babies tucked into a 8×10 cardboard box with holes in it. Adorable. Just so adorable. I had no idea that they were so tiny. The brooding cage that we had made, had too big of chicken wire cloth; and they were just able to walk out of it. I hastily put some cardboard around the sides, and all was good. For an hour or so. They took water, but they didn’t look good. And one by one they started dying. I was crying. Then there was just one chick left. He survived whatever it was. And I called him Jesus. A few days later, I got some baby bantam chicks from a lady in another nearby town, as I didn’t want Jesus to be lonely. And I called the six little white bantams Jesus’s disciples. Then Jesus died. All I had was disciples.

So I called the hatchery. They sent me out 30 new chicks. A chicken’s average life span is around 8-10 years. My hen’s average life span is less due to chupacabras, hunting dogs, foxes, hawks and possums.

One would think that with the lack of success, I might consider stopping. But they are so cute, and they do so much good in the garden. And what would I talk about if I wasn’t talking about chickens?

Chick days

I was really trying to avoid Tractor Supply, but I needed basil seeds as my seeds were not germinating as planned. Tractor Supply started getting chicks in several weeks ago, and I managed to not peek, to plug my ears and get in and get out during my previous visits. 

Every year I say to myself “no more chicks”. Every year my defenses fail. Today, I came home with two mystic marans and two americanas. I hurriedly got them home and pieced together their brooding area. Heat lamp-check, thermometer-check, feeder and waterer-check, big galvanized water tub-check. And there we were, happy as pigs in shit (or chicks in a warm tub).

So some things you need to know about raising chicks: 

1. You need to keep your chicks warm. For the first week of their lives, chicks should be kept in a brooding area that is 95 degrees, with space to get out of the heat if they get too warm. A heat lamp does this nicely and easily attainable at the local box store. In order to ensure you have the temperature just right for the Goldilock chicks you also need to have a thermometer. The brooding area should have a cooler area and a warmer area. If the chicks are peeping all the time, they are too cold. If they are panting, they are too hot. The temperature can be decreased as the chicks get older, simulating more time away from their momma hen. Moving the heat lamp farther away each week accomplishes this temperature reduction. The follow schedule is what is recommended and what I adhere to. By week 6, they are ready to go outside —depending on your climate.

  • Week 1: 95 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Week 2: 90 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Week 3: 85 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Week 4: 80 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Week 5: 75 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Week 6: 70 degrees Fahrenheit

You can find the items to use for keeping you chicks warm and cozy here: Chick heating set up. This blog may contain links to affiliate websites, and I may receive an affiliate commission for any purchases made by you on the affiliate website using such links.

2. Like all living creatures chicks need clean drinking water. They also need to have that water in a container that they cannot drown in. Farm stores sell these drinking trays and all that is needed is a mason jar that screws in and is gravity fed. Day old chicks need some encouragement to drink during the first hour in their new digs. You must dip their beaks in the water when you get them home to teach them not only how to drink but also where the water is found. Normally the mother hen would teach them to drink, but you are their momma now.

3. Chicks need a specialized feed. They have tiny little beaks. So they need tiny little chick starter crumbles. Chick starter has 18% protein, along with vitamins and minerals that supports healthy chick growth. A chick’s natural instinct is to peck so just putting some on the floor near the feeder will show them where to fill their bellies. 

4. The floor of their brooding area needs to NOT be slick. No newspaper, as this can cause a condition called splay leg. During the first couple of days I use an old towel which is nice and grippy and soft. After the first days, I use puppy pads with some covered with embossed paper towels. 

As the chicks get older and bigger, they move through a couple of cages that give them more space; an enclosed dog kennel and then a large dog cage and finally outside to a sectioned off area in the fenced coop area with their own coop.

Although it is terribly tempting to just cuddle them the first couple of days because they are sooooo cute, try to restrain so they can get acclimated and settle in. Cooing and talking to them is highly encouraged though to help socialize them. 

Happy chick days!