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The Chicken Chronicles, Week One

Chicks in tub

Today is the big day! In a few hours, we are headed to the feed store to pick up two new day-old chicks. They will live in our spare bathroom for eight weeks until they are old enough to go live outside with the other chickens.

So I thought that over these several coming weeks, I would post an update once a week about their progress and provide any chicken raising tips that I can for those of you who are thinking about getting some this spring. Let's start with the setup:

Location: You don't have to raise them in a bathtub, of course, but this works for us because it's a bathroom we rarely use, and makes it easy to keep the cat away. It's also very easy to clean up at the end of the whole process. Just be sure you pick a location that is protected from predators and easy to keep warm.

Brooder:  Day old chicks — which is what we are picking up from the feed store later today — cannot regulate their body temperature and have to be kept at 95°at first. If they wander too far away from their heat source, they might get chilled and die. So for the first few weeks, were keeping them in this plastic storage tub so they can't wander off. Once they get a little bigger, we will pull out the storage tub and let them wander around in these two cardboard boxes that we have joined together.

Heat lamp:  You can see that there is a heat lamp suspended from a chain to keep them warm. You can pick these up at the feed store, along with an infrared bulb, for about 25 bucks. The thermometer is crucial — I seriously overestimated the temperature inside this box and had to raise the lamp quite a bit to make sure it was 95° in there.  The chicks will move closer to the light or further away from it to keep themselves comfortable, but if it's too hot or too cold they will get into trouble quickly. As they get bigger, we gradually raise the light to decrease the temperature.

Feeder:  There's also a feeder filled with medicated chick feed. The medication helps prevent the chicks from getting sick when they come into contact with their droppings. I seriously considered going the organic route and skipping the medication, but there's really no treatment for a sick chick, and I can't bear the thought of losing one. I just don't want to risk it. So they're getting the medication.

Waterer:  Although you can't see it in this picture, there is also a waterer to which we add a pinch of vitamin powder. All of this is available at the feed store, but it's a good idea to pick it up beforehand and to have everything set up before you bring the chicks home.

Bedding:  In the bottom of their little home is a layer of pine shavings, but for the first few days we cover that up with paper towels so the chicks will get in the habit of eating their food, not the pine shavings.

Lid:  The roll of hardware cloth will go over the top of the brooder once the chicks are old enough to attempt to fly out. I think last time we put a board or two on it to keep it flat.

Towels:  Oh, and towels are important, too. We like to handle our baby chicks quite a lot so that they will be very acclimated to being around people. Baby chicks not only produce copious and smelly droppings, they also can't walk around on our slick linoleum floor. So if we want to play with the chicks, we spread the towels out on our laps and on the floor so they can wander around a bit. (The towels get washed pretty much every day.) And of course, whenever we have them out of the brooder, we keep a close eye on the temperature so they don't get cold.

That's our setup!  Some of these are things you may already have around the house; if you had to go buy it all, the cost might be something along the lines of:

$25 for heat lamp and infrared bulb

$5 for a small bag of medicated chick feed

$10 for waterer & food dispenser, including the jars that screw into them

$8 for vitamin powder

$5-10 for a plastic tub

$10 for a bale of pine shavings (which you will also use in the chicken coop)

$5-10 for a thermometer

The chain, the hardware cloth, the cardboard boxes, the paper towels–well, you've probably got that stuff around, don't you? Anyway, it's going to come to $80 or so if you have to buy most of it new.

The chicks themselves are the cheapest part of this whole adventure–they're only $3 each!

I'll post a picture of them later today when we bring them home.  And tune in next week for Part Two!

Posted by on February 18, 2010 at 5:01 am, in the category Uncategorized.
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17 responses to “The Chicken Chronicles, Week One”

  1. Norah says:

    I’m so glad you’re going to blog about the chick experience! ‘Garden Rant’s’ large readership can see that it’s not a big hassle! And don’t skim over the poop part: yes, they make a lot but it’s tiny and no big deal. If you can clean a cat litter box you can deal with chicks and chickens!! Fresh eggs for everybody!

  2. Eliza says:

    Oh, I’m so jealous! I have a family member who isn’t on board with backyard chickens. I helped care for a friend’s chicks with a set-up like this and was fascinated by how tired they always seemed. I guess there is a trade-off that comes with constant warmth from a light bulb (while surrounded by an army of active siblings). The chicks just don’t get enough sleep. We would pick the little babies up just to watch them have poultry narcolepsy — they fell asleep in our hands instantaneously!

  3. Sheila says:

    I remember when I was little, my mother brought the baby chicks in the house and sticked them in the oven to keep them warm as the heat lamp had burnt out. My sister and I always had so much fun playing with them!

  4. John says:

    Has anyone explained the situation to the girls outside in the coop? They might want to know about the new kids on the block.

  5. Gardenology says:

    I’ve heard watching adult chickens in the yard is as entertaining as watching tv. I’ve also heard the droppings can really smell foul (no pun intended). Looking forward to updates on these chicks, as it’s something I’m considering for the future…

  6. marlene says:

    We’re planning to get chicks for the first time this spring, so this will be a wonderful guide to what we can expect. Looking forward to the updates!

  7. Amy Stewart says:

    John–yes, introducing them to our existing flock will be interesting. I’ll let you know how it goes. Suggestions are welcome.

    Gardenology–Seriously, the smell is no big deal. You cannot smell my chicken coop even when you are standing right outside it, and when you do walk in, it smells like a barnyard, which is not terribly offensive. But really, you have to physically be inside to smell it. Their bedding is pine shavings, which has a nice clean smell, and I just rake out the old bedding and put it on the compost pile once in a while, and top with fresh pine shavings regularly, and it’s totally fine.

  8. John says:

    I would always have to keep the new group in a wire cage so that the two groups could scope each other out without being able to physically touch each other. There was always a problem with one hen (not always who I thought was “alpha” either) but after a month or so things calmed down. Chickens like a group, if you only have a few outside now they may just adore the new members. I had dozens and dozens and had to keep multiple coops in order to keep the peace.

  9. Liisa says:

    This is so exciting! I’ve been missing having baby chicks, but we can’t get anymore than the 3 we have. This will be like having baby chicks vicariously.

  10. Tibs says:

    KIttens are so much easier. But no eggs.

  11. Marie Tulin says:

    I want chickens but have learned from beekeeping that any “kept” living creature is a big responsibility. My concern is salmonella. How does it develop, how to avoid it and how to keep human handlers from getting it? I’m pretty sure the answer is good sanitation and good sanitation.

    For a beginner-beginner is there a “minimum” number of chickens to start with? I mean will two chickens be happier than one?

    What breed do you recommend for a first timer who just wants eggs and a friendly chicken with personality? Hey, I know these aren’t dogs although I have been watching the Westminster Dog Show every night.

    Thanks!

  12. Michelle says:

    Thanks! We’re considering chickens ourselves. I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

  13. sara says:

    Unfortunately, I did not have the space or time for keeping chicks in a brooder last spring, so a chicken-raising friend did that for me and then I took them home when they had sufficient feathers to live outside in their coop.

    They’re definitely an adjustment, but it’s no worse than other critters which need daily care and attention.

    Classic “Whoops, we sure were clueless back then” moment though… We were outside and the little squirts were playing games out in their run, and we noticed they were pooping and scratching and it was disappearing into the dirt it seemed so scant. I comment offhandedly to the dood, “Oh heck, this is nothing, I can’t even smell the poo.” Fast-forward to two months later, and I start to mistake chicken poops in the yard for cat poops, because of their size… (The smell’s really not bad, though. Not unless they have subsisted entirely on slugs, snails, worms and caterpillars all day, which has happened a couple times when I’ve tossed said critters into the run like mardi gras beads as I’m weeding.)

  14. donna says:

    I live out in the country and have geese instead – well there’s turkeys and gueannies (can’t ever spell that word)too. Just remember that what is good for the chick is not good for the goosling. My geese were all adults when I got this lot of 4. One has very badly deformed wing tips – chicken antibiotics damaged her because she got into their feed. Her name is TinkerBell cuz she had smaller, deformed, fairy wings. Her disability has granted her a great mind – she is smarter than the rest.

    And chickens can have great personalities. I had a bantam silkey rooster named Popcorn and he sat on my shoulder and ate corn out of my lips – just depends on how much you want to create a pet out of them.

  15. sara says:

    To respond to Marie,

    You might check out the Backyard Chickens forum. I learned a good amount there in terms of chicken behavior, breeds, feed…
    Storey Books has a really good primer on keeping chickens that is helpful.

    In terms of breeds and which are good to start with, it is going to depend greatly on what you’re raising the girls for. Just remember that people’s experiences in terms of behaviors and temperaments vary wildly.

    Every source I read told me that Buff Orpingtons are sweet and docile champion layers, but that’s not always proven the case with me (I have two), and that Black Australorps are as well (have two of them) and mind do lay regularly. Rhode Island Red is a good steady layer (have two of them as well) in my my experience. I’ve read RIRs are flightly and kinda dumb, but my two are very sweet-natured and just goofy. But, I know people who love their Aracaunas and Marans more.

    In terms of sanitation, the feeders and waterers are important to keep an eye on. I don’t bleach anything (not keen on the thought of dioxins), but I do boil to sanitize weekly, when I’m not scrubbing with dish soap. We’re a lot more particular than they are, but it’s for their own good.

    I am still looking for that happy medium in terms of scratching material for their run during the day (when I’m not home to let them out for ‘recess’), but tend to give them straw, dry raked-up leaves, mowed grass from the front yard, mowed down weeds, et al, and I find I have to continuously add a bit of sand to their run because they put archaeologists to shame with their excavating skills and move a lot of dirt around. They have a couple dust bath spots that get sand and some sawdust added to them frequently.

    In the coop proper, I rake out the poops out of their wood shaving litter as they pile up under the roosting bar, and frequently dig stray ones out of the nesting boxes.

    If your girls get to run around, have space to sunbathe, and have a clean place to live, salmonella is really not an issue. A lot of people use medicated feed early on with chicks to prevent things like coccidosis (sp?), but I did’t go that route and just emphasized cleanliness. It’s looking like salmonella is endemic to CAFOs because of the deplorable conditions the birds are kept in, where they’re eating their own droppings with everything else (*stepping off soapbox*).

  16. Hi Amy – great post! As you may recall, last year I wrote a Guest Rant about Chickens not being all their cracked up to be….having gone through several rounds of them myself over the years.

    Having written that post, I’m reluctant to say….I’m slowly succumbing to chicken-fever and am being hit HARD every day by my daughter who’s just BEGGING me for 2 more chickens.

    I feel I cannot resist much longer and even bought the heat lamp this weekend knowing what’s about to come….what was I thinking visiting Half Moon Bay’s Feed ‘n Fuel last weekend where they have oodles and oodles of chicks running around? Why did I let her con me into holding one of the feather-light chicks in my hand? I’m a goner, for sure…..

    So go ahead – call me a hypocrite….but I just can’t resist the lure of holding a big, fat hen under my arm like a football any longer. Buff Orpingtons…here I come!

  17. Marie tulin says:

    Thanks everyone, esp Sara. I was writing the tale of Miss Pretty, our guest chicken for a summer season. Unfortunately, my finger hit some key that sent me back to the blog and lost my 5 paragraphs. Maybe I’ll tell the story of the Lovely Short Life of Miss Pretty someday
    but now I’m a bit grumpy and don’t feel like repeating all that work.
    Marie

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