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Raising Baby Chicks

I just purchased my fourth round of baby chicks since I began raising backyard chickens. There’s just something exciting about ordering a box of chirping fuzz-balls that screams Spring to me. I know it’s a long way to Spring but this year I wanted to get my chicks a little earlier so they were ready to go as soon as it warms up. Hopefully, by July or August I’ll have plenty of eggs, or at least enough to share.

Black AustralorpsThe breeds I bought this year are Black Australorps and Golden Comets. Why those breeds? Well, originally I thought Lucy, our friendliest, most consistent layer, was a Rhode Island Red but when I went to research what were the hardiest, most productive egg-layers for my order this year I realized she is actually a Golden Comet! Talk about an amateur mistake! Lucy was adopted though so I get some credit, okay? Anyway, Lucy is a sweet, champ of a bird (that is when she’s not eating everyone else’s feathers) and the only one who has kept laying since the September molting began so that sealed the deal for me there. As far as the Black Australorps, well last time I bought chicks I bought two of them as well but I decided I had too many chickens at the time so at about 5-6 months old I gave them to a friend. Wouldn’t you know it, those two Black Australorps that I considered kind of plain compared to my Buff Brahmas and Auracanas started laying a good two months before I received a single egg from the chickens I kept. That’s what I get for being generous! JK but seriously, I knew what I was ordering next go around!

Golden CometsRight now, I order my chicks from a local hatchery called Mt. Healthy Hatchery. When I first started out I ordered chicks from MyPetChicken.com but they didn’t do so well which I guess is understandable considering they were shipped to me and spent more time in the cold. The minimum order from Mt. Healthy Hatchery is six chicks and for some reason they always give me at least one extra chick for free. I ordered four Black Australorps and two Golden Comets and ended up getting one extra of each breed. I had already planned on giving two of the Australorps to a friend because I only wanted four total chicks. Now I still have six. But knowing how easily chickens die, I’m not too worried. Plus, my sweet husband let me buy a new coop with part of his bonus money this year! I got it on sale $$$ with free shipping $$$ from MyPetChicken.com in December. Score! That gives us a total of three, medium sized, mobile coops. One we built ourselves, one a friend gave us that they built themselves and this latest one that we bought and then sealed with an all natural sealant by Bioshield. If you need a natural, beautiful sealant for your coop, Bioshield does it right with their Aqua Resin.

New Coop 2   New Coop 1

What have I learned from two plus years of raising backyard chickens? Well, there are some things that are going to make your life A LOT easier:

  • Poultry Waterer Nipples: From day one this will make your life easier. I can’t say enough about how awesome they are. Baby chicks figure it out with a few hours and adult chickens have no problem at all using them. For baby chicks, bring their beaks to them and get them wet and for adults, just flick the end to show them how the water comes out and they’ll be after it. Simply install these nipples in the bottom of your hanging waterer of choice (my personal favorite being empty protein containers) and voila, no more poop in the water! Raised waterers also free up ground space giving your chickens access to more bugs and plants.
  • I add a splash of apple cider vinegar to their water each time I refill it. We don’t do medications or medicated foods in this house so the ACV acts as a natural immunity boost. Bragg’s is, of course, the best brand.
  • In the winter time, like pictured in the coop photos above, I use heated pet water dishes so I don’t have to break ice or switch out my waterers every day (or multiple times a day when it’s subzero like it was last winter). Make sure to keep your extension cord off the ground at any connections to keep it safe.
  • Raised feeders also keeps your food cleaner and chickens healthier. The pictures above don’t show it but in my coops I use screw hooks (or cup hooks) installed in the roofs to suspend the feeders from the ground. This keeps the chickens from kicking poop or mud into them which will keep them healthier and your chore list shorter.

For you newbies out there, you should really read a book about raising chickens; however, when it comes to keeping baby chicks alive, here are the basics:

  • Baby chicks need to be kept warm at 95-90 degrees for their first week of life. This requires just one single heat lamp suspended over their box if you just have a few chicks which is what most backyard raisers start with. Make sure you keep an eye on the temperature by checking it daily. After the first week, decrease the temperature by 5 degrees each week by raising the lamp higher. At six weeks old, 70 degrees is a good temperature. If they are huddled under the lamp it’s too cold and if they are pressed against the edges of the box they’re too hot. Remember, they can’t handle being outside in temps lower than this until they are fully feathered at about 8 weeks.
  • Thick, non-slippery bedding is a must. I use pine shavings and that has always worked just fine and been very cost effective. With just six chicks in a large storage tote, it’s easy to keep odors down as long as you keep the bedding fresh or turned over so I keep mine inside. However, with more chicks that may be more difficult and you might want to keep them in the garage or basement for odor purposes. Remember,  chicks are prone to leg injuries so make sure they’re never on slippery surfaces such as bare box floors or un-shredded newspaper.
  • Keep it dry. If you use the poultry waterer nipples mentioned above you shouldn’t have a problem keeping the bedding and chicks dry. When you use a dish, that’s usually where the problem lies. Use the nipples. Trust me.
  • Check their vents. That’s their butts. Sometimes they can get what’s called “pasty butt” where their excrement gets stuck on their butts and plugs up their vents. This is life threatening so make sure to check their fuzzy behinds daily. A warm, wet paper towel or rag will make short work of the pastiness.

One day I’ll do a whole separate post about what to feed your chicks/chickens and how to make your own organic, whole grain feed. Until then, happy chicken raising!

Day Old Chicks

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