With chick season here, keeping a backyard flock is gaining popularity- and rightfully so. Chickens provide a fun experience full of love, outdoor fun, and a healthy breakfast! Whether your new to chickens or starting out, raising a flock holistically can be so easy!
Raising Chickens from Chicks
My chicken adventure started on a cold New York night, when the Winter weather confined us to our cozy couch. I clung onto my phone tighter than the blanket that was slowly warming my legs up after I had finished shoveling the snow that was quickly piling up. As I scrolled through Pinterest, looking through Paleo recipes, I came across a blog post that introduced the love of chickens and all their benefits.
I didn’t grow up on a farm, or really anywhere near one. I never had more than one cat in the house growing up. Who was I to own such an exotic animal?! Exotic? Well, to a city girl, they can be intimidating.
When Levi retired from the Army, we settled into a beautiful 15-acre homestead in Georgia. We drove from the New York Adirondacks to our new home in the South, with two cows in our trailer. We literally bought the cows two days before moving, and kept them in our backyard in the middle of the bustling city- so if anyone wonders why I’m impulsive and buy farm animals at the drop of a hat, I blame my husband.
We settled the cows into our new home, and before we knew it, I wanted more calves. We crossed the Florida state line with our trailer, ready to go pick up a new calf from a local farm. Then my dreams quickly faded as I saw red and blue lights flashing behind us. The cop explained we needed to check our trailer in with the Florida Agriculture Department checkpoint. Also, the cow needed a health certificate to legally cross the state lines.
We turned our truck around and solemnly headed back home. In our quiet trip, my husband lifted his head and mouthed words I am certain he regrets 100% today. “Let’s get you some chickens.”
From that day, it has been a continuous learning experience, from diagnosing health issues in the flock, to learning the new personalities of the chicks that were freshly hatching out of my incubator. Years of chicken keeping has taught me countless lessons, made me many of friends, and cooked my family marvelous breakfasts.
Supplies for bringing home new chicks
There are a few things you will want to keep on hand before chicks are picked up or delivered. Having these items on hand can make the transition for not only you, but the chicks less stressful and more fun.
- chicken brooder– This is going to be the thing you keep them in. Chicks need 1/2 – 1 square foot per chick. The space where you house the chicken brooder should be well ventilated, but not drafty. The chicks are delicate and need to be sheltered from the weather and predators. The chicks should be in their own space, away from an already established flock, or any other animals. My favorite brooder is a hard plastic kiddie pool.
- Bedding– bedding should cover the bottom of the chicken brooder in a thick layer and be changed frequently.
- Chicken waterer– plastic or metal, either is fine! Make sure it is a chick-sized waterer, as chicks can drown in a larger one.
- Chicken feeder– plastic or metal are both fine.
- Chick Starter Feed– Chicks need a healthy dose of feed that provides 10-20% protein to grow at a healthy, steady rate.
- Heat Lamp– Chicks will remain under a heat lamp for 6-8 weeks, until they get their regular feathers. When chicks arrive, they are usually under a week old, and need the temperature of their brooder to be a steady 95°F. Each week, you can raise the heat lamp away from the brooder to drop the temperature by 5° F. Continue decreasing the heat weekly until the chickens are “feathered out.”
- Digital Thermometer– This is important so you can monitor the chickens’ temperature which can directly correlate to their health. Place the digital thermometer directly under the heat lamp in the bedding for an accurate reading.
- Toys– Chicks are intelligent and curious little critters. They love discovering new things and even enjoy when you place their food and water in a different location. For their enjoyment, I put random things in their coop, like little plastic kids toys, random small cardboard boxes, or mirrors.
Chicken Keeping Essentials
What kind of bedding should I use?
Any gradma will tell you that chickens enjoy dirt. They take dust baths, which is how they keep themselves clean. They will lay in the dirt, and throw it all around their bodies and work it into their feathers. This keeps their feathers clean, and their bodies parasite free. This is part of their daily routine, and is necessary for their good health. With that said, I prefer the dirt bottom to my chicken coop, but that doesn’t work for every situation.
Let’s start off with what NOT to bed your coop with:
- Sand– Ecoli runs rampant in sand, and while you won’t be eating the sand in the coop, your chickens
canwill. Chickens also have a hard time digesting sand, and this can result in a deadly impacted crop.
- Hay– Since hay is not completely dried out like straw, it can produce mildew, harbor bacteria, and decay quickly.
- Cedar Shavings– The cedar tree produces a toxic oil that can cause respiratory issues in chickens.
Better Bedding Choices
- Pine shavings– These kinds of shavings are found at virtually any department store, and are very affordable. This is my favorite bedding to use for chicks.
- Dry Pine Needles– This is a great, and sometimes even free bedding choice. The dried pine needles provide a low bacteria atmosphere that is perfect for raising a flock.
- Straw– Another easy to find supply, straw is a great Winter bedding, as it is a spectacular insulator. I keep a thing of straw in my barn for my laying hens, as they love to lay their eggs on it. It provides cushioning so their eggs don’t crack when the chickens crawl all over them.
Important Tips on Bringing Chicks Home
Chicks can feel a great amount of exhaustion from the transition into their new home, and it’s crucial to know how to handle a stressed chick. Here are a few tricks to make sure your chicks will grow into healthy chickens.
- Provide electrolyte water at first. The water should be room temperature, and you can vary their water supply by providing water with a sprinkle of sugar (for a boost of energy), cooled herbal tea, or water with a few drops of apple cider vinegar. Even Pedialyte is a great electrolyte drink for chicks. Gently dip their beaks into the water to let them know what and where it is, and they will figure the rest from there.
- Check for pasty butt. Sometimes poop will accumulate around their vent, and will harden. This will prevent the chick from excreting and can cause the chick to be weak or die. Scrape the poop off the chick, or even give it a lukewarm bath to remove the built-up poop. Then, provide the chick with probiotics, whether it is a little yogurt or water with apple cider vinegar. Sprinkle a little corn meal or raw oats on top of their feed to help speed the process up.
What To Feed Chicks
Medicated feed or unmedicated feed, that is the question? No judgment over here, that is a decision for you and your coop. A medicated feed can help prevent typical diseases in chicks and can prevent fatalities. However, with a careful eye and a well-stocked emergency kit, unmedicated feed is perfect for chicks, too.
Food and water should be available to the chicks 24/7. Shavings will get into the water and food dishes, so you will need to check them a couple of times a day to make sure they have access to both.
Grit is necessary for chickens digestion. Chick-sized grit is a great product to keep on hand, especially if you plan on feeding your chicks anything other than their typical grain. The grit helps them grind up and digest their food within their crops.
Much like human children, the earlier you introduce chicks to a wide variety of food, they will grow into less picky adults. Feed them kitchen scraps, grass, weeds, probiotics, fresh herbs, and even cooked eggs. Cooked eggs are great for new chicks to enjoy because they contain all the nutrients they need to thrive.
Taking Care Of Chicks
Did you enjoy this introductory write up on keeping chickens? Follow me on Facebook to keep in touch with Backyard Bohemian and the flock!
Other Backyard Bohemian links:
- Blueberry Yogurt Breakfast Popsicles are the perfect way to bring in the warmer weather. Frozen blueberries are reduced to a syrup, and mixed with oats, yogurt, and protein powder, providing a healthy, satisfying treat to enjoy at any time of the day!
- Mediterranean Quinoa Salad Bowl with Green Goddess Dressing comes together in 15 minutes, and has a flavorful, colorful combination of healthy ingredients. Topped with homemade Green Goddess Dressing, this will be your new favorite feel-good dish!
- Carrot Top Pesto Over Roasted Carrots is a delicious way to use the whole carrot. Using the tops of the carrots for the pesto base, along with raw cashews, basil, white wine, and a few other fresh ingredients, this side dish has a fantastic, fresh taste!
- One Pan Creamy Lemon Saffron Chicken is a superb tasting dish served in under thirty minutes. Paprika seared juicy chicken breasts pair beautifully with the silky smooth, delicate tasting lemon saffron sauce. This is an impressive dish that anyone can master!
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