If you’re like me when I was chicken-less, you might be wonderingwhere one buys chickens. It may seem odd to look online, but there are several hatcheries throughout the United States, and most have websites where you can read descriptions and see pictures of the various breeds. Everyone has their favorites, and I’m especially fond of New Hampshire reds and barred Plymouth rocks, as both breeds are good layers and do well in our cold Illinois winters.
Believe it or not, your one-day-old chicks will be sent through the mail. Although there are instructions on the box for the post office to call you when they arrive, so that you can come in and pick them up immediately, some post offices are better than others about doing this. It’s a good idea to talk to your mail carrier and let him or her know that you are expecting baby chicks and you will be happy to go to the post office and pick them up. The sooner they get home and into a nice warm brooder with food and water, the better.
A brooder is just a fancy name for a box with a heat lamp, and there are dozens of designs online. Hatchery chicks are hatched in an incubator, which is why they have to live in a brooder. If they had been hatched by a mama hen, they would run under her whenever they needed to warm up. Chicks need to stay at 95 degrees for the first week, and each week they can be five degrees cooler until they’re feathered out around four to six weeks. Be sure that your heat lamp cannot accidentally fall or be knocked into the brooder, which could cause a fire. If you have a dog or cat, make sure it can’t get to the chicks. It is not uncommon for a sweet family pet to discover its inner hunter when meeting chicks.
Feeding chicks is easy, as starter feeds are readily available at feed stores, and there are even feed stores in the city of Chicago. If you want to raise your chickens without drugs, be sure to check the ingredients, because most chick starters are medicated. There is no need to use medicated feed in small flocks, just as there is no reason to de-beak them. Small flock owners also find no need to vaccinate chicks. When chickens are not squeezed together in confinement, they tend to be very healthy, and hens are quite calm. If you can’t find an unmedicated starter feed, a grower or finisher feed will work fine.
Although you could repurpose a tuna fish can as a feeder or waterer, there are good reasons to buy real chick feeders and waterers, and they only cost a couple dollars each. If chicks have an open can with feed, they will make a huge mess, and if they have a large space with water, they can walk through it and get soaked, which can lead to hypothermia and death.
If you missed last month’s post, which talked about chicken myths, click here. Next time, I’ll be talking about housing for your layers and daily life with your backyard brood. If you already have chickens, tell us about your favorite breed in the comment section!
Deborah Niemann dragged her professor husband and three children to 32 acres on a creek in the middle of nowhere in 2002 to start raising their own food organically. She blogs regularly at Antiquity Oaks, and her book, Homegrown and Handmade, comes out this fall.