A few years ago I got inspired by the growing Backyard Chicken movement and decided I wanted to try raising baby chicks. It seemed like a great idea – raise my own eggs and teach my children a little bit about where their food comes from. Of course, I was completely clueless about how to raise or even get chickens, but, I figured if so many people were doing it then it couldn’t be all that hard.
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Raising Baby Chicks
I was right. Raising chickens is easy. They are easier to take care of then the family dog. They require far less time and come with the bonus of eggs. Since our house is in a neighborhood with many stray dogs my chickens, unfortunately, cannot free range but must remain in a secure coop & run.
Step one – How many Chickens can you have?
We only had room for four chickens in our coop. It didn’t seem like much, but, it was more than enough to keep our family well supplied with eggs. It is recommended that you have 2-4 square feet per bird in your coop if they will be allowed to free range. If like ours, they have to stay inside then they need at least 10 square feet each. The more you can give them the better.
Step 2 – Building the Coop
My husband and I built our Coop using reclaimed lumber and some wire mesh from an old coop. We looked online for some ideas but it was mostly created as we went. We knew it needed good air flow and to be completely roofed. Since our summers are very hot and our winters really mild we didn’t have to worry about keeping out the cold.
If you need some ideas, I suggest looking at the Backyard chicken forums, the members there post some great coop ideas. They were very helpful with all my initial questions.
Step 3 – Picking your Chickens
Once we had the coop built it was time to look for some chickens, we decided to look for Easter Egger Chickens. I thought the range of colored eggs they lay would be fun for the kids.
Easter Eggers have turned out to be great chickens for our family. They are friendly, easy to handle, tolerate our hot summers well and can lay a blue, green, cream, brown or white egg. We found ours at a local feed store – but they can also be found at Tractor Supply Company stores in the spring. Surprisingly you can even order them online from places like My Pet Chicken.
We had to be a bit choosy in picking our chickens since we live in a neighborhood. We can’t have roosters, only hens and so we had to make sure to pick our chicks from the Pullet cages. Cages labeled straight run means that the chicks were not sexed at the hatchery. Some of them will grow up to be Roosters. Look for bright and active chicks when choosing in the store as this is a sign of good health.
Step 4 – Supplies for Raising Baby Chicks
The supplies needed to keep day old chicks alive are pretty easy to get. They require chick starter food, water, a heat lamp and a place to live. We have an old brooder box that a friend of ours lent us. I have heard of people using large Rubbermaid tubs with screens on top and even large boxes – like the ones you see in grocery stores holding watermelons.
Step 5 – Setting up the Brooder
When setting up your brooder it is important to ensure that your chicks are neither too hot or too cold. The best way to do this is to keep the heat concentrated on one side. Then your chicks can move freely between the hot and cool zones as they require. You will know if your chicks are too cold, they are pretty good at complaining when they are upset. They will also try to pile up on top of one another for body warmth. If they are too hot look for open-beaked panting. If they are running about happily then you have it right. Adjust the angle and distance of the heat lamp from the brooder as necessary.
Step 6 – Chick Growth
As your chicks grow and gain feathers you will need to continue adjusting the heat lamp. The rule of thumb is to lower the temperature about 5 degrees every week. I don’t measure this I just move the lamp slightly farther away every week and keep an eye on their behavior.
Somewhere between 5-8 weeks old, your chicks will be fully feathered and capable of living outside. Different breeds tend to feather in faster or slower than others so you will have to play it by ear with yours. Spending a good deal of time with your chicks at this age will make them friendlier and easier to handle once they become adults. This is a very easy job since baby chicks are adorable and quite funny to watch.
Step 7 – Waiting for Eggs
Once your chicks are living full time outside you’re in the home run. Eggs are in your future! Most breeds begin to lay at around 22 weeks old. You will be able to tell they are getting close by a reddening of their combs, something that normally happens right before they start to lay. Your chicks should continue to eat Chick Starter until they lay their first egg. Once eggs are produced they should be switched to layer mash/pellets or a Flock raiser feed with additional calcium offered free choice. Your local feed stores should have all of this available for a reasonable cost.
From this point on your golden, collect your eggs, keep the coop raked out and the feeders & waters clean and your chickens should remain happy and healthy for many years!