At some point in a quest to create a more healthy, wholesome lifestyle one realizes that in order to eat fresh food, you have to grow it yourself. And while veggies and fruit lend themselves to a rather easy fix, meat and other protein-rich foods are a bit more complicated.
My flock is strictly for eggs, rather than meat, but I go in to this process with my eyes open. All of these birds will one day end up as “and dumplings”. But for these little peeps, that day is many years from now.
If you have ever considered keeping hens, this tutorial may be helpful to you.
This is the diary of 9 laying hens from their 2nd day of life, on. Each of these chicks was hatched yesterday, has been shipped overnight to the feed store and then picked up by me and driven the 45 miles to my house. A feed store is a great place to buy chicks, as you get to have a look at them before you buy them, thus ensuring a healthy flock from the beginning. When you buy them via the internet, straight from the hatchery, you don’t get that option.
Before you even order chicks there are many things you need to have in place. A brooder- the containment field they will live in for their first few to several weeks of life. It needs to have sufficient room for the number of chicks you will be buying. I use an old reptile aquarium.
aquarium brooder with light housing
Also, you will need an overhead heat source. Many people recommend a 250 watt bulb, which is expensive both to buy (around $11) and to run, round the clock for aprox. 6 weeks. I use a soft white 150 watt bulb in a housing to direct the heat downward. It cost $4.19. Each week the chicks will need less heat, so having a clamp-on light housing is a great option for moving it higher as they get bigger and need less heat. There should also be a warm side and a less warm side, so they can escape from the heat if they get too warm. I keep my feed and water on the opposite side of the brooder from the heat source so there is a wide variety of temperature options.
the warm side
You will need feed and a feeder. I have the screw-on type that goes with a mason jar. I use a medicated feed when buying hatchery chicks and brooding them, myself in a box. Their immune systems have absolutely nothing to draw from and they will be vulnerable to everything in these first weeks of life. (when I am using a broody hen to hatch chicks, I let them eat the same All Purpose Poultry feed I feed to the rest of the flock… but broodies are a whole different experience, and I am assuming you don’t have a broody hen handy)
They will also need a waterer. I buy the plastic screw-on bottoms that can be used with any regular-mouth glass mason jar. This one was about $3.
There will also need to be some sort of litter in the brooder. Chicks can’t be left to walk on a smooth surface or it can damage their legs due to slipping around. I use pine shavings (NOT CEDAR! Cedar bedding is toxic to chicks). I also keep that bedding in a huge garbage bag, in the room I am brooding the chicks. Keeping everything handy to where you are using it is easiest and best.
I also keep a bucket in the brooder room so I can easily clean out soiled or wet litter quickly. I later dump that soiled litter on my raspberry canes for overwintering.
Once the brooder is set up, you will need some chicks!
Place the box into the brooder and then take the chicks out. They will likely congregate under the lamp until they warm up, but then will begin to move about inside the open space of the brooder. Be sure they each know where food and water is, taking the time to dip each one’s beak into the water so they will know where to find it. It only takes a second and you only have to do it once. Tap on the food with your finger and this will call them to it. It is how hens teach the chicks what to eat, and where the food is.
Then, cover your brooder, entirely with a screen, and some sort of weight (I use a piece of plywood and a couple of big fat books). The screen should allow the heat to escape but the chicks won’t be able to launch themselves out. It should also provide protection from other animals in the household, such as curious cats.
old window screen
Sit back and watch the little peeps explore their new environment. If they pile up together under the light, they may be too cold. If they lay stretched out and panting, they are too hot. You will be able to tell a lot about how they are feeling by their behavior, so spend some time just watching them every day.
If you don’t enjoy cleaning pine shavings out of the water 100 times per day, place the waterer up on an overturned plant saucer or up on a short piece of 2×4 wood. Just an inch above the shavings will help keep a LOT of it out. But, do know you will probably have to fish out shavings pretty often, anyway.
The babies will need to be moved to their permanent coop within a month to 6 weeks, so don’t wait until you have them installed in your spare bedroom to start thinking about your coop. The wise farmer has that sorted out well in advance of bringing home the day old chicks. If your coop is entirely secure of predators you can actually brood them out in the coop, just hang the light low enough that it can provide the warmth they need, and gradually raise it as they feather out. Once they are fully feathered (around 4-6 weeks) they won’t need a heat source at all. As day-olds they need temperatures around 95 degrees and each week that number can be lowered by about 5 degrees or so. No need to have a thermometer, unless you just want to. You will be able to tell be their behavior if they are comfortable or not.
The brooder room will be dusty, so keep that in mind. Many people use a garage or basement for their brooding, and this is prudent if you don’t want chick dust and pine shavings all over the spare bedroom carpet (like I have 🙂 ).
There is a TON of helpful advice on Backyard Chickens and forums where you can ask a question or 2 and get answers from real chicken people. Keep in mind that every single person who has ever seen a chicken has a differing opinion on absolutely every aspect, and that will be evident the instant people begin chiming in with answers. The best thing to do is educate yourself and then choose your own strategy. Get to know some people who are raising chickens and speak to them about their strategies.
The most important thing is, make sure you have enough space for the number of birds you intend to keep, and have fun with it! Watching Chicken TV is the most entertaining activity you can imagine. Very theraputic, and absolutely hilarious!
Plus, a few months after these puff-balls come in to your life, they start giving back in the form of the freshest, healthiest eggs on the planet. The ones YOUR hens laid.
Now that is how you create a return to Awesome America and give Monsanto and BigFood a big black eye!!!