5 Tips on Raising Chicks

In Chickens, Farm by Alastair OngLeave a Comment

I used to raise chickens as a child.  In actuality, my best friend and neighbor, Anthony used to raise chickens and I helped him.  I have a few great stories about chickens growing up.  Finally having the land, one of the first things that I wanted to do was to raise chickens for their eggs and their meat.  Wifey vetoed me on the meat aspect of raising chickens – she said that if we are going to have animals, then we are going to have a no-kill policy.  What are we going to do with the older 2+ year old chickens when their egg laying production slows/stops?  I had already planned on raising three or four different colors of chickens and culling them by color when their egg production began to slow.  I guess I will try to sell older chickens as pets.

SELECTING CHICKENS

My chickens had to have the following two criteria:

  1. They had to be winter hardy (it gets cold and snowy here in Connecticut); and
  2. I wanted varieties laid colored eggs: white, brown, blue and green;

I did a survey of different chicken hatcheries where I could buy chickens.  I opted for day old chicks rather than pullets (adolescent chickens)  as they are so cute when they are young.  The best hatchery with the best selection of chickens was either Backyard Chickens or McMurray Hatchery.  I opted for McMurray for their deeper selection of currently available chickens.  An additional benefit was that McMurray also sells other types of waterfowl.  Although ducks sounded like a good option and from a previous post , you know that I have a lake, I understand that ducks are really messy (read: wet poopers) and makes it more difficult to keep your coop clean.  I have always wanted guinea hens because they look like large quail and are voracious tick eaters.  Our puppies, Iggy in particular always comes home with a tick or two after running around our yard.  The only problem with ordering guinea hens from McMurray is that there is a minimum order of 15 guinea hens. The coop that I was planning to build could house a maximum of 15 chickens and I could not see where I was going to put 15 guinea hens.  I wanted two or three max and even then it was going to be a squeeze.  So I found a guy on Craigslist who wants to trade guineas for chickens, which could be perfect.  Only his guineas are already mature, so I’ll wait a few weeks until my chicks have matured a bit to make it a more even trade.

FIVE THINGS TO DO PRIOR TO RECEIVING CHICKS

PREPARE YOUR BROODER:

  1. Get a large box (refrigerator or furniture box with 24″ tall sides;
  2. Line the bottom of the box with pine wood shavings or bamboo coir as bedding;
  3. Get a 250 watt red flood lamp and hang it about a foot from floor of the box.  Ideally, it will be a cheap lamp with a hood and socket (with no stand);
  4. Order chick starter feed and chick grit.
  5. Order a chick feeder and a chick waterer

From my previous experience, 15 chickens eat about 5 lbs of chick starter feed per week.  You will need to brood your chickens until they are fully feathered or at about 4-6 weeks.  At 5 lbs of feed per week, that means that you will need a minimum of 20 lbs of chick starter feed.  Even though I provided a link to buy this online, your best bet is to buy your feed from a local Agway or feed store, as the shipping from an online retailer will not be competitive.  Chick grit are tiny pebbles or oyster shells.  Chickens need this to aid in the breaking down of the food since they do not have teeth.  I treat grit as if it were salt and I was salting a steak.

This is my order and cost of 15 chicks:

RIRP RHODE ISLAND RED Females 3 Std $3.37 $10.11
PEAP PEARL-WHITE LEGHORN Females 3 Std $3.42 $10.26
ARAP ARAUCANA Females 3 Std $4.17 $12.51
BARP BARRED ROCK Females 3 Std $3.37 $10.11
NEHP NEW HAMPSHIRE RED Females 3 Std $3.37 $10.11
COVC Coccidiosis Vaccination 15 Std $0.20 $3.00
GEL Gro-Gel Plus 1 Std $3.90 $3.90
VACC Vaccinate for Marek’s Disease 15 Std $0.20 $3.00
QCC Quick Chick – is under pad 1 Std $3.95 $3.95
FRCS FREE RARE EXOTIC CHICK Straight Run 1 Std $0.00 $0.00
Product Subtotal $66.95
Iowa Sales Tax $0.00
Shipping & Handling $21.08
Total $88.03

I did not remember vaccinations when we ordered chicks some 25 years ago, but it being an option, and only costing $0.40 cents for Mareks and Coccidiosis, I opted to get it.  Gro-Gel is a blue gel you add to the feed that helps the chicks grow and Quick Chick are vitamins that you mix with water.  The chicks LOVE the gel and do not seem to mind the vitamins in the water.

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Shipping Box 15 Chicks Came In

We received our chickens via USPS. If you are receiving livestock, the postal office will call you the moment they receive it so you can pick up the animals rather than it sitting on a postal vehicle all day.  I later learned that the USPS also notifies the state and our local municipality that we had livestock.  About a week after receiving the chicks, I got a letter that stated that they were aware that I had received chickens, but I did not have a valid chicken permit on file.  Damn legislation!  I do not think it is a problem getting a permit.  I believe that having a permit allows the county to know who has what livestock and this way if there is a major outbreak of some rare virus that affects livestock, they know who to contact (or to blame).

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Chicks in Their Shipping Box

Upon opening up the package, the fluffy packages of cuteness emerged.  Unfortunately one of the Araucana did not make the journey and upon contacting McMurray, they credited me for the one bird and its vaccinations to be used on my next order.  I sent a photo of the dead little guy, but it did not seem necessary. There is something really amazing about the peeping of day-old chicks.  McMurray has a policy of sending one mystery bird for each 15 that you order, so we ended up with 15 chicks.  By the way, I have no idea what the mystery chicken is, but I can tell you that as a chick, it is the most gorgeous grey coloring.

BUILDING YOUR COOP

I realized that I was somewhere between 4-6 weeks from allowing these chickens to graze outside, and I did not have a coop.  A few clicks later, and I decided to order a 144″ Pawhut Chicken Coop.  I opted on this one as it is one of the largest kits that you can buy.  There are six nesting boxes and 12 feet of enclosed chicken run.

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Everybody Needs A Felix in Their Lives!

FELIX THE ATTORNEY-CARPENTER

Everybody needs a Felix in their lives.  Felix is a close friend who is an extremely capable attorney. However, mention putting together furniture or fixing a house and Felix starts to salivate.  Mention power tools to this guy, and his eyes light up. I think he de-stresses from a hard day of litigating in court by walking the aisles of Home Depot! Felix is my go-to guy when it comes to assembling large Ikea furniture and he was my go-to guy when it came to assembling my chicken coop.  When he visits, he brings his tool bag, along with the coolest tool gadgets.  One of my favorite is his magnetic wrist band that holds screws – brilliant!

Unfortunately from 0:26 seconds into the video above, you can see that the kit came without instructions and without any bolts or hardware – just the wooden walls roof and run walls.  I did an internet search for instructions and found a video of assembling a different Pawhut coop where the author captured a pathetic instruction page.  I printed an enlarged screenshot and we used this as a rough guide.  Thankfully Felix was with me.  If I had been alone, I would have quit upon finding out that there were no screws, bolts or instructions.  With Felix, we took a ride to a local super hardware store and bought everything we thought we needed.

The Amazon reviews of this chicken coop are mediocre at best.  In addition to folks having problems with missing/broken parts, the major complaint is that it is poorly constructed and would barely last one year.  Felix thought about this and suggested that I buy additional strengthening brackets to better secure the coop.  I’ve never built a coop from a kit before, but this one seems exactly what I was looking for.  It was relatively easy to put together (even without instructions) and for the money (<$300) I cannot imagine getting anything better.  The only major addition that I will make is adding tractor wheels to the coop so I can move it around my yard.

Only time will tell whether this coop will be able to survive the harsh Connecticut winter snows.  I can already see some of the roof slats coming apart which I’ll have to reinforce with some longer nails. . .  or I’ll call Felix to “help” me do this.

Stay tuned, subscribe by entering your email to the top right of this page and you will be notified when our first eggs are laid (I’m expecting 3-4 months, but the impending winter may mean next spring.  Oh, and write a comment below to tell me what you like about my blog, what is missing and what you would like me to cover in future posts.  Don’t be shy!

 

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