no kidding, come in a box via the US Postal Service. This
box held, with ample room, 26 chicks from the Murray McMurray
Hatchery. You can also buy chicks from your local farm store,
like Agway, but we've found that there is a limited selection
there, and the chicks are expensive. However, the hatcheries require
a minimum order of 25 birds (so they keep warm in transit). If
you want fewer birds, go to your farm store. The birds in this
box are Buff Orphingtons, a "heavy" bird which will
produce brown eggs and grow to a generous size for eating. A sort
of all-purpose bird, this breed is friendly, gentle, and a lovely
gold color when feathered out. They've been bred to be winter-hearty
too, which is important to us up here!
When they arrive, chicks are
tiny! And they need to be kept warm. Since we raise chicks
almost every year, we've gone to the fuss and bother of building
a little brooder box for them. The box is 50" long x 27"
wide, by 20" tall, and will take about 50 little chicks...
at least until they have a bit more mass and can stand a little
Do not build a box 27"
wide unless you have a heated garage!! Big mistake. This thing
barely squeeks through a doorway. Go for 25" and add length.
And unless you're building to protect your little flock from preditors,
it really isn't necessary to made it as heavy as ours is... in
fact, all that weight is a liability when you want to shift the
Chicks do not need such fancy
accomidations, and one of these old wash buckets would work just
fine too. We used to use a wading pool, which worked very well
when we had the space for it. Waterproof, round (so no pileups
in corners if they got spooked), and nice and generously sized
(from a chick's perspective). But whatever you use, you'll need
to be able to put a screen lid on it to protect the chicks from
pets and curious children.
A quick word about your new chicks
and children. Chicks are, at this age, very, very, fragile. So
fragile we do not allow anyone but an adult to handle them for
at least 3 weeks. Chicks can catch colds. They can be dropped
by accident. They can be squashed by an overly excited toddler.
But more to the point, while you can hand tame a chicken, they
really don't benefit by being handled. They need to put their
energy into growth, not stress.
You should, in theory, be ready
when your birds arrive. I never am. I know when they are supposed
to be here, but I never seem to be ready when the post office
calls and says "come and get 'em!" Trust me. If they
have to sit in a box for another hour, it probably isn't going
to kill them.
This is our brooder box (in the
dining room). If you don't want the box in the house you need
a heated garage or shed... or you need to order the birds when
the nights are warmer. These arrived May 20th, and it snowed that
The box (or pool, or washtub)
will need a heat lamp (ours is a shop light), a water font, a
feeder, and shavings. Your chicks will start out on Chick Starter
Medicated Feed. Yes, a product of evil agribusiness with antibiotics
built in. Get over it. Go organic once they're established. We
had to buy liquid antibiotics to treat chicks with colds a couple
of years ago... expensive and time consuming. Now we start them
on a bag of medicated feed, and shift over to an unmedicated growing
feed at the end of the first bag.
You'll need a lid if you have
pets, and, as you can see, we roll out a blanket cover to trap
the heat. Note the old pan on the table... we place it over
the light before unrolling the blanket, and check the situation
often... try not to start a fire. Chicken flambe is bad.
As you take each chick out of
the mailing box, dip its beak into the water so it gets the hint.
Very shortly, you'll have a bunch of thirsty chicks tipping their
heads back and swallowing water. We've never had them fail to
find the food trays, and in a little while you'll hear the tap-tap-tap
of chicks pecking at the plastic.
Chickens need grit to grind their
food so we go out to our dirt road and find some very, very, fine
sand to sprinkle over the food. If you can't find fine sand, it
is sold at most ag centers.
The chicks will stay in this
box, growing like weeds (you can see them change size day by day!)
for a couple of weeks, or until they start to look frankly crowded.
The moment it looks like chicks are pecking at each other, they
need a bigger home.
They will, however, be much too
small to throw outside at this stage. We set up a pen in the garage
with shavings on the floor for them to play in. They'll continue
to need a heat lamp, and you'll want the sides of their pen to
be high enough to discourage them from flitting up and over to
explore the rest of the garage!
At this age they are pretty durable
and curious. Children love to hold them, and while the chicken
might not share the joy, they are at least resigned to the whole
experience. They start homing in on bugs at this age, and will
scratch and peck at straw, or gobble down any early thinnings
from the garden you throw into their pen. You can waste the good
part of a morning just watching their antics.
In about 8 weeks (or earlier
if your weather is mild) they'll be feathered out and ready to
move out into the world.
Want to see an incubator in action?
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County
has an egg cam... and a lot of info on raising chicks from eggs
(incubating eggs) Go
to Egg Cam!
out into the world.... chicken's next step
us: We're in Stowe, Vermont