When we got our first flock of day old chicks it was Spring in Wisconsin. That is the perfect time to get chicks if you have a heat lamp. They would be moved to the coop during summer and be old enough to handle a harsh winter. If you do not have electricity it would be wise to get your chicks when the outdoor temperatures are in the high 80’s-100 degrees Fahrenheit. I researched chicken hatcheries in my area and found one less than 30 miles away. I placed my order by phone for 6 pullets (hens) of a variety of breeds. We wanted to get to know the breeds and what they uniquely had to offer. I had read that this could be troublesome, having different breeds in the same flock. However, they grew up from day one together and there were never any disputes between breeds. We decided to do a mix of breeds again this time. They do not require food or water for I believe it is up to 24 hours from when they hatch, which is why they can be transported a reasonable distance via postal mail. I chose to order chicks by mail this time around and would not recommend it. I should have realized sooner how horribly stressful it is on them. Two chicks were dead upon arrival and a few more passed away within a couple of days. It was tough, but a part of life and all the remaining chicks are healthy and happy! Like I said, I’d be sure to buy close to home next time no matter what.
Before the chicks arrived I made sure to collect the following items:
- A box/container to keep them (some use a big 10 gal plastic tote, cardboard box, crate of some kind). You don’t want it to be too big, drafty or have large holes because some of them will try to escape!
- Pine shavings or some other bedding material. I am using straw/ grass this time around. It was free and abundant outside! I have used pine shavings and newspaper in the past with success. The newspaper could work if you get free papers regularly and then compost all the nice fertile chicken poop and bedding in with your veggie scraps! Some say the newspaper is too slippery, but I did not have this issue with my chicks.
- A heat lamp – Or… if you don’t have power to run a 250 watt heat lamp, what do you use? First it is always best to let the mama hen do her job, if possible. If you don’t have an adult hen and you are getting day old chicks you can use hand warmers or place them near a heat source (stove) where the temperature can be monitored! The first week of a chicks life they should be in 90-95 degree temperatures. Every week after that decrease 5 degrees until they are adjusted to the weather outside. If you are thinking about going power-free your alternatives to a heat lamp are slim, but it is possible. We are doing this now which was VERY unexpected. We completely forgot that the heat lamp would be too much for our solar system and paid the price a couple of nights in a row. Everything is running smoothly now that we figured out the alternative process.
- Chick starter feed (medicated if you’d like) – Pretty self-explanatory. There aren’t a whole lot of options out there, but you can find organic feed if you look hard enough.
- Food and watering dishes – These can be made yourself or purchased from any farm and garden store. Ours are made from mason jars and metal lids. One of my jars broke so I’m improvising right now. There are certain ones for chicks that will keep them from drowning, pooping, walking through their food and water constantly. They will find a way to poop in it, trust me!
- Probiotics/ Supplements (optional) – Or, try the natural option, apple cider vinegar as a secondary drink to their water. It will help their immune systems during their most critical time.
- A coop – The won’t need this immediately, but I have already had them in the run area of the chicken tractor I’m working on since it is a perfect 95 degrees here for them every day! It still needs to be painted and the wheels added, but it will do! The below coop is 3 x 8 and can hold about 12 adult hens. That seems tight to me, but we will see! I found the plans online. You can also buy finished coops, but they are usually overpriced and not nearly as fun as creating your own! This will just be our traveling coop or a back up to separate flocks if that becomes necessary. All chickens will be free range during the day once they are transferred to outdoor coop living.
Raising chicks is so much fun and very rewarding! Our first chicks were more entertaining than a television! We would just sit and study their behavior for a couple of hours a night. The hardest part of raising chickens is the devotion to their health the first week they get home. Along with changing their water, food, and bedding regularly since they are fairly messy critters. After that, they require very little work besides opening/ closing the coop, refilling food bins as they get low, and cleaning the coop. It is very worth it for the delicious eggs you receive and the bond that is created. Get yourself some chicks and find out for yourself!