Our experience on the farm with raising chicks was a wonderful one, but one that you don’t want to enter without thought and some preparation.
There are many hatcheries that are sell chicks and have mail order. The US Postal Service has been delivering live baby chicks in the mail since the early 1900s! You can also order day-old baby chicks on-line from hatcheries, depending on where you live. If it is cold, chicks will huddle to keep warm while in transit. Once hatched, baby chicks can survive 3 days without food and water because they ingest part of the egg prior to hatching.
Before you start, there are a few things that you need to ask yourself:
How many chickens do we want? Can we keep them where we live?
What type of climate do we live in? Will we keep them over the winter?
What do we want chickens for pets, meat, eggs, or a combination?
Do we need/want roosters?
Do you have a way to keep them form predators?
The day the baby chicks hatch, they start their journey. You can chose to have your birds sexed if you want all females.
You do not need to have a rooster to get eggs. A pullet, a female chickens under one year of age, is born with over 3000 eggs, and they start to lay eggs as early as 20 weeks to as late as 50 weeks. Some breeds are better at laying eggs than others. We wanted chickens that were good egg layers, cold hardy, and friendly; Austrolorps, Silver-laced Wyandottes, and Buff Orpingtons fit our needs.
For a directory of hatcheries go here. But don’t forget to check your local farm store such as Tractor Supply Company or Rural King. Depending on the store, chicks are available right in the store for several weeks in the spring, but breed selection is usually limited. If you are serious, it will pay to read up and choose the breed(s) with traits you really want.
Some of your input costs are for chick starter feed with grit, a chick feeder, chick waterer, pine shavings, a thermometer, and a heat lamp with a 250-watt heat bulb. One waterer and one feeder works for 6-7 chicks. The rest you can devise from household items and create your own brooder.
Here are 4 very good blogs on raising chickens that you might appreciate for more information:
City Girl Farming~the urban guide to raising food in small spaces and ‘Taking Care of New Chicks’
Backyard Farming~the urban homestead and ‘Chickens 101’
Homestead Revival and ‘Urban Chicks’
You can view my favorite chicken catalog page by page online here:
Once out of the brooder, our chickens loved to catch bugs and eat any weed seeds they could find, plus, we gave them all of our fruit and veggie scraps from the kitchen in a dedicated, out-of-view area. If you have an area with weeds, native grasses, or trees where they can pasture, it will reduce but not eliminate your feed costs. At night they will always head back to the chicken-tractor and their roosts.
During winter, you may have to provide up to 100% of feed, and depending on your climate, you may not be able to move the coop. Be prepared for a spring clean-up.
In return for food, water, and shelter, our girls rewarded us a nutritious payment in an egg a day delivered practically to our door – fewer during the shorter days of winter. They were very contented and provided us with both heart-warming and hysterical stories through the years. I can’t think of a better way to become sustainable, and if you get a good system going, even a provider of eggs to others. This is both an adventure and a way to learn practical preparedness skills all in one.
PS. We also loved many (but not all) of our roosters! Charles was our favorite!
I would love to know if any of you decide to keep chickens. Enjoy the journey!
For Part 1, go here.
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Thanks for reading!