Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Keeping Chickens, Part 2: Little Balls of Fluff

~Win sourdough starter by clicking here!~
Here it comes.  Are you ready for the cuteness?  This was our little flock last year on Good Friday, one day old:
Can you even handle the puffiness?!

Before you get your tiny balls of fluff, preparations must be made.  Ideally, you'll have the coop built and their run established before you even bring them home, even if they won't be in it for four to six weeks.  That ideal didn't happen for us; Jeremy hammered the last nail in the coop the day the adolescent pullets were put in their new, outdoor home.  There I go again, getting ahead of myself.  We'll chat about the coop in the next chicken segment...

What is essential to have ready as soon as you bring the puff balls home is a brooder, heat lamp, starter feed, and food and water feeders specific for chicks.

If you plan to continue raising poultry, investing in a real brooder is a good idea.  If this is your first go at it and you're not sure you want to sink that much money into flock-raising just yet, you can use a box, like we did.  This car seat box came in quite handy:
I learned if you put several layers of newspapers at the bottom of the brooder, I didn't have to take all 12 chicks out of the brooder every day to lay fresh newspaper down.  Daily chick up-keep consisted of peeling a layer of newspaper off, changing their water, and making sure they had enough food in the little feeder.  Yessiree, this is something your children can do.  I monitored the first couple of times, then 7-year-old took the reigns and coordinated chickie care with her three younger siblings.

We also didn't invest in an official "brooder lamp."  Instead, we used an office lamp we already had that had a 65 watt bulb.  I read a regular lamp can be used as long as it has a 65-70 watt bulb and the brooder stays about 90 degrees the first week.  We taped a thermometer in ours to monitor, but the chicks will let you know how they're doing.  If they're all huddled right under the lamp, they're not warm enough.  If they're sprawled out as far as they can get from the lamp, it's probably getting a little too toasty for the little nuggets.  If they're all spread throughout the box, scratching and peeping away, the temp is just right. You'll want to drop the temp inside the brooder 5 degrees each week by raising the lamp higher and higher to get them ready for the great outdoors.
At first, I was anti-medicated starter feed.  I wanted them to be 100% organic, but not being experienced in raising chicks (it had been 19 years since my last flock, after all) and from what I read about it being hard to keep them from getting sick without it, we went with medicated starter feed.  I figured it'd be out of their systems before they started laying, several months later. :)

A word on pasting up.  This might detract some of you from keeping chickens regardless of their cuteness and eventually delicious, daily, fresh eggs with orange yolks.  Sometimes... chick poo gets stuck on their bottoms and, well, it must be swabbed off before their little openings get completely pasted over and they can't poop and they die.  Just reporting the facts, people.

One more thing.  Chick dust.  Chicks... make a lot of dust.  If you can keep them warm enough in the garage and you don't have cats that would try to consume them (like we do), keeping them out of the house is ideal.

There you have it.  This is what life looks like the first 4-6 weeks of your chicken-keeping career.

If you haven't already decided on what breeds you want to raise, click here to see what we chose and why.  You can also browse a hatchery's website like Murray McMurray. Oooh, that part is so fun!  And if you're homeschooling (or if you're not, really), this is definitely a wonderful project that interests most children and something they can easily be involved in from start to finish.

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