The post office phoned at 7:15 this morning to tell us the chicks had arrived. Around here new chicks are always exciting and absolutely CUTE!
Chickens are one of the easiest farm animals to care for. When we are expecting a new arrival of chicks we always get our "chick pen" ready a couple days before they are scheduled to arrive. We plan ahead so we can make sure we have everything needed to care for them. We certainly don't want to loose any because we were ill prepared. If you are interested in raising some chicks, here's how we do it.
1. We grow our chicks in an old rabbit cage that we elevate on two saw horses. We place it in the "grower" pen attached to the barn. Our grower pen is a fully enclosed coop that has a roof, walls on two sides and chicken wire on two sides. It is where we raise our broilers. We either have broilers OR chicks in there - never both. We place the chicks cage in the corner where the two solid walls meet. This helps protect them from colder winds in the spring and/or blowing rain during thunder storms. A cold or wet chick equals a dead chick. Also, elevating the chick pen on saw horses and placing it in an enclosed area provides additional protection from opossums, raccoons and snakes.
2. We line the rabbit cage with excelsior pads. As you can see from the photo, the excelsior pads are made from a textured material. These pads provide the chicks with stable footing. Never use newspaper to line a chick's cage, box or other container. The newspaper is too slick and will promote "sprawl leg", a fatal condition.
3. If you look closely, you will be able to see a pink tint on the excelsior pads near the yellow waterers. This tint is caused by a red heat lamp. When the chicks are young they have difficulty maintaining their body heat. We hang the heat lamp above the cage so the chicks can gather under it to stay warm. If they get too warm they will move to the other end of the cage where it is cooler. Notice that we also keep the waterers and feed near the heat lamp. This encourages the chicks to stay where it is warm.
4. We use two quart size mason jar waterers for our chicks and we prefer the covered chick feeders as the feed will stay cleaner. We also add a poultry trace mineral feed supplement to our chicks' water - it's like a vitamin. Remember to dunk every chick's beak in water as soon as your chicks arrive to teach them to drink water. We feed our chicks starter ration for the first 4-6 weeks. Over the course of a week we then begin mixing in grower ration until the feed is fully converted. They will eat grower feed until they are 20-24 weeks old. The pullets' feed is then converted to lay ration.
5. It is very important to keep the chick's water and feed clean. We will change their water 3-4 times per day. To help prevent waste we only fill the feeders half way. We also replenish the feed 3-4 times per day. Chicks need a constant source of food and water. We never allow our chicks' feeder or waterer to become empty.
6. This time around we ordered only pullets. When they grow too large for the rabbit cage we will line an area of the "grower" pen with hay and they will live in there until they are 20-22 weeks. We will then begin introducing them into the older flock. We will know the difference between the younger and older chickens because our older chickens are barred rocks and our new chicks are black austalorps.
7. Next summer our barred rocks will be two years old. Their egg production will have peeked and they will begin laying considerably less than they do today. When that happens, they are too expensive to keep, as feed is about 2/3 the cost of raising chickens.
Everyone has his own way of raising and caring for livestock. If you ever decided to raise chicks, it is most important to provide them with clean water, feed, bedding (never cedar), and a heat source. Our chickens have been a great source of fun and an educational tool for our children. Nothing beats a fresh yard egg for breakfast!