RAISING BACKYARD CHICKENS! Part 1: Getting your chicks!
Like fresh organic eggs? Get yourself some chickens! Most people think that you need a farm or a lot of land to raise chickens, but that’s not the case. We raised chickens in our backyard in our tiny suburban space, so its easily done in any sized yard (as long as your township allows it). Note: Always check with your town before planning. Most allow but some have a cap on the number of chickens, or a specific distance you’ll need to be from neighbors. Some towns forbid roosters.
If you are looking to add chickens to your family, right now (March/April) is a great time to do it! In early spring you’ll find the broadest selection from breeders and hatcheries. Baby chicks also need a warm space to start off in, so transitioning them is best during the milder months of spring. We purchased our chickens from the Murray McMurray Hatchery in Iowa. You can browse through their catalog, pick the breeds you like and they’ll overnight your day-old chicks via the postal service! I don’t recommend places like Tractor Supply Co. as those chicks are not sexed and you may end up with several roosters. There are also several farms where you can purchase chicks or pullets, so you don’t have to do any of the baby raising (but who doesn’t want to have baby chicks!)
Here's a listing of some local (to NJ) farms:
Pearl, Ruby, Hazel, George, Martha, Tumtum and Nutmeg
Brooder: The chicks will need a warm “nest” for the next few weeks. Our brooder was a large rubbermaid bin (filled with pine shavings) in the spare bedroom. We cut out the bulk of the plastic top and replaced it with wire mesh so we could keep the lid on when we weren’t with them. The size depends on how many chicks you have, aim for 2.5 sq feet per chick if possible. Fill your brooder with pine shavings. For the first few days, you may have to also place paper towels over the pine shaving to prevent slipping (little legs are prone to accidents). Some shavings should be changed every couple of days, or as soon as it gets wet or really dirty. Chicks are very prone to disease during these first few weeks, and cleanliness can help prevent these diseases. When the chicks are about a month old, add a low roost about 4" off the floor of the brooder to encourage the chicks to start roosting.
Heat lamp: The brooder can be heated by using a 100W light bulb with a reflector (available at any hardware store). We used a clip on brooder lamp with a heat lamp bulb (making sure it was far enough from anything that could overheat or cause a fire).
Thermometer: The temperature should be 90-95 degrees for the first week in the warmest part of the brooder and should be reduced by around 5 degrees each week thereafter, until the chicks have their feathers (5-8 weeks old). Use a thermometer to make sure it isn't too hot or too cold. Make sure there’s a cooler spot in case they are too warm. We had the bulb above the bin on one end, so they could move to the other end of the bin if they wanted a cooler space.
Food: Start off with chick crumbles in a small feeder. Crumbles come in medicated and non-medicated varieties. We did not use medicated feed (since we were growing organic chickens and eggs), and had no issues. We did keep a closer eye on them to make sure they did not show signs of any diseases. Chicks WILL poop in their food. Always keep an eye on how clean their feeder is - any signs of poop need to be cleaned up and food replaced.
Water: Chicks need fresh water at ALL times and they frequently knock it over. We found that by placing our waterer (in the link below) on top of a block of wood, it prevented them from knocking it over as much. Make sure to check on your chicks several times a day to refresh their nest. They will spill their water a lot - which means lots of refills and pine shaving replacing. We also added chick vitamins and probiotics to their water once a day.
Be sure to watch your chicks for any sign of distress. There are many conditions that can cause sickness and death within their first few weeks. Pasty butt, coccidiosis, and spraddle leg are common. Follow this link to read about chick health conditions and their solutions. http://www.the-chicken-chick.com/2014/01/5-common-problems-in-baby-chicks-with.html
While all of this prep and work may seem like a daunting task (and, for a few weeks it will feel that way), the best part is playing with these little guys. We spent hours a day holding our chicks and getting them used to us. They loved to be held and would often fall asleep in our hands. If you take the time to get them used to being social in their first few months, they will follow you around outside and will be open to being held like a regular pet. Just be prepared to get pooped on!
Stay tuned for our next post about your outdoor chicken space and more!
Have questions or want advice, feel free to reach out to us or post comments on our Facebook post.
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