Now that my family has made it over the "sickly" hump, our lives can get back to a semblance of being normal. Which means, back to work on the blog! Yay!
Lately, I've been talking a bit about healthy living and some of the things we are doing to accomplish that.
One of the most valuable graduations we've made to healthy living, is raising our own chickens for eggs and meat.
If you've ever wondered what it takes to raise chickens, then stay tuned, because in this post I am going over the first few steps to raise your own chickens, and if you were under the impression that it was difficult, then let me enlighten you.
STEP 1: The Brooder Box
The first essential item you will need when getting new chicks is a brooder box. This a place where your chicks will stay and grow until they are large enough to move into a coop.
A brooder box is exactly that, a box. It certainly doesn't need to be anything special.
Our box has a support across the top for us to hang food and water when the chicks are a little larger and a support screwed into the side for a heat lamp to attach to.
When the chicks get big enough to start flapping around, we put some chicken wire on the top to keep them from escaping. We also made our brooder walls high, so we could keep our chicks in there longer. (We don't like to put them in with the big chickens until we know they can hold their own.)
If you only plan on having a few chicks and are not sure you'll want to do chickens year after year, you can easily make a brooder box out of a cardboard box. We didn't make our wood box until last year and had always used cardboard up until that point. It's perfectly acceptable.
STEP 2: The Feed/Water Essentials
To keep your chicks alive and kickin' there are a few feed/water items you will need.
Let's start with water. Depending on the amount of chicks you are going to buy, there are different size waterers and fountains (which is a big waterer) available to you.
If you are getting yourself just a few chicks, say 1-4, then your best option to start with, would be a smaller waterer like this.
You can buy the bottles to go into the base or use a mason jar.
If you are thinking about expanding a little, and getting more than just a few chicks, you may want to consider a waterer like this.
If you prefer, you can find some waterers the same size that hang, or you can put a dryer vent ring around the top of these, and loop some chain around it, to make it hangable. We prefer to hang our water for the following reason.
When your chicks get a little bigger (like those in the above picture) they are notorious scratchers, and will throw bedding everywhere! Normally we would have it hanging higher, except we have wee little bebes in there too. However, we did solve the problem by putting in a little waterer for the smaller chicks, and raising the big water for the larger chicks.
Now that your water is taken care of, it's time to talk about feed.
The same principles apply for what size of feeder you want to get as the water.
For just a few chicks, you only need a small feeder. These feed bases also fit mason jars, but who wouldn't want some rockin' rooster bottles!
More chicks, equals a bigger feeder.
We currently have two small feeders in our brooder box, but will soon have to switch to our larger feeder to accommodate our growing chicks. (Side Note: We put our small feeders/waterer, on a board, on top of the bedding, to try and minimize the amount of yuck that gets into them.)
As far as what kind of feed to buy we go with this.
It's really personal preference on what chick feed to buy, we buy ours where we buy our chicks (which you may have already noticed where, but I'll get to that soon).
Now that you've got food and water covered we are on to...
STEP 3: Chick Comfort
To be blunt...your chicks poop...A LOT. So that they are not walking around in their own filth, you need to put down some bedding for them. Wood shavings are most common and they work great, and if it ain't broke don't fix it, right?
Next is warmth. Small chicks are actually pretty fragile and need to be kept nice and warm, so you'll need a heat lamp. Just one, not thirty...the picture isn't literal, okay people.
There are two kinds of bulbs you can choose from for your lamp. Infrared red and infrared clear. We ALWAYS buy infrared RED. The red light prevents chicks from seeing blood. If you have a chick that has any blood on it ,and the others see it, they will start to peck at it. So, we play it safe and stick with the red bulbs.
This next chick comfort item is completely optional.
To keep our chicks entertained, and to give a little extra supplement, we provide them with Baby Cakes. It's basically supplement feed, pressed into a cylinder. It even comes with a string so that you can hang it for your chicks' enjoyment. They peck away at it until it completely disappears. They seem to really like them, so we keep buying them.
Now that you have a brooder box, feed/water, and the comfort essentials, you are ready for the final step.
STEP 4: Buying Chicks!
This is obviously by far the BEST part. If you have kids, this is a great family outing to do together.
I am VERY biased on where I get my chicks (it also happens to be the best place in my un-biased opinion too). We buy our chicks from our local Big R Store. Why am I biased you might ask? Well, because of these fine people.
Mr. and Mrs.Wilson, my aunt and uncle. My Uncle Tony manages our local Big R Store and we like to support it whenever we can. It also helps that their product is almost always cheaper than anywhere else. (Including the big box hardware stores.) Not only do we get our chicks and all of our chick product from Big R, but we also buy all of our our gardening supply there too, among other things. (Okay, shameless, but completely honest, plug over.)
Back to the chicks!
There are so many breeds of chicks to buy, and some people like one specific breed over all others. I'm kind of a mix and match kinda girl, so I always buy a menagerie.
This season we bought...
Barred Rock (My mom's personal favorite.)
Black Australorp (the black chicks) and Black/Star Sex Link (which I failed to take a picture of, boo).
White Silkie (A show bird, which I bought for fun.)
Here is the sign showing what they look like as adults. Yep, big puffballs.
And Cornish Cross (strictly a meat bird). Aren't they so cute peeking out of those little windows?
Two tips when buying chicks:
One, be knowledgeable about whether you are buying straight run or sexed chicks. If the chicks are straight run (or not sexed), you have a higher chance of getting a rooster. If the chicks are advertised as pullets, then they are sexed, and your chances of getting a rooster drastically diminish.
HOWEVER...that does not mean you are guaranteed to get hens. We bought from a sexed batch this year and still found ourselves with a little rooster.
If you are buying chickens and are within city limits, be sure to check with your local code to see if roosters are allowed. If they aren't, you have the option of relocating your bird, or butchering it. I promise, you can't hide them, for obvious reasons.
Two, do NOT eat the chicks!
Haha...but, for real, don't eat the chicks. Don't mind this crazy guy...that just happens to be my cousin. (Don't worry, no chicks were harmed in the documenting of this post.)
The options for chick breeds are nearly limitless. For more information, visit the breeds page on Backyardchickens.com, where you can search for breeds of chicken based on things like climate tolerance, broodiness, egg size, and more.
So, if you were skeptical about the effort you would have to put into raising chickens, put your mind at ease. Just a few simple supplies and you are set for the beginning of your chicken journey. It's smooth sailing from here on out folks!
Soon, I'll be following up with another post about how to keep chickens once they are coop ready.
Good luck in your chicken endeavors!