Chicks 101

Welcome to Chicks 101!IMG_0837

So, you’ve made an impulse purchase of some cutey-patootie chicks or, you’re planning on buying some cutey-patootie chicks and you don’t know what to do. You’re not alone – that’s how most of us got started with our backyard chickens. Hopefully this overview will help you figure out that chicks are easy, mistakes will happen, but in the end you’ll have some lovely, friendly, and egg-producing chickens in your backyard.

You bought chicks! Now what do you do?

Relax! Their needs are simple: Home, Heat, Food, Water. First, their home.
It can be almost anything… a plastic or metal tub, an old aquarium, basically anything that encloses them, contains their food, water, bedding, and can handle a heat lamp. Keep in mind, you’ll want some kind of breathable cover sooner rather than later. As they begin jumping around, exercising their little legs and wings, they can jump out and you don’t want that. For me, the best bedding is flat newspaper when they are really little, graduating to wood shavings at around 2 to 3 weeks. The number of chicks and size of their home will determine the frequency of cleaning but no less than once a week.

And don’t forget they need room to grow. Generally you’ll graduate to a bigger home at least once, maybe more. Again, it’s dependent on the number of chicks. But they need room to move and to be able to sleep apart from the others, if the chick prefers. Crowded chicks can pick up bad pecking habits.

Food & Water: If you don’t have a regular chick feeder or waterer, you can use shallow bowls until you get those items. Keep the water low, and refill frequently. It gets dirty very quickly and the chicks can drown if it is too deep. When you do get a waterer, you might want to put some rocks in it to keep the chicks from falling in. Of course, it’s all dependent on the size of the waterer and the size of the chicks. Use your best judgement and when in doubt, err on the side of caution. And yes, the waterer will need to be cleaned frequently, although generally not as often as a shallow bowl or dish.

Start the chicks off on mash (available at a feed store or Blue Seal or Agway). I tend to use medicated, but only if the chicks I’ve purchased have not been vaccinated. Since you generally have to request it, you’ll know if they are or not, plus the information is sent with the chicks. If you purchase them from an auction, feed store, etc., you don’t know if they’ve been vaccinated. Don’t take someone’s word for it – you need a copy of the certificate. If you don’t know, get the medicated mash. Again, err on the side of caution.

I generally graduate the chicks from crumbles to granules around 5 weeks and to big girl food (pellets) around 10 weeks. It’s a judgement call for me and depends on where I’m at with their feed. Since I generally have enough chicks to buy a 50 lb bag of food, if  I’m worried a bag will go to waste, I’ll buy the next step up and phase it in so they get used to the new texture and food type.

ALWAYS keep them watered and fed. Keep the water as clean as you can.

Heat: This is a little more tricky. You truly need a heat lamp the first few weeks, regardless of where they are housed or what the weather is. It needs to be a few inches above their heads. Watch their body language. If they are crowding under the lamp or running around looking confused, it’s too far up. If they are scattering to the far reaches of their home, it’s too close. The general rule of thumb as they age is to move it up about an inch a week until they are fully feathered. Again, watch the body language. They may need the lamp longer if the weather is exceptionally cold. They may need it removed sooner if the weather is extremely hot.

Let me give you two examples:

  1.  I removed the lamp from this year’s chicks after four to five weeks because the weather was exceptionally hot and their cage, housed in the addition we’re building, was not drafty. I watched them closely and they were fine. No loss of life and no crawling on each other to keep warm.IMG_0686
  2. When we purchased the guinea keets last year, it was so incredibly hot and there were no drafts (they were housed inside), we used a low-heat lamp initially and two of the keets died. When I saw a third one exhibiting the symptoms of the two who had died, I immediately put on a hotter lamp as it was the only thing I could think of. Fortunately, it worked. They fell asleep almost immediately and behaved more normally after that. Good thing to keep in mind: If your keets are running around 24-7 and sleeping for 30 seconds at a pop, chances are they are cold. Get those little babies warm!

It’s been 10 weeks and they have feathers and are too big for their home! What now?

Start getting them used to the big outdoors. I bring them out during the day (penned and in the shade of course!) and put them back in their crate/box at night for about a week. They generally like sleeping close together so I don’t worry about the crowding at night. The outdoors is scary for a creature who’s never really seen it and I like to reduce the trauma. After the first week, they move outside. The first night, I usually lock them into their coop so they know what it is and that’s where to go at night. After the first evening, you should be okay – they’ll go in on their own. Now, if the flock is free-range (and my was for a while), I keep them penned during their adjustment period. Usually another week.  Now my flocked is penned, but cage free. Keeps the garden safe.

As with everything else, use your judgement and watch their behavior. When they start going outdoors, it can be weather dependent, especially if their area is not weather proof. You don’t want them getting sick or dying from exposure. As always, ensure they have plenty of food and water, shade, and room to roam.

I have a flock already and need to integrate the new birds.

That’s always an interesting challenge. I’ve had the most success letting the birds get to know each other in separate cages for as long a period as possible. The current set of chicks (well, now true pullets) will be slowly integrated at about 16 weeks. By this time, I’ve culled the ones that are going in the freezer or are being sold. The chicks have been penned, either daytime only or fully for about 10 weeks. The hot weather of the summer really helped as I didn’t have to worry about their getting too cold as they adjusted to the outside. Since their current area is penned off the original flock’s pen, I’m going to peel back the separating fence a bit and let the flocks interact for about a week. As long as there are no major issues, I’ll keep it open and then remove the separating fence, pullet crate, food, and water. Then, if they’re not using the main flock’s feeder and water, they will be forced to. If they don’t go into the coop on their own after they lose their place, I’ll put them in manually and lock it up for the night. I’ll update this post after the integration so you’ll know if my plan worked or not.IMG_0866

At the end of the day, sometimes things will happen. Chicks may die and you just don’t know why. An attrition rate of roughly 20% is supposed to be normal, although I’ve never been fond of it. I will say this batch of chicks from McMurray all lived, as did the smaller batch my husband bought from Tractor Supply last year. And I had a keet slip through the fence when I was getting them used to the big outdoors last year in addition to the two who died before I put them under the hot lamp. I never could catch that little sucker and he/she ended up contributing to the great circle of life. Sometimes the best laid plans fail and sometimes they just take a long time to implement. But don’t give up! The chickens are great for their eggs and soothing clucks. So take a deep breath and relax.  It will work out.

I’ll update Chicks 101 from time to time — and it will have it’s own page for quick reference. My goal is for you to learn from my mistakes and make your backyard chicken experience more enjoyable and less stressful. Feel free to ask questions and I’ll answer to the best of my knowledge.

UPDATE:

Well, I did a forced integration a couple of weeks sooner than anticipated. I went out a couple of nights ago to put Guapo away and turn on the lights and radio (for security). First, I surprised the guineas off the porch. Odd, as they have not wanted to roost on the porch for almost a year. They went into the pen fine, when I opened it up to get Guapo. After I put him into his evening quarters, I saw the guineas were on top of the fence. Okay. Weird, but not unusual weird. When I turned on my little security measures, I saw the younglings were freaking out. They would not go into their box and were trying to get into the “big girl” pen. So, I let them. Of course, now they were totally discombobulated and tried perching for the night. It was going to be cold and I did not feel comfortable leaving them there and physically moved them into the top of the coop.

I did that for two nights.

Tonight they decided to sleep in their pen. I’ll let them, but as it gets colder, I’ll have to get them fixated on the coop. Challenges challenges!

They’re getting along with the big girls for the most part. However, the Reds and Dirty Girl like to be bossy and terrorize them a bit. Not attacking, at least not what I’ve seen, but just walk around and look at them. Chicken culture. Interesting.

And the Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an expert. I’m relating my experiences and what worked/didn’t work for me. While I would love to make you a guarantee, I simply can’t. Live is too full of variables and uniqueness. It’s what makes life fun. So keep at it, treat your birds well, and enjoy!

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Changes They Are A’Comin’

The hot and muggy weather has broken, but I feel it inching back. After the brutal winter, I’m kinda okay with that. I like being

New Nest Boxes

New Nest Boxes

warm. And it allowed me to get the chicks off the heat lamp so much earlier this year than I have been able to in the past. The new box design helped with that — the plastic on the bottom of the front helped reduce drafts and keep in body heat. The design is great as they have plastic bottom for easy cleaning, mesh for air flow and a hole in the top where the heat lamp would normally go. One side swings open and has chest clasp for easy security. Once the chicks are all dispersed, Guapo will be getting an upgrade for his nighttime digs.

I’ve identified the Americuana and Black Star that I’m keeping: Chicken Hawk and Blackie. Chicken Hawk is very aggressive, especially for a hen. Since she won’t be bred, I can live with it (I would not want to pass that aggressive on to future chicken generations). It is surprising to see her assert her “alphaness” over the rest of the chicks — she is very confrontational. I’m interested to see how that behavior plays out when she is integrated with the flock.

I shall call her "Chicken Hawk."

I shall call her “Chicken Hawk.”

The Blue Lace Red Wyandottes will be sorted last. I’m seeing some rooster characteristics emerge but want to be sure before I sell or process. And with the remaining chicks, I want to keep at least one that is close to Wyandotte standards. There is one BLRW, that, if proves to be female, I’m keeping, regardless of how far away she is from the standards. I call her Fluffbutt. Why? She has a beautifully rounded fluffy butt, rather than regular tail feathers. I’m hoping this will stay true as she matures. I think it is a lovely look and want to reproduce it. We’ll see what happens. They are about 9 weeks now and transitioning from crumbles to big girl food. I was bringing them outside on good weather days — that was a pain. Fortunately, they’ve moved outside permanently, to a segregated area in the pen. The fresh air and exercise is good for them, as is the access to bugs and greens.


Penny, Marcia and Kelly (guinea hens) finally decided the eggs won’t hatch after all and gave up. Yeah! Now they can go back to bug hunting. The Japanese Beetles are out in force. We did some “retraining,” i.e., picking the beetles and giving them to the guineas, and that seemed to help. Once the trio were out of the nest and roaming the yard, I quickly gathered up the rancid eggs and threw them out. How do I know they were rancid? Snoop would sneak behind the girls and get an egg and eat it. And boy did it smell! He did this several times as they started to leave the next more and more.

The summer digs.

The summer digs.

But now, one of the hens is broody – Little Red. She may actually hatch some eggs since she was on Guapo’s list. Of course, she’s exhibiting “all these eggz r mine” behavior and I can’t collect any. (I only have one nesting box that all the girls shared.) She doesn’t hiss like the guinea did, but she does peck. Good thing I wear gloves. Typical interaction:

LR: Peck

BHH: I’m just getting eggs.

LR: Peck

BHH: But you’re not even sitting on these.

LR: Peck

BHH: And you’re breaking some; I see yolk all over your chest.

LR: Peck

BHH: What – ever.

Now, it’s just a waiting game with her. She’ll either give up and abandon the eggs in a few weeks, or will actually hatch some. At which time I will need to provide her a secure location away from the flock. I’m not sure how they would interact with the babies, even though these babies were hatched with the flock. My fear is they would be attacked and killed. I simply don’t know and don’t want to take the chance.

On a side note, read my new page about wanting to go back to school. It’s not happening and the story of why may interest you.

Winona meandering around the empty guinea nest.

Winona meandering around the empty guinea nest.

And I’m going to try to be a little more frequent with posts — it’s a little tough working full-time, but hey, I won’t be going to school so my calendar will be opening up.

I’ll leave you with a photo of the beautiful Little Red, trying to become a mama. And don’t forget to show some love — girls gotta eat!

 

 

 

 

 

All your eggz r mine.

All your eggz r mine.

Blue Hen House

They’re Here!

The chicks have arrived! So cute. I really hate that I’ll be eating or selling most of them. In the batch are 3 Blackstars, 3 Aracaunas,

Babies!

Babies!

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So cute. The red is from the heat lamp.

and 10 Blue Laced Red Wynadotte. The batches of triplets are hens and I’ll be keeping one each. I’ll sell the others at the Rumney Livestock Auction but that won’t happen until they are older. The BLRW’s were a straight-run (meaning no sexing — so I’ve got a mixture of hens and roosters but I won’t know what’s what until they’re older). All the roosters will have to go. Not sure what will be sold and what will be processed. I’ll make that decision when I know how many I have.

The BLRW hens though… I’ll pick the two prettiest and keep them for Guapo. The rest, well, again sold and/or processed.

So why did I get so many? Well, there is a minimum order quantity I had to meet. And I want to try my hand at selling rather than just buying. And we want to start buying and processing meat birds. So this is the test year. See what works, what doesn’t, and get primed for next year.

And I want to raise and sell small quantities of BLRW’s. Hence the couple hens I’ll keep for Guapo.  We still need to invest in the bigger, better coop but we’re getting there. And I’ve made inquiries into NPIP certification which helps ensure the health of my flock. It’ll take a couple-three more months, but I’m hoping to get my first certification this year.

I also had a panic attack thinking my flock had mites. Beulah has a bare butt and most of the others were missing feathers behind their combs. But not other feather loss or behavioral activity that suggested a problem. However, that was all I could think of. Then I saw Guapo attack one of the girls. I now know why they are missing the feathers behind their combs. Bad boy.

Not sure what caused Beulah’s bare butt, though. She does a good job keeping it covered with her tail feathers, so I can’t verify if it’s started to grow back in. I think it has but I’m going to have to grab her and do a more personal inspection.

Anyway, while I was thinking it was mites, I started to look for medication. I found a powder that can be used on your vegetables AND chickens — mmmmm, no. I didn’t even read the ingredients since veggies had to be washed and I just couldn’t bring myself to put something toxic on the girls. I did find Manna Pro Poultry Protector which seems to be much less toxic but since I don’t think it’s mites, it’s just sitting there. No other birds have experienced a loss of their feathers (well other than Guapo predation) so I”m sure it’s not mites. Hopefully, Beulah’s feathers will come back. Maybe it was a partial molt?

I’ve also invested in more bees. I purchased a 3lb package that isn’t doing well. The only brood I saw was drone, which suggests the

Babs Bee Hives

Babs Bee Hives

queen isn’t fertilized or that she’s gone. So, I purchased a Russian Queen and installed her this past week. I’ll be checking on her progress today. I also got a nuc and they seem to be going like gangbusters. I think I like nucs better, even though they are pricier. They are easier to install and are an established, healthy hive. With that said, my goal is to get these bees through the winter and stop buying bees!

We’re also working on improving the bee yard. We’re putting gravel in and will cover with stone dust at some point. Should help with drainage as moisture is a bee hive’s enemy.

One of the guineas has gone completely broody. I found a clutch of guinea eggs near the new pen and one of the girls is now sitting on these day and night. I don’t think they will hatch. Pretty sure I have three females for one. And at least one night she ran in the pen to eat and then couldn’t figure how to get back out. So at least one night the eggs were without the guinea body heat. You can barely see Broody Guinea’s head in the bushes in the photo below.

Winona on a day out and Broody Guinea in the bushes.

Winona on a day out and Broody Guinea in the bushes.

I now put food and water next to her during the day so she can eat and drink in relative comfort. And hey — maybe I’m wrong and some of the eggs will hatch! Now that would be interesting.

Well, time to eat and mow the lawn. Good times. 🙂 I’ll leave you with a picture of my tomato box. Mmmmmmm… tomatoes.

Don’t forget to visit www.EggCartons.com

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Blue Hen House

Tough Poultry Weekend

Beautiful Winona in better days.

It was a tough weekend. I ended up putting Winona into the dog crate as a temporary sick coop and placed her in the shed. I really didn’t think it would come to this nor did I think I would need an infirmary any time soon. All my birds are young, healthy, and I don’t hang around other chickens collecting germs. Plus, I had no problems with my first flock several years ago. But this has taught me I need a sick coop as soon as I have chickens. The rest of the flock is, as far as I can tell, healthy as horses. More on them in a moment.

When Winona was too sick to come downstairs to eat or drink, that’s when I moved her. If I brought her water, she’d drink it. I gave her chick food, but I’m not sure if she touched it. In the sick coop, she is not eating at all (I tempted her with soft carrots and strawberries) and I don’t know if she’s even drinking. I’m very sad for her. I’m also seeing the need to learn to butcher chickens so I can take sick girls out of their misery. All in all, it’s been a downer.

Then to top it off, I lost one of the keets. I was so thrilled when I brought them outside over the weekend. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, as much as their little high-strung selves can. When I went to bring them in, three of them flung (yes flung!) themselves against the fence, screaming to get away. Once I gently put them in the box to go back inside, I went to capture the 4th. This little bugger went to the far end of the run and squeezed out through the fence. (It’s a different fence that what is in the back of the run – same style, slightly wider – that the other three hurled themselves upon.) Wonderful.

He ran to the garden bed without the coop, and squeezed through again. I chased him around the chicken yard a few times (yes, it was comical!). I thought if I gave him a break, he’d calm down. So I brought the others back to their home and came out with the box, hoping to capture him. And he was no where to be found. And still hasn’t been found. I tried flushing him out of some brush, but he obviously wasn’t there. I’m trying to image the little thing hiding so well, and being able to eat, that he’ll liveIMG_0416 wild and free but the reality is he probably contributed to the circle of life.

So it’s been a sucky poultry weekend. And the keets are currently banned from going outside again for awhile. We’ll have to revise the fencing a bit. Which is a shame because the weather has become better and enjoyable. A great opportunity to acclimate.

And, while I definitely understand their benefit in pest control, I’m starting not to like them so much. Chickens are definitely much calmer and practically train themselves. Hopefully, the guineas will become calmer with age.

To top of the fun, the quints have learned to escape. They jump/fly/helicopter right over the fence. Brownie is generally left behind so she and Beulah are becoming friends. I’ve given up trying to lock them in. They wander the yard so we get the benefit of their bug eating and naturally-produced fertilizer. It’s another fencing issue I hope to address this weekend.

I think I’ll end there and mull over necessary improvements so I don’t run into these problems again. I hope you all had a better weekend than I did!

Click here to visit www.EggCartons.com

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Keets, Keets, Keets

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They tend to stand in a row. And, they are starting this “standing straight” behavior. They look like little armless people.

Okay, I’m a little keet happy right now just because they are so darn cute. They’ve moved to a bigger tote and do nothing but eat all the time! Feathers are coming in fast, too. I give them one more week in this larger tote, then they move into the big box until we start the integration process. I’m a little nervous about that. Winona can be a bit assertive and she may get the others riled up over the keets. So I need to find a way to get them in the garden boxes but still segregated. And, I want to teach them to follow me so I can “hopefully” train them to their territory (the back yard) and keep their trips to the neighbor’s yards to a minimum.

With that said, we can’t wait until they are big enough for the yard! Japanese beetles are here and they eat up everything. We need our little keets to get big and strong and eat all the bugs. I have tried milky spore and nematodes with little success.

Now, I know I said I need to always keep the heat lamp on no matter what. I have to revise that a bit. Like a lot of the country, we experienced a severe heat wave, with extremely high humidity, over the holiday weekend. I did turn off the lamp during the afternoons and early evening. The keets were crowding the water dish (not seen in the above photo, it’s on the opposite end of the tote) because the heat lamp was too much duringIMG_0356 that weather. The lamp was turned back on late night through early morning. Now that the heat wave has broken, we’re back to heat lamp all the time. I really watch how they behave to ensure they get enough heat without overheating. This whacked weather makes heat management interesting.

Next post I’ll post some pics of the hens, I promise! Brownie and the quints are getting big and developing the nice soft bum feathers that laying hens get. I cannot wait to get eggs from them.

Blue Hen House

Chickens, Guinea Update & Sheep

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Chickens in the grass.

Whew! Lots to write this week, even with the continual rain.

The girls are doing well, with Brownie and Quintuplets about the same size as Beulah and Winona. They look like they might get even bigger. They do alright in the rain, but when it’s really bad (we’ve had some incredibly severe thunderstorms), they go inside. But they generally remain out during light drizzles.

The keets are doing okay. I did lose the second chick, unfortunately, but not surprising. We  increased the output of the heat lamp — basically got a hotter bulb. My concern is that they weren’t warm enough, even though the temperature has been (until last night) very hot and humid. When I saw a third keet exhibit the signs the two that had died exhibited, I freaked and got that hotter bulb. That seemed to do the trick. The little thing perked right up, then went to sleep. They all went to sleep after a couple of minutes under that bulb. I feel horrible… maybe I wouldn’t have lost the other two if I had used that bulb from the beginning — I was honestly concerned about them overheating because of the weather. And a 20% attrition rate is normal, although sad. Well, I learned my lesson and will pay less attention to the weather and more attention to heating up chicks.

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It looks weird, but this configuration seems to work the best, giving the keets just enough heat without overheating them. They move back and forth between being under the lamp and laying on their food. I look forward to their having more room soon!

We also had a little problem with pasty butt. That’s when they defecate, and it gets stuck to their rear. So, I gently dipped their rear ends into warm water and gently cleaned their bums, then applied a light coating of antibiotic cream. I’ll keep an eye out to make sure we have no further issues.

Their appetite today has suddenly jumped. In addition to constantly watering them, I am now constantly feeding them. That’s okay. I want them to get big! I have to prep the next size container for when they jump up in size.

The other big highlight of my week, that I haven’t mentioned yet, was visiting a small sheep farm! I met a lovely woman, Maureen, at Farm to School. She raises sheep and was gracious enough to invite me out to see her operation. Of course I jumped at the chance!

She makes it look so easy. With a smallish flock of 14 sheep, she is able to rotate them from field to field with a temporary, solar-powered electric fence. They have minimum cover and stay outside unless there are extreme weather conditions. Usually horrifically low winter temperatures. Then they go in the barn for a day or two. She hires a professional shearer to shear the sheep, then does a high level clean of the wool and sells it raw. Awesome! Care for the animals includes annual vaccinations and the occasional nail clipping. And of course, ensuring they always have water, food, and minerals. Should I get a job (soon!), I may purchase a couple of her lambs in the spring. Then they can mow the lawn for me! And since my chickens are taking their own sweet time clearing the raised beds, I can stick the lambies in with them to help. It’s a win-win. I may even sell the wool. While it won’t be a money-making proposition, it would help offset the cost of winter feed a bit. Below are are couple of photos:

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I believe Maureen called these “calf” shelters. They are inexpensive, lightweight and easy to move. They provide great shelter during inclement weather.

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Lone little ducky. His siblings went to the great pond in the sky.

I’ll leave you with a link to a new, and favorite blog I’ve discovered, on women’s health. I think this doctor is absolutely wonderful and wish we had more like her. Let me introduce you to Dr. Leah Torres.

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