Even as the meteorologist says another storm will be dumping snow on parts of the Northeast soon, spring is just around the corner. Garden supply and feed stores are putting out seeds, potting soil and trays, and in some of those stores you can hear little peeping sounds.
It’s always fun to look at the chicks and ducklings – those little balls of fluff can be quite hard to resist. Before you buy them, make sure you know what type of chickens will work best for you and that you have the necessities to keep your chicks healthy, happy and safe from predators.
Figuring out what type of chicks to get takes a little thought. Knowing what you want them for is the first step – eggs or meat? – although some birds are dual purpose.
Once you know what you want to use them for, getting a breed that will be a good fit is the next step. Michigan State Cooperative Extension has a detailed chart on breeds that can help. (Fair warning: It is 10 pages long, but it does have great, high-quality pictures!)
Buying chicks locally is helpful in that you can pick out the ones you want; however, you’ll be limited to the breeds the store has. Local shop & swaps are another good way to buy them, and the vendors can provide information on the care the chicks will need.
If you want some of the lesser known or rarer breeds, you may need to purchase your chicks from a hatchery. “Straight run” refers to chicks that have not been sexed (determined to be male or female) and you will get a mix of roosters and hens. Pullets are sexed chicks that are only female; however, most stores claim to be 90% accurate when sexing chicks, so you may get a rooster in your flock.
Once you have your chicks you’ll need to keep them warm until they are about four to six weeks old, as they cannot maintain their own body temperature. There are many products on the market from a heat lamp (metal clamp lamp using a 250W bulb) to ceramic heat emitter bulbs to chick heating plates. While inexpensive, metal clamp lamps can be a fire hazard if not properly used and maintained. Other options also have drawbacks, so doing some research into what will work best for you is recommended.
Make sure the chicks have feed and water at all times. If you are raising your chicks for eggs, chick feed should be used until they are about 18 weeks old and produce their first egg.
Whether you free range your birds or cage them, chickens will need shelter where they can roost at night and be safe from predators. They make tasty meals for foxes, raccoons, hawks and many other predators, so be sure their space is secure.
Chickens can be a great addition to your farm. They are curious, playful and fun to watch!
by Joan Kark-Wren, aka Grandma Chicken