Chickens have long been one of my favorite farm animals. They have a wide range of personalities, eat LOADS of insects and are the catalyst of almost all barnyard shenanigans.
Oh yeah, and they lay those delicious eggs. Love me some eggs for breakfast... doused in maple syrup.
Now, this isn't my first rodeo with chickens. In fact, I've raised chickens for most of my life. I even kept chicks in my dorm room when I was an RA in College... but that's a whole nother story.
Fast forward a few years and my wife and I now find ourselves on this beautiful little farmette that we recently purchased. The only serious problem - we only have one chicken! How does a small, picturesque farm with a vintage chicken coop only have ONE chicken?!
The fastest way to address this dire issue - BUY MORE CHICKENS!
Most local hatcheries sell chicks through the spring and summer. Seeing how it was already October, I decided to purchase from Purely Poultry - a local online hatchery based out of central Wisconsin. Their website is easy to navigate and they almost always have someone online during the day who is able to field questions through their live chat application.
Another factor to consider when choosing a hatchery is breed selection. Purely Poultry has such a diverse amount of breeds to choose from - which is extremely beneficial to a research junkie like me. I ended up going with two dozen of the Madison chicks for our first order.
Set up the Brooder
Before your chicks arrive, you will need to build a brooder (a heated space for young chicks). This can be as simple as a large rubbermaid container or an outdoor enclosure in part of another building, as I have done on our farm.
A few essential items for a brooder setup...
- Heat lamp + red heat bulb (I purchased these from Tractor Supply)
- Pine shavings
- Chick starter + grower
For more information on setting up a brooder, read this article from Modern Farmer.
First Few Hours
The first few hours are most critical when bringing chickens home. Start your chicks off at 99 degrees for the first three hours, then increase to 95 degrees for first week. Reduce by 5 degrees each week until they are fully feathered out. This is typically at 6 weeks and 70 degrees.
Adjust the height of your lamps to increase or reduce temperatures. Use a thermometer to measure changes - you don't want chicks to be too cold or overheating! Let's not cook the birds yet...
Always be sure to wash your hands after handling poultry. Try to keep young children (especially the ones that want to grab EVERYTHING, like our son) from touching the birds. Chicks and chickens can carry salmonella, even when appearing healthy. Let them watch you work with the birds and observe from a safe distance.
Above all, have fun with your new chicks! Spending more time with them will make for friendly chickens in the future - this comes in handy when trying to prod eggs from a broody hen.
Wishing you all the best - Cam