Today is the big day! In a few hours, we are headed to the feed store to pick up two new day-old chicks. They will live in our spare bathroom for eight weeks until they are old enough to go live outside with the other chickens.
So I thought that over these several coming weeks, I would post an update once a week about their progress and provide any chicken raising tips that I can for those of you who are thinking about getting some this spring. Let's start with the setup:
Location: You don't have to raise them in a bathtub, of course, but this works for us because it's a bathroom we rarely use, and makes it easy to keep the cat away. It's also very easy to clean up at the end of the whole process. Just be sure you pick a location that is protected from predators and easy to keep warm.
Brooder: Day old chicks — which is what we are picking up from the feed store later today — cannot regulate their body temperature and have to be kept at 95°at first. If they wander too far away from their heat source, they might get chilled and die. So for the first few weeks, were keeping them in this plastic storage tub so they can't wander off. Once they get a little bigger, we will pull out the storage tub and let them wander around in these two cardboard boxes that we have joined together.
Heat lamp: You can see that there is a heat lamp suspended from a chain to keep them warm. You can pick these up at the feed store, along with an infrared bulb, for about 25 bucks. The thermometer is crucial — I seriously overestimated the temperature inside this box and had to raise the lamp quite a bit to make sure it was 95° in there. The chicks will move closer to the light or further away from it to keep themselves comfortable, but if it's too hot or too cold they will get into trouble quickly. As they get bigger, we gradually raise the light to decrease the temperature.
Feeder: There's also a feeder filled with medicated chick feed. The medication helps prevent the chicks from getting sick when they come into contact with their droppings. I seriously considered going the organic route and skipping the medication, but there's really no treatment for a sick chick, and I can't bear the thought of losing one. I just don't want to risk it. So they're getting the medication.
Waterer: Although you can't see it in this picture, there is also a waterer to which we add a pinch of vitamin powder. All of this is available at the feed store, but it's a good idea to pick it up beforehand and to have everything set up before you bring the chicks home.
Bedding: In the bottom of their little home is a layer of pine shavings, but for the first few days we cover that up with paper towels so the chicks will get in the habit of eating their food, not the pine shavings.
Lid: The roll of hardware cloth will go over the top of the brooder once the chicks are old enough to attempt to fly out. I think last time we put a board or two on it to keep it flat.
Towels: Oh, and towels are important, too. We like to handle our baby chicks quite a lot so that they will be very acclimated to being around people. Baby chicks not only produce copious and smelly droppings, they also can't walk around on our slick linoleum floor. So if we want to play with the chicks, we spread the towels out on our laps and on the floor so they can wander around a bit. (The towels get washed pretty much every day.) And of course, whenever we have them out of the brooder, we keep a close eye on the temperature so they don't get cold.
That's our setup! Some of these are things you may already have around the house; if you had to go buy it all, the cost might be something along the lines of:
$25 for heat lamp and infrared bulb
$5 for a small bag of medicated chick feed
$10 for waterer & food dispenser, including the jars that screw into them
$8 for vitamin powder
$5-10 for a plastic tub
$10 for a bale of pine shavings (which you will also use in the chicken coop)
$5-10 for a thermometer
The chain, the hardware cloth, the cardboard boxes, the paper towels–well, you've probably got that stuff around, don't you? Anyway, it's going to come to $80 or so if you have to buy most of it new.
The chicks themselves are the cheapest part of this whole adventure–they're only $3 each!
I'll post a picture of them later today when we bring them home. And tune in next week for Part Two!