By Romie Holl, Wisconsin
I have wanted chickens for a while now for the eggs and meat. They provide the added benefit of eating bugs and ticks out of the garden as well as supplying manure.
I not only wanted dual-purpose birds, but birds that could handle the Wisconsin winters. While I know the color of the eggs does not matter when it comes to the quality of what’s inside, I wanted a rainbow of egg colors, so I purchased white layers, different shades of brown layers (some speckled), and a few Easter Eggers. By the time I counted up all the hens, I came up with 23 of them. Then I added two roosters to the mix. This way I won’t have to buy chicks anymore.
Getting Ready for My New Arrivals
I set up the brooder before the chicks arrived. I was given this nice commercial brooder to use. It was great, but I didn’t like the idea of the chicks being in such a confined space for the first two weeks of their life. I decided to use the brooder as my “hospital” in case one or more of the chicks became sick or injured.
A friend bought a brand-new grill, and I was given the box, which turned out to be a great brooder. It was three feet wide, five feet long and 30 inches tall. The width is plenty big enough for the birds, and the height blocks any stray breezes. I put the box inside a swimming pool as a “just in case” for leaks.
I decided to use a spare bedroom to keep my chicks in. In that way, I could check on them before I left for work. After the box was in place, I used wood shavings for the bedding (one to two inches thick) to absorb the spillage from the water dish and make a nice bed for the birds.
Across the box, I hung a heat lamp to keep the chicks warm at all times. When you choose a lamp, make sure it is a red bulb. If you use a clear bulb that emits white light, there is a greater chance of the chicks picking on each other. I also provided the chicks with a waterer (gallon) and the two-foot chick feeders (two feet can handle up to 50 chicks at once).
You will also notice that I had a thermometer in the box, and the lamp is on a chain. You want to adjust the lamp so the temperature is between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This is only for the first initial setup. After the chicks are in place, you should watch their behavior to determine whether you need to lower or raise the heat.
The last thing I did before my chicks arrived was buy their food. I decided to get organic chick feed (soy-based, not fish-based). I purchased “chick starter grower, 20 percent crumble.” I bought a 35-pound bag to last roughly a month for my 25 chicks.
The Chicks Arrive
One Wednesday morning, I got a call from the post office and was told my chicks had arrived. As soon as I walked in, I could hear them. The size of the box surprised me — it was only 12 inches square and eight inches tall.
Opening the box, I was happy to see that all the birds arrived without a problem. They were happily chirping away. Before handling the chicks, I washed my hands with soap and warm water to prevent spreading germs to them.
Chicks sometimes have a hard journey, and they can use the extra energy provided by adding sugar to their water for a few days. Before I put the water in the waterer, I added one-quarter cup of sugar and mixed it in with the water.
I dipped each of their beaks into the sugar water. They automatically swallowed the water and then started drinking. A lot of times when they arrive they are dehydrated and need the water right away.
After they were done drinking, they started looking around and found the food. I should mention here that the placement of both the food and water are important, as you don’t want them to defecate in the water or food dish. You also don’t want it too high where they can’t reach it easily. I found that placing the food and water at their neck height is perfect, and as they grew, I raised it to match the shortest chick. You can do this by putting boards under the waterer and feeder, or getting ones that hang on a chain. You change the height by changing the links on the chain. I started off with feeders that sat on the ground, but within a week I was able to go to the hanging feeder.
At night, I checked on the chicks, not only for the food and water, but to see how they were sleeping. They automatically adjust themselves to the heat that they require. If they are directly below the light, it means you need to lower the light to give them more heat. If they are far away from the light, it means you need to raise the light to make it cooler for them.
At least every other day, I handled my chicks (washing my hands before and after, of course). There are several reasons you want to handle your chicks. If they get used to your touch, it will be easier to take the eggs in the future. You also want to check their vent and make sure it is clean.
There are several ways to clean them, normally a paper towel and warm water works just fine, but sometimes the excrement is caked on. In this situation, you need a little elbow grease to get everything clean. For my chicks, I filled a bowl with slightly warm water and held their backsides in there for 30 seconds to loosen everything up. The excrement then wiped clean. All the chicks went “still” once they were in the water. I’m not sure if that was because they were shocked or they really liked the warm bath.
Watch Them Grow
It was truly amazing to watch them grow. After a week, they were still furry but they could fill my hand. When they got taller, I took away the feeder that sat on the ground and started using the hanging feeder. This holds more food (a gallon) so I had to fill it less often. Plus, being on a chain it was easier to adjust the height.
At 10 days, the chicks were still fuzzy, but at 14 days, they were growing their feathers and starting to try and fly around inside the box. This was an indication that they are ready to leave the brooder and move into the chicken coop.
I had a friend’s three children (ages 5 to 9) help move the chicks, and they were excited to be able to carry and put the chicks in their new home.
I kept the chickens inside the coop for two weeks. This instilled in them that this is home, where they get their food and water. After the two weeks, I let them out to roam inside the fenced-in area.