This is part five of our homesteading journey. If you would like to start at the beginning check out Homesteading: It Begins With Health.
Even though we already had several hens we decided we wanted to try raising chicks. Most of our adult birds were older & as a result didn't lay as good as younger birds tend to do. We also had a lot of folks asking us for eggs which was pretty exciting. After looking at all the chicken varieties shown in the Murrary McMurray catalogue, we finally broke down & decided to order a colorful assortment of female chicks. We chose Buff Cochins, Black Australorps, White Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Black Jersey Giants, Light Brahmas, Partridge Cochins, Rhode Island Reds, White Cochins, Golden Laced Polish, & Black Cochins. Murrary McMurray conveniently allowed us to select a delivery date & gave us the option to vaccinate prior to check-out which was perfect. We decided to have the chicks vaccinated for Coccidiosis & Marek's Disease (We no longer have chicks vaccinated when we order them from a hatchery. We feel that if birds are raised in an optimal environment they will be a much healthier animal that doesn't require vaccination to survive what life throws at them.). We then opted for a date far enough away that we would have time to prepare.
In order to safely house the chicks indoors, we decided to use huge Rubbermaid type storage bins because they don't leak, are lightweight, big, & can be stacked inside of each other when not in use (nested). We custom made tops for them out of lumber, hardware cloth, plexiglass, & hinges. The entire top was removable so we could clean the bin, but we also designed it so that the plexiglass top lifted open thanks to the attached hinges. This design gave us quick easy access to the chicks. It made daily chores such as giving them fresh food, cleaning their water founts, as well as checking them for any problems like pasty butt much more convenient. These lids also kept the chicks safe from our many house cats. The cats loved to laze away the day watching their chick TV. If you chose to raise your chicks outdoors, you will need a much more secure method. We will discuss this in a future post as we now raise our chicks outdoors from day one nearly 99% of the time.
Half of the cover was made out of hardware cloth for two reasons, it provided air flow & enabled us to sit the heat lamp directly on the hardware cloth. As the chicks got older we then adjusted the lamp so that it hung from a adjustable chain so we could move the lamp further away from the chicks because their warmth requirements are reduced as they age. The plexiglass half of the top enabled us to see the chicks as well as providing light & helped to keep the warmth inside the makeshift bin. When we made more bins, we opted to use hardware cloth for the entire lid because it provided even better air flow & we could use two lamps, one a red heat lamp, the other a regular 100-watt bulb. The chicks could then use either bulb for warmth. This method also helped us judge when it was time to remove the heat bulb & rely solely on 100 watt bulbs. If you choose this method, keep in mind that old fashioned 100-watt incandescent bulbs are no longer being manufactured, so stock up while you can.
We ordered a product called Quick Chick (contains organic compliant vitamins & electrolytes to help get the chicks rehydrated after shipping) & another item called Grow Gel (provides nutrition, hydration, & probiotics) to insure our chicks got off to a good start. We dipped their beaks in both before putting them into their newspaper lined home. Once they were all moving about, peeping, pooping, drinking & eating, we closed up the bin, secured the heat lamp & headed to work for the day. As you might have guessed that was a very long work day! After all, who the heck wants to be in a concrete building when they have live chicks running about at home?
An interesting thing to note: over the years we have discovered if we raise our chicks outdoors from day one, they do not get pasty butt. This seems to only be a problem when raised in an unnatural environment (indoors).
We had a nice area built as a coop that they ran around in while we were at work. When we got home we let them loose. They happily ran about scratching & pecking at anything & everything. We even manage to train them to come like you would a dog or cat. We simply yelled in a sing song voice "Girls, come on girls!" We would hear them squawk & next thing you know a colorful rainbow of hens would come tearing out of the woods knowing we had a treat for them. This worked beautifully when the neighbors called because the girls were in there backyard... again. Looks like we need more fencing!
Up next: Our First Dairy Cow