Well, I did it. I ordered baby chicks for my first try at two legged farm animals. I have lots of knowledge about the ones with four legs, but this is my first foray into the “they are so easy” chicken adventure. The skeptic in me says otherwise. I had borrowed some cages, a watering jar and feeder, red heat lamp and a book on chickens. I was on my way. I checked out the breeds with the catalogs, nixing the “one of every kind” from the kids, did some web research and of all things the Farmer’s Almanac came through (it has some fascinating information). I had discovered there, an old breed called the Java, one that has been all but forgotten and was fairly difficult to find but, Privett Hatchery Inc.had them and the other breeds we wanted to try out (Black Australorps, Dominique, Light Brahma). This batch is to be the layers and the plan is to move on to meat birds once we get the hang of it.
I got “the call” from the post office bright and early that my 25 baby chicks were here. I was expecting an afternoon arrangement. The company I ordered from had said they would be here today I just didn’t expect 7 am today. (This time was far better for the chicks as far as less stress and quicker time out of the box, as long as the new “mom” is prepared) Nor did I expect this weekend in February to be one of the coldest we have had all year. I only had the water containers clean and happened to remember where they were, gads–. With several events to complete before chick pickup I made a mental list of what I didn’t have for the new arrivals. I reviewed my instructions, gleaned from a few sources; I needed a 2 foot feeder and chick starter, water and a heat lamp, check. But where am I going to put the little buggers? My garage is COLD. It is COLD. They are supposed to be at a balmy ninety degrees for, like, two weeks. I’m thinking no matter how much cardboard I put around the cages, it’s not going to be enough. At the supply store they use watering tanks. High sides, lots of room to roam, heat lamp not going to end in chick barbeque. Well look, there is an old wood box, lots of room, fits perfectly under the cabinet where my office chair goes, drawer handle perfect for a heat lamp hanger, watering jar fits, old screen on top prevents any possible escapee problems and keeps out any unwanted attention i.e. the cat. Ohhh, is she going to be unhappy.
So off to the local farm supply I went, fortunately they were open, obviously other people must go through this or I just got lucky. I had checked out the chicken department on earlier trips and knew where to go. A clerk happened to be stocking shelves nearby and I took advantage of the moment. Plastic or galvanized feeders? (Galvanized) Do I really need the extra supplement for the water or is sugar enough? (Can’t hurt) What’s with the dunking their beaks (not heads) in water? (They need a helping hand) Are they really that easy? (Yep) She gave me some excellent hints and sent me to the counter for my chick starter mix. I pass by the tanks with the chicks in them, some look pretty good, some look like they need more beak in the water treatments. By this time the chicks have been at Post Office Central for about two hours as I have rushed around in the snow to accommodate them in the fashion I hope they don’t come to expect.
When I get to the Post Office, I go to the blue door since they aren’t really open yet, and get my new bundles. They are merrily cheeping away and have brought some fun to the clerks an otherwise normal day with mail that doesn’t make noise. They are rather loud, which is probably a good sign. Once I get them in the house, my set up seems pretty good, water at both ends of the box, food off to one side, heat in the middle, put some newspaper down in the box for easier cleaning. I snip the plastic straps and prepare for the dunking process. These things are little, cute, fuzzy and contrary. After having been cooped up for two days, having their faces put in water is not on their top ten list. However, they tolerate it pretty well and are very glad to have some space. They are yellow, black, yellow and black, with varying degrees of those two colors thrown in and pretty much all look alike in their color group. They immediately set to looking for food, eating, drinking and cheeping. Seems like there are more than twenty five, but they move too fast to be sure. I take a look at the packing slip since I really didn’t remember what I had ordered. On the back are some instructions (if you actually had pulled it off of the box). Some safe handling tips; “Keep poultry outside”, now they tell me. Avoid contact with poultry manure; does someone do something else with it? Thoroughly wash hands with soap and warm water after handling ANYTHING in the chick’s environment, I just bought the chick starter, is it dirty? DO NOT nuzzle or kiss your chicks, yuck and they peck. And apparently birds can carry Salmonella. All good things to know, guess at this point I will put them in play for next time.
I watch them for a while, pretty chipper for a two day trip in a 12 x 12 box. Good, my investment is over a hundred dollars by now so active is good. They are pecking, preening, stepping in the water and food, and generally running amok as kids will do. I scatter some food on the newspaper as one of my helpful hints suggests and they seem to like that. They are settling down in their new environment and only get bothered if I put my hand in to scatter more food. I leave, making sure the feline of the house does not have access to what would amount to snacks and the dog anxiously listening at the door.
When I check back a little later, they are all still busy. So far, so good. Another hint mentions never let them run out of water. This proves to be one to watch as only a few hours later they have gone through an entire quart. I would have never thought those small things would drink that much so fast, take note! After a whooping 8 hours as a chicken owner, my confidence is high that I can get my small wards to adulthood. Best see what tomorrow brings before I get too excited about it. And where is the cat??
March 2, 2011 In addition to needing lots of water, newspaper is to be used as a bedding option for a day so they won’t eat the shavings or other bedding choices. The need some cozy bedding for comfort and warmth. Also you have to be a “poop checker” (Manny in Ice Age anyone?) to make sure they don’t get clogged up. Their feathers tend to catch and mat with manure, which may or may not interfere with further manure production, but can cost you a chick or two.