Where do you start?
First and most importantly;
if you live in the suburbs or city can you keep chickens? Consider talking with your city before you bring the fuzz balls home. There is nothing sadder then having to find new homes for these wee ones. You may have to consider a small breed such as Bantam Hens/Chicks.
There are grassroots movements that help those that want to keep a small flock. This website had some great suggestions and tips for dealing with this situation: Legalize City Chicks
If you get the green light from the city remember to check with your neighbors. You maybe able to coax them by the lure of fresh eggs or great manure for those that love to garden. A Roosters crow can be annoying to some folks.
Your neighborhood or neighbors may not appreciate your coop if it's not kept clean it also may have to be very cute or attractive.
How many chickens do you want or can you have?
This maybe a City ordinance or zoning subject so please check all the legal issues first! You also may need a permit. These are very important issues that should be dealt with off the bat.
So now you have done most of your homework what next?
Brooder- You can get this beauty Brinsea Ecoglow Brooder. Of course there are some really creative ways to do this! From Aquariums, insulated ice chests, repurposed dressers, metal troughs, card board boxes and more. Pinterest has great ideas! Make sure the chicks can't escape from the top of your brooder. Place hardware cloth over if need be at least by week 2. Make sure your brooder has enough space that they do not start bullying each other or worse!
We have used a Rabbit cage, Puppy cage, Dog crate and Aquarium (cleaned very well) for our chicks.
Chick sized water dish- Make sure you use one that is small or place marbles in it so the chicks can still drink but not drown. You may have to show your chicks how to drink if they are just hatched or day old. There are nipple feeders too. You may have to teach your chicks how to drink. You do this by dipping their beaks in gently until you notice them drink. You may have to do this a few times and hold their heads gently. They aren't usually very happy with this until they realize they are thristy.
Red bulb heat lamp or 100 watt bulb is needed- We have used the 100 watt bulb. 90 to 95 degrees is great for the first week. I have raised the lamp higher until I needed to change to a lower wattage bulb as they grow weekly a 5 degree change in temperature is good. Also, if you are using a heat lamp please make sure you are not using a flammable brooder, eg; Plastic tub, Styrofoam, or Cardboard box.
*MAKE SURE THERE IS NOTHING NEAR LAMP TO START A FIRE!!!*
Thermometer- To check temp in your brooder so they are not too hot or too cool. We have one of these. A simple Thermometer
Chick food- There are medicated or non-medicated. We have always used non-medicated. I have also grabbed a clump of dirt and grass for the chicks to play with. A random worm or bug can make it interesting for chicks. Warning it can be messy but hilarious to watch. After birth they can survive without food for at least 3 days.
Rubber lined shelf liner- I found newspaper can be slippery if it gets wet. Paper towels also work well but chicks can slip and slide if it's too slick. Puppy pads or Chux pads can be used as well.
Pine shavings- Cedar is toxic. Some advise sand, but I have found several chicken experts that state this could lead to chicks eating the sand and ending up with impacted crops. Also, sand can contain various disease, as an example; e coli.
Pedialyte, Sav-a-Chick or Manna Pro- I used these with our last batch of store bought chicks and found it helped some of the runts quite a bit to perk up.
Free of drafts- not a supply just a word to the wise.
Make sure other animals/pets are away from these wee ones. Some critters love to make meals out of these babies!
Some fun things can be a mirror- Please be sure to fasten down so it does not fall on chicks!
Perch- Can be screwed into place if using a Brooder that is stable. Otherwise if you are handy you can create your own. We started using one when the chicks were about a week old. There are some folks that introduce a perch sooner. Chicks have great eye sight and a perch can add a bit of entertainment for them as well as you!
As you can tell from the above picture despite the perch Mr. Awesome made, to the right, this little one decided to go on top of the waterer worked better.
When they are bigger will you free range or keep them in a run?
This takes some thought. If you free range chickens will go everywhere! Beautifully landscaped or gardened areas may suddenly be picked clean of flowers, bushes may become nesting spots and dusty bathing may happen in places you don't want them too.
There are also predators you need to be on the look out for when they are out. We have lost chicks and older birds both free ranging and in a run.
Chicken wire is not good for a secure run. Many predators can reach through the wire and grab your chicks or chickens!
Even bunny wire maybe too large depending on the size. Mr. Awesome found a good size that works for the Abbey and he will use for the chicksaw when he gets that built.
The chicks will eventually get bigger and will need a coop. What kind of coop will you need? There are rules of thumb to use when figuring out how much space in the coop, perch and run.
Check here Natural chicken keeping
What kind of coop do you need?
Pinterest is just teeming with ideas for this!
You would be surprised at how little space you can actually keep chickens in! Remember the less room they have the more issues your chickens can have such as feather picking, cannibalism or the Rooster may over breed with just one or a few hens.
What to look for in chicks-
Whether you are buying from the local farm store or big box breeder make sure you check out your chicks as soon as you can.
Chicks should be full of energy and curious! Lethargic chicks is not a good sign.
Eyes should be bright and clear with no discharge.
Legs and feet should be even and bright colored not faded and smooth.
Vent is the rear end and should be clean. Chicks can have "pasty butt" if they are too crowded from shipping or even when you have them in the brooder. Make sure you have room! Other ways for this to happen is brooder too hot, improper diet or poor health.
I do butt checks often just in case. Gloves, warm water and some baby soap help. They won't be happy but this helps. You can use running water just make sure temp is not too hot or cold. Work quickly so chick doesn't get a chill. Clean patiently, not too rough, gently ensure not to pull skin off.
I have used petroleum jelly, antibiotic ointment and my own homemade salve after cleaning. Check frequently. Pasty butt can make your chick ill and can be fatal.
As a side note, I ran out of non-latex gloves and had very little antibiotic cream when I had to do this at some point. So I ran to the store after my girls got home from school. I also needed Rum, yes there was a time when I would enjoy Morgan and 7. I don't drink that often or a lot. I can handle a few drinks but even with that I am dancing on the table and laughing hysterically. My Sister get a kick out of how poorly I handle liquor.
So, I get up to the register and remembered Mr. Awesome was going to do a Go bag and a condom was needed. The cashier took a look at my purchases and gave me a smile and wink. I didn't even think about what I had!
UGH! I turned a few shades of red and let her know that it was going to be an exciting night! I thought about telling her the truth about cleaning up chicks and why I needed the other things but I didn't think it would sound real.
Now do you want Straight run or Pullets?
I will be honest with you. I had NO idea what that meant when we first ordered our first flock.
Straight run birds are unsexed chickens. Pullet are hens that are less then 1 year old.
Made sense after I read it. I originally ordered from a gal from church. A group of us went in to save on shipping. I felt foolish asking what those terms meant. I can be such a dork sometimes...
Do you need a Rooster to get eggs?
You don't need a Rooster for Hens to lay eggs. You need a Rooster if you wish to have fertilized eggs.
When will my Hens start laying?
Breeds vary but can start as early as 18 weeks and some can start later. There are factors that may affect laying such as; weather, stress and change in surroundings.
What are combs and wattles?
Chickens do not sweat so Combs and Wattles help regulate temperature in Chickens. There are capillaries that run through them. So there can be a chance of frostbite if you live in cold region. Some folks swear by putting something on them to prevent this. We never used anything to test it out. I did notice tips on one Rooster were darker in color after a cold snap when we first started raising them. I never noticed anything other then that.
Combs remind me of puberty on a chicken. Different breeds may have them appear sooner then others. There are others that swear this is a good way to sex your birds as well. I am not sure about that one.
How can I sex my straight run birds?
Well, I'm not the best at it. If you read this previous blog post you may not want to take my advice. Guess whose not a Hen?
With a trained eye there are ways to look at the bottom of a chick and tell. We haven't tried that yet. Though noticing if they have hackle feathers when they start coming in or spurs later on is a good sign you have a Rooster!
There are some great YouTube videos on sexing chicks by checking their wings when feathers start coming.
So how much do chicks cost?
The cost can be as little as $2.00 to $5.00 per chick. It depends on breed and where you get them. You may have to purchase 25 or more chicks to make an order. The neato thing is most mail order houses have other types of birds such as; Ducks, Guinea Fowl, Quail and more exotic or endangered breeds.
We are lucky and do have a farm animal auction and soon the local animal swap/flea market will be open soon. Here you can find not only birds but Horses, Sheep, Goats and more! (Jasper County Fairgrounds in Rensselaer, IN. )
I think I covered the basics and maybe a bit more. I hope this helps in decision making.
If you have a tip or suggestion perhaps I didn't cover please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!