Yep, it’s that time of year again- time to start raising the next batch of chickens. In the past Sal has gotten 6 or 7 day old chicks from our local feed store every other year or so. This time we’re doing it differently and have decided to get new chicks every year so there won’t be any reduction in overall egg production as the youngsters grow to maturity and the older hens stop producing. Our 7 Rhode Island Red chickens from last year (now 1 year old) are still producing reliably and haven’t started to molt yet, so we should have plenty of eggs until the little ones are ready to start laying. This year instead of our usual Rhode Island Reds we got 6 White Leghorns. The Reds lay brown eggs and the Leghorns lay white eggs, so we’ll be able to know who’s producing and how much.
So far we’ve had good luck getting our day old chicks from Olsen’s feed store. A few days before we’re ready to pick them up I wash the chick cage with soap and water and scrub it thoroughly (I do the same thing before we put it into storage too), then spray it with vinegar to sanitize it. Their feeder and water container get the same treatment and everything is allowed to dry in the sun. Sal made this cage years ago, when he first started raising chickens and it has served us well. By the time the chicks get too big for this cage they’re usually ready to go out to the coop. There’s a removable tray under the bottom of the cage that we line with paper so it’s easy to clean. Of course the bigger these critters get, the more often I need to change their paper (they can be messy little buggers!).
For the first few weeks (or longer, depending on the weather) we keep the cage on the island in the kitchen, with the heat lamp positioned over the top. Figuring out the right position of the heat lamp is a bit of trial and error, but the basic rule is if the chicks are all clustered together under the lamp they’re cold and you need to move the light closer. If they’re avoiding the lamp and are scattered around the cage, as far from the light as possible they’re hot and the light is too close. They should wander around the cage comfortably and sleep in small groups all around the cage floor. It took me a while, but I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out how to keep them comfortable.
The really fun part is always introducing the other animals to the chicks. I do like having the chicks get used to the cats and dogs so they’re not afraid of them, and having the dogs especially realize that these chicks are not prey, but family members they’re supposed to protect.
This is Dewey Dude’s first experience with chicks, and I’m making a special effort to get him familiar with them. He’s getting better with the older chickens, but still wants to jump on them sometimes. He’s a very skilled hunter (he caught his first mouse when he was just 3 months old, and since then has caught a variety of birds, rodents, and rabbits) so I want to be sure he understands that this is not the same as the critters he hunts. He’s very intelligent and watches me talking to the chicks and holding and petting them, so that also reinforces the idea that these little things are part of the family and are to be protected. Ziggi’s been through all this before and really has very little interest in the chicks (or the adult chickens, for that matter).
Then of course there’s the cats.
Ginko is utterly fascinated with the chicks. He’s always been a housecat and has never caught anything bigger than a spider, but he’s got some pretty strong hunting insticts. He’s not quite sure what to do with these things, but they sure do smell interesting! BTW, I’m very careful that no animals get hurt or stressed out during these little meetings. I’m actually surprised at how calm the chicks are when I take them out and let them interact with the cats and dogs. Of course if the chicks were running around the house unsupervised I’m sure it wouldn’t take Ginko too long to figure out what a cat does with a critter like this. Calcifer, on the other hand, is a complete love.
I could probably let all 6 chicks cuddle with him in the chair and he wouldn’t mind at all. He’s actually a little afraid of them when they start cheeping loudly and fluttering around in their cage (they really get excited if a gnat or something flies into their cage!).
And so this is just another sign of spring around here- the peeping of fluffy little chicks on the counter 😉 When the weather warms a bit more we’ll put the cage out in the garage with the heat lamp and I’ll start taking them outside for brief “field trips” to get them used to the outdoors, the sun, the wind, the feel of grass under their feet, etc. Sal’s going to build them a separate little coop in the main chicken enclosure so when they’re big enough to go out full time they can safely be with the big chickens. When they’re the same size as the Reds I’ll allow the flocks to intermingle. If I put them together when the chicks are too small they could get hurt- chickens can be pretty vicious. And when the Reds stop producing we’ll give them away to someone who wants them for bug patrol like we did with the last batch.
This will be the fourth year that I’ve raised chickens, and each year I learn a bit more. I’ve already learned that Leghorns spook easier than Rhode Island Reds. Loud noises have the chicks peeping and fluttering all over the cage, and any time I change the water or feed them they all spaz out- LOL. They are getting used to me though, and I hope spending a good bit of time with them will help them calm down and realize I’m not going to hurt them. They do seem to enjoy it when I hold them and pet their little heads- they close their eyes and get this blissful expression 🙂
So that’s life down on the farm 🙂 I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to post now that it’s getting to be planting season, but I’ll try to keep you all up to date on the latest happenings. On that note, the seedlings are all doing well. I’ve got them under lights in the guest bathroom like I did last year (you can check out this post to see just what I did last year https://gettingcreativewithcreativecritters.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/starting-seeds-indoors-the-beginning-of-the-2015-gardening-season/). I’ve been putting them out in the greenhouse during the day for extra sunlight and that seems to really be getting them off to a good start. Then I bring them back in before it gets too cool in the evening.
Hopefully this season will be at least as productive as last!