Preparing to Raise Spring Chicks
Are You Thinking About Raising Spring Chicks?
We lived in a rural setting in Baja, Mexico, and just before Easter, a truck rolled through with a load of baby chicks, colored in various spring hues. We were used to the various vendors traveling the streets, but this was new. We had a couple of chickens that we inherited when we rented the house, and we thought it could be fun to raise some babies. We asked if they could tell if they were male or female. We wanted hens. I was assured that they were hembras...females. We bought seven of the colorful critters and proceeded to experience our first attempt at raising chicks. Several months later, we realized we'd been had. Our hembras were actually machos...males. They fought enough that they didn't end up having a long lifespan. They made a great posole, though!
If you are considering raising chicks in the spring, you are in for an interesting and educational adventure. There's a lot of fun involved though you may face sorrowful moments as well. Your purpose may direct your decisions. It's a great way for children to learn about the life cycle. It's a fantastic experience to hatch your own baby chicks. It's important to see the growing process. It's a thrill to collect eggs for the first time. It's a reality check to recognize that the package of chicken or the big turkey at the store came from a living creature. Allow me to share some of our adventures!
If you are serious about raising spring chicks, then Storey's guides are worth the investment - Great Directions and Insights
We have the turkey raising guide, and I actually acquired it a year before I got turkey chicks. It's really descriptive, helpful related to common problems and needs. You might want another resource to complement this if you raise your fowl for food. While I don't have all of the poultry related guides, I have those that added to information I couldn't gather from my relatives.
What Kind of Spring Poultry are You Thinking About Raising? - Beyond Spring Chickens
We began our adventure with chickens. Within a few months of returning to the States, we were in a beautiful rural setting and watched as chicks began to inhabit the local feed stores. In later years, we picked up ducks, turkeys and geese. We even ordered baby pheasants from a hatchery to raise for a friend. That was a challenge. There are different growth rates and concerns with different critters, and you will want a little bit of specific info about your planned breed.
Pictured are examples of duck, chicken, and auracana chicken eggs. Our small set of auracanas laid little blue eggs and were much smaller than typical chickens. There are lots of hobby chickens to consider!
Will you be raising...
Local Resources for Raising Poultry
Your feed store can be a great information resource. If you have a 4H club in the area or a cooperative extension, this is another good option for getting insights into local sources for feed and supplies.
My grandmother was a great resource along the way via my mom.
How will you begin your adventure with Spring Poultry?
As a home educating family, it didn't take long to wonder about hatching our own chicks. We read a bit and tried hatching under a lightbulb. We had fertile eggs from our first year's flock, and it seemed like something we could do. We used a bin and a lightbulb, and we managed to hatch one chick of the dozen eggs we tried. We learned about candling, using a flashlight to see the developing babies in the eggs. Only a couple developed, and our single chick didn't survive.
When we bought an incubator from a local, he had some similar makeshift options, though they were of wood and more enclosed. There are many factors affecting incubation. Humidity and heat levels are important. Consistency is as well. Our next adventure with a real incubator was more successful. In fact, I still have some beautiful eggs from the marans I hatched from eggs sold on eBay.
Where will you get your baby chicks?
Borrowing an Incubator
A friend of mine had her kids hatch baby chickens with a borrowed incubator. They used the cooperative extension to find a small incubator. They were then able to network to give the baby chicks to a local enthusiast after their project concluded.
Finding an Incubator
There are many models, and Amazon can provide you with a good range of choices if you are ready. We have a styrofoam version that we bought second hand, and it worked fairly well. However, the next time I prepare for more serious chick hatching, I'll probably select a new one.
Find Unique Eggs to Incubate
I loved the year that I hatched some marans from eggs purchased through eBay! I love the deep brown hues, and you will even find yahoo groups dedicated to dark egg laying chickens. It's interesting to learn about the options. You'll find additional breeds as well. Look for turkeys, geese, ducks and wild game like quail. So interesting! Just look at the listings here to see the incredible variations in pigment and markings!
My feed store got in some marans a couple of years ago, and about a third of my flock lays dark brown eggs. If you are looking for reliable layers and good production, consider leghorns. If you need birds with a good disposition, buff orpinton is a pretty gentle breed. Lots to learn! Good luck!
Basic Supplies for Baby Chicks
You are going to need a warm place for your babies to reside. We use plastic bins and line with newspaper and straw. A lamp can provide extra warmth in the early days, especially if you don't have more than a couple of chicks. We cover the bin with a towel at night to keep things from cooling off inside.
A couple of weeks will accomodate smaller chicks, but ducks and geese will grow quickly out of their accomodations. At a couple of weeks of age, chickens and turkeys will be able to jump, trying to make a quick exit. We use chicken wire over the top of the bin to keep escape artists in tow.
You will also need feed and water containers. Ducks and geese will make a mess. Chickens and turkeys aren't quite as sloppy. However, you will need to change litter at least every other day, and more often as they grow and make a bigger mess.
Basic Chick Feeder - You don't have to get fancy!
We use these simple feeders for watering and feeding our chicks in the early stages. A Mason jar filled with chick starter will hold a reserve of food. You do need to change the feeder out daily as young chicks can make a mess in their feeders. Put marbles in the feeder to draw their attention as babies may not feed naturally. Your turkey chicks may be especially lacking in instinct. You may need to immerse beaks in feed and water to get the idea across.
Waterers for Baby Chicks
There are many options, but if you only have a small group, you may love this base that works with a Mason jar to hold water. Change water frequently, and check every couple of hours during warmer weather. As your birds get older, they will need bigger waterers.
What are your spring chick plans? - Goal Setting?
We definitely began with an interest in giving our kids an agricultural experience while raising our own supply of fresh eggs. There are so many cool things that you get to experience. A double yolker is the best, and we've even gathered one or two triple-yolked eggs over the years. Eggs are definitely much richer and tastier when you raise them at home. The brilliance of the yolk is amazing.
You can experience the difference in egg consistencies. We've eaten all sorts of eggs, and bigger birds produce tougher whites and richer yolks. This is observation, not research, speaking.
We raised our turkeys to eat, though I have a couple of royal palm hens that have been spared...they are pretty. Fresh turkey is so much different than storebought, and you wouldn't believe the excitement and challenge of fitting a 40+ lb. bird into a standard oven! The butchering process isn't for everyone, though it's an excellent biology lesson. We have a child who elects not to eat home-raised fowl.
You may raise your birds for fun, for food, or both. You may want the educational experience for your kids. It's an exciting endeavor.
What will you raise your poultry chicks for?
Chick Starter: Use the right feed for your baby chicks
If you are raising ducks and geese, you can get by with chick starter for the first month or two. Similarly, baby chickens will do well on a starter. My parents are raising their new flock organically, and you can find organic feed for babies and for adult chickens and fowl.
Turkeys are a different story at the outset. We learned the hard way that it's important to have turkey starter. We lost a batch of turkey chicks because of the wrong feed. As your turkeys age, you need to use turkey grower until the last month of preparing to butcher. At that point, switch to a finisher. If you aren't planning to eat your turkeys, they can function with chicken feed...at least we have.
Turkey Raising is Tough
We lose several chicks when we raise turkeys, and my grandmother's first response when we asked for advice some six years ago was that turkeys were stupid. They've done themselves and each other in as we've encountered different situations, and indeed, they seem to be fragile.
We choose broadbreasted white and bronze chicks for a big final product. At full size, most weigh better than 40 lbs. They are pretty much bred for eating...when they get big, they don't get around well. It's a challenge, and it's not for everyone. However, those who want to introduce their kids to the reality of food sources will find this a very educational pursuit.
We raised some beautiful royal palms as well, and our hens are about three years old now. They are curious birds, especially in the chick stage. We thought we were going to breed them, and we were getting to that point when one of the dogs infiltrated the pen. You need to realize that you are going to face challenges in raising chicks while having dogs and cats around.
Overhead predators are also a problem. We lost several baby chickens to night fowl. We have owls, hawks and other birds of prey in the area, and we learned early to protect from above. We also have bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes around, so it's important to have an impenetrable coop.
Get Your Ducks in a Row...
I never really understood this saying until we had baby ducks. When they were big enough for their pen, they showed their skittish nature quickly. Slowly chase them, and watch them line up and try to evade you! It's hilarious.
Every type of fowl we raise has a different disposition. Ducks are animated and timid. Turkeys are clueless but personable. Chickens are pretty matter of fact, but some roos can be a little aggressive and mean. That's when the stewpot or freecycle become handy. Geese are aggressive, and you have to watch that you don't let your guard down if you don't want to be goosed. My daughter is pretty good at nabbing one by the neck so she can get into the pen safely and change their water.
Pictured are our geese during their first year in the duck pen. They are in their own pen now because they were not very nice to the ducks. We lost several in drowning incidents. Lesson learned.
Beautiful Royal Palm Turkeys
This lens doesn't delve into the nitty gritty of handling chicks as they become adults. Rather, it's a prep lens so that you have some references for reliable research and tools. I'm no expert, but we have enjoyed our learning experience. You'll find lots of directions to travel as you decide on the best birds for your purposes. Banties are cute hobby birds. Marans lay beautiful dark eggs while Americanas lay colorful Easter colored blues and greens. It's an amazing pastime, but it's a lot of work. My son's experience has landed him some side work helping feed others' animals, and it's a great way to provide kids with chores that are meaningful and productive.
Leave a comment about your own plans, experience, or insights.