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Raising Baby Chicks: Their First Month

Updated on February 14, 2013

Would You Like to Raise Baby Chicks? Here's How We Got Started!

We found it quite easy and lots of fun to raise nine baby chicks for their first month of life. They are older now, but this article is about that very sweet first month. Here, I'll tell you how to do it through the vehicle of our story. I'll describe what you need, where you can buy chicks, the importance of keeping them warm enough, and more. I'll also point you to our favorite book on the home chicken flock and to a few of the many great websites on raising chickens.

Why raise chickens? Everyone has their reasons. For my husband and myself, it is part of being more self-sufficient about our own food. We have had many organic gardens, and we did have chickens some years ago. Now, like many people, we look at the complex food chains that transport food thousands of miles, and we want to balance that with as much local food as possible.

It's great to be in a more flexible position with regard to food. For example, if a storm or fire should knock electricity out over a large area for a while, your garden and your chickens could keep you going. Well, baby chicks would have some growing up to do but it's only a matter of half a year or so before they start laying.

They are so much fun to watch. That counts for a lot!

Fresh eggs taste delicious. Store-bought eggs, even organic ones, pale by comparison. Speaking of pale, the yolks of the eggs from the store are exactly that. Also, eggs provide good nutrition. You could even call them a perfect food. Photo credits: All photos on this page were taken by my husband, Kelly Hart, or by me.

Getting Started with Chicks - Here is Sunshine, A Buff Orpington Girl, a Few Days Old

When you decide to get baby chicks, you will have a variety of choices for where to get them and what breed or breeds to get. You will need a place to keep them in the first crucial weeks before they grow feathers. When they are just covered with the down they are born with, they can get chilled easily. We got a heat lamp, which is probably what most people do.

Where would you keep them?

Some friends kept theirs in a box in their kitchen. That would not have worked for us, with two cats and two dogs. We happen to have a small greenhouse attached to our house. We just step out a door from our laundry room into the greenhouse. So we used that. Other people use a spare bathroom or a spare bedroom. One drawback to that is that chicks manage to create a fine layer of dirt or dust all over everything where they live. But you can clean it up after the chicks go outside to their chicken coop.

What breeds do you want?

There is an astonishing variety of chicken breeds, with so many different looks. Read to decide what you want. For example, because we live in the high desert in Colorado, we needed breeds that could take our cold winters. (As a general thing, chickens handle cold pretty well with a good coop to retreat into, but can be badly stessed by extreme heat.)

We wanted breeds that laid brown eggs. We also wanted a few that would lay blue or green eggs. These are variously called Araucanas, Americanas, or Easter Eggers. So we made our choices online.

Ordering Chickens to Come Via the Mail - We did it, with mixed results, but would do it again.

You can buy chicks at your local feed store for a relatively brief time period in the spring. You can buy from local chicken owners sometimes. Or you can buy online. The chicks are sent via the most rapid means. In our case, this was express mail. It cost about as much as the chickens themselves, but there is only a brief time period during which baby chicks can be mailed at all.

This is only possible because when baby chicks are hatched there is a 2 or 3 day period when they need no food or water. They are living off the last of the nourishment they had in the egg.

Early in the spring, we placed our order with a company I like a lot, Mypetchicken.com. We chose four different breeds, including Buff Orpington and Easter Egger, and shipment was set for the beginning of June.

Sadly--and the company assured me that this is extremely rare--our package seemed to have been bounced around somehow, and when we opened it, only the Buff Orpington shown above was alive. A hard moment. The company says that they have a 99% success rate, and I believe them. Things do happen.

Our first concern was to get more companions for our solitary chicken as soon as possible. That turned out to be a week later. We didn't have the same choice of breeds, but we chose from what was available.

The box above shows our second shipment of 8 baby chicks with their heat pack. All were alive and chirping loudly. I picked each one up, held it close to me a moment while murmuring sweet nothings, then put it down in the cardboard box it would live in. I I dipped its beak in the water of the chick feeder and watched to be sure it had a drink.

Then, and for the next week, I picked each chick up a couple of times a day and checked its rear for something called pasty butt. If their opening back there gets clogged up, they can die from being unable to poop. We did have a few cases of this, and luckily it is easy to fix. I wiped their little rears with a damp rap to soften things up, then pulled off the plug of gunk. A couple of times, as I likely pulled out some of their down also, the chick squirmed and cheeped loudly. "Sorry, little dear," I said. "Gotta do it."

The risk of pasty butt is said to last about a week. Ours lasted about that. A local friend told me to grind up some rolled oats in my blender and to give the resulting oat flour to the chicks to eat. They all loved it, and after a couple of days with that, pasty butt was over.

The One Book We Turn to Over and Over - The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, by Harvey Ussery

All the Chicks at Home in the Big Cardboard Box

So here everybody is, about an hour after we unpacked the shipping carton. The color of the light is reddish because they are under a heat lamp. We kept the temperature about 90 at first, gradually lowering it to 85 and then 80. By then, we had cut a door in the cardboard box and they were free to roam around the garden bed in our greenhouse, which we had barricaded off. They went back into the box at night for the warmth.

We used a dog x-pen and an old sheet to barricade up to the height of the x-pen. (That's short for exercise pen and is rather like a flexible playpen for young humans.) You can see a bit of detail on what we did in the first photo on this page.

That's Sunshine on the bottom of the photo. It took her a couple of days to decide she was part of the flock!

A Few Things You Need - Heat Lamp, Waterer, Feeder, Food

You can get feed with or without added medications. We pulled out Harvey Ussery's book and went for without. We got most of these things at local feed stores.

I didn't list a waterer here as I didn't see one like we got locally. We got a one-quart one with a red base which you can see in the box, and a one-gallon one with a green base you can see in the top photo of the page.

It is important to use a waterer that a chick can't fall into and get chilled or even drown.

Soon They Could Perch... That's Sunshine on the End

Soon They Could Perch... That's Sunshine on the End
Soon They Could Perch... That's Sunshine on the End

A Little Bigger and Perching on the Box

A Little Bigger and Perching on the Box
A Little Bigger and Perching on the Box

What's a Summer without Watermelon?

What's a Summer without Watermelon?
What's a Summer without Watermelon?

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UPDATE SIX MONTHS LATER

Everyone is thriving and we are getting more eggs than we can eat!

Would You Like to Have Chickens? - Or Do You?

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    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 4 years ago from Colorado

      Yes. I very much want to raise some chickens for all the reasons you listed. Thanks for sharing your experience and resources. Soon this will be me.

    • RaintreeAnnie profile image

      RaintreeAnnie 4 years ago from UK

      Yes would like to have chickens, not in a position to at the mo but hopefully one day !

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Funny how we women often want more animals than the guys!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I would, but my husband is dead set against them. I guess I have enough animals :)

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @SgtCecil: You may not be there forever! You may still have a chance.

    • SgtCecil profile image

      Cecil Kenmill 5 years ago from Osaka, Japan

      I wish I found this lens years ago. This is something I'd definitely try. Now I'm stuck in a tiny apartment.

    • hartworks lm profile image
      Author

      hartworks lm 5 years ago

      @BestRatedStuff: Good ol' inertia. Besides if you are a massively traveling gal, raising chickens would involve other people too.

    • BestRatedStuff profile image

      BestRatedStuff 5 years ago

      One of my dreams, but then inertia creeps in :> I'm impressed, learned some interesting facts.

    • puppyprints profile image

      puppyprints 5 years ago

      I love animals! The chicks are so cute