by Meredith Chilson
Photos by author
I’m counting down the days. May 8 (and 9 and 10, too) are circled in red on my kitchen calendar. The winter day planning and poring over catalogs is about to have results. OUR BABIES ARE SCHEDULED TO ARRIVE!
|Mrs. Feathers and her babies|
Way back last fall, when my older hens were molting and no longer laying eggs for the season, I realized that in order to keep my chicken venture going, I would need to add more chicks. Five years ago when I first ordered chicks through the local hardware store, I had a dozen each Buff Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds. Year two, Mrs. Feathers (a Buff Orpington) hatched five chicks. Since then, we’ve added a black chicken (big, with feathery feet), a black Silkie and a black-and-white “Poppyseed” bantam. I like a variety of colors in my flock, and I also like heavy hens that lay brown eggs.
|Barred Rock hen|
For the first time, I’ve ordered chicks from a hatchery … to be delivered through the USPS, right to the post office! My order includes four Barred Plymouth Rocks, listed as an “old-time favorite … with black-and-white barred feathers.” They should be approximately the same size as the Rhode Island Reds, very cold hardy, and friendly.
|Speckled Sussex hen|
It’s about time to start readying the “nursery.” We have a one-car garage attached to our house, and for the first few weeks after the chicks arrive until the weather is warm enough to take them to the “teenager apartment” in the chicken coop, the garage will be their home. I’ve been stalking the dumpster at the local dollar store—watching for good-sized pieces of cardboard. This is an old-fashioned way to make an enclosure, but it’s always worked well for me. I use large pieces of cardboard—1 to 2 feet high (low enough to step over, but high enough that heat will stay in) and lace them together with twine. I put the knots on the outside, because the inquisitive chicks will peck at them. I make a circle enclosure out of the cardboard, the size depending on how many chicks will be arriving, but usually about six feet in diameter. This can be expanded as needed. A circular enclosure will protect the babies from drafts, and also keep them from huddling in a pile in a corner.
I have quart jars with screw-type waterer tops, ready to fill with fresh water, too. As soon as the chicks arrive, they will be thirsty. They can live two or three days on residual nutrients from their eggs, but they will need water as soon as possible. As the chicks grow, I’ll start raising the waterers off the floor, with a block of wood or a brick. Water needs to be replaced at least once a day and must always be available. Chicks don’t drink much at a time, but they drink very often!
My plastic feeders are ready, too. A few days before C-Day, I’ll purchase a pound or two of medicated chick starter from my feed store. This is the only time I’ll use medicated feed for my chicks, but coccidiosis, the most common illness affecting young chickens, can decimate a flock in a very short time. After a couple of weeks, they will not need the medicated feed any longer.