I hear a resounding gasp right now. How can I possibly suggest raising baby chicks isn’t totally the radest (rad-est?) thing EVER?!
Don’t get me wrong. I looove me some baby chicks. How can you not adore those precious little balls of fluff? Especially when they’re only a few days old, are convinced you’re their mama, and like to cuddle.
Trust me. I get it. And if I had never had baby chicks before, I would still be 100% on board.
Alas, I DO have baby chicks. And I have learned a lot since getting them.
In this post, I hope to shed some light on the not-so-rad aspects of raising baby chicks. I think part of making any decision is being well informed, and that means taking off the rose-colored glasses and really understanding the positives AND negatives.
So, without further ado, here it is folks:
Where do you plan on keeping your chicks? For the first 5 or so weeks of their life, or until they have fully grown in their adult feathers, they need to be somewhere that they are protected from the elements. For most people, unless they have electricity to their coops, this would be indoors. Do you have the space for a group of 5 week (or older, mine are 6 and 7 weeks, and still not fully feathered!) old chickens? At this point, we aren’t talking fit-in-your-hand-sized fluff balls. We’re talking mini chickens, in all their gangly-legged, awkward-feather growth, “teenage” years. They fly around. They scratch and kick bedding up everywhere. They still destroy their food and water in a matter of minutes. They smell. They’re chickens! Maybe not full grown, but make no mistake, they do all the things an adult chicken does, minus the eggs.
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t thought about them getting so big and still being indoors. But since they don’t have all their feathers, and I’m one of the majority (probably) who doesn’t have electricity in the chicken coop, this will be my situation until they can hack it out in the real world.
Remember, though: Even once they are fully feathered, should you be introducing them into an existing flock, you need to slowly integrate them. You also might want to wait until they are a bit bigger in size, as they will have to be able to deal with the inevitable bullying that comes with finding their place in the flock. Chickens ain’t nice, ya’ll. The “pecking order” does originate from them, after all.
Keep all these things in mind when deciding whether you want to add baby chicks, or older pullets to your homestead. Do you have some place to keep them where there are no drafts, extreme temperature fluctuations, protection from pets/predators, and the elements? Will there be enough room here as your chickens grow? Do think past the first week, for they grow MUCH faster than you think! And plan for them to be in that space longer than you originally thought, as is my case.
If you’re still aiming towards chicks, rock on! Here are a few articles to get your started:
Hens do not typically start laying until at least 18 weeks of age. And that is a BIG at least, because we didn’t start getting eggs until the girls’ were about 27-28 weeks old.
…Yes. THAT long! And I’ve heard of people waiting much longer!
Not only that, but we didn’t start getting eggs consistently until a few weeks after they laid their first eggs.
I’ve heard countless times not to expect eggs from your chicks for at least six months, and I will say: this is so true, and I would even count on waiting longer! Chickens have a way of taking their time with that sort of thing. If you’re not in a rush for delicious, glorious, nutrition and flavor packed, farm fresh eggs–then by all means, get those baby chicks! Enjoy those fluffy balls of fur (seriously, give ’em two weeks and they look like teenagers trying to find their identity).
Now, I’m not saying you won’t wait for your older pullets. Obviously, you totally will. But it’s definitely a shorter wait on your part, and less time invested in that wait.
Speaking of “time”…
Baby chicks require A LOT of care. And not in that they’re overly needy, but in that you will constantly be cleaning their brooder, refilling their food and water, washing their food/water bowls, etc.
Chicks are most fragile their first week or so of life, and thus, you will want to check on them often through out the day. Can you commit that amount of time for a number of weeks? This requires you being home throughout the day to do so. I was fortunate enough to be working part time, and had a reverse schedule of the rest of the fam, so someone was always here to check in on the babies. And truly, you must!
Because they go from this….
To this (literally within 15 seconds)….
I ain’t kiddin’, folks.
Sanitation is absolutely crucial to maintaining your chicks health. You need to keep their brooder clean, their water and food free of feces (because chicks, not unlike grown chickens, literally go all the time and EVERYWHERE), in order to ward off disease. Coccidiosis, the most common killer of young chicks, thrives in moist, unclean environments. You can usually avoid this tragic illness if you keep the brooder dry and clean.
To do that, though, you definitely will need to replace the bedding, food/water, etc multiple times a day. TIME, people! Lots of it. Chicks are a definite investment, and one you need to take seriously if you want to raise happy, healthy chickens.
I recommend this article for information about Coccidiosis and how to prevent/treat it.
Now, if you’re thinking my goal here is to completely dissuade you into raising baby chicks, please know that is not the case, at all!
My goal is to show you the down and dirty side to raising chicks. It ain’t all fluffy snuggles and adorable baby peeps. Though that part is 90% of the reason this urban homesteader raised her batch.
All that being said, do I believe that raising and caring for baby chicks is a wonderful learning experience?
If you can commit the time, space, and patience (serious patience–trust me, you’ll start dreaming of eggs!), then I believe raising chicks can be an amazing experience. It is the heart of homesteading–pouring your love and effort into this little animal, that will in turn, reward you with delicious, nutrient-packed eggs….right from your backyard! It doesn’t get any better than that.
(This post was originally posted on my old blog, The Heneghan Homestead)