Peep Prep: What to Expect When You're Expecting Chicks
By Julie Adolf on May 02, 2012
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“What to Expect When You're Expecting” chickens.
Before becoming a chicken owner, check your city's ordinances or home owner association's rules to determine if you can add a small, backyard flock. Next, consider:
What type of chicken will you raise?
Do you want fresh eggs? Plan to have your chicken for Sunday dinner? Want to win blue ribbons at shows? Most backyard chicken enthusiasts opt for egg production. Still, depending on your needs, there are four types of chickens from which to choose:
Layers, as the name implies, are your good egg-producing girls. The most popular and prolific layer is the Single Comb White Leghorn. (Ours is named Meggy.) That girl can lay some eggs—about one per day! Most good layers average four to five eggs per week. However, there are numerous varieties to choose from, with our Ameraucanas producing the beautiful greenish-blue “Easter eggs.”
Fun fact: did you know that the color of the hen's earlobe will help you determine what color egg she will lay? A white lobe indicates a white egg layer, while a red-lobed girl will lay brown or colored eggs. (Now, you can astound your friends with chicken trivia!)
Also known as “broilers” or “fryers.” Enough said. We don't raise those.
Varieties that are good for both egg laying and Sunday dinner.
Personally, I adore these fluffy, frilly chickens. Feather pattern, comb types, skin color, plumage—these are the prima donnas of the chicken world, raised for beauty rather than practicality. Bantams are about one-third the size of a standard chicken and are very popular in this category.
Once you determine what type of chicken you want to raise, the varieties are seemingly endless.
Do you live in an extremely warm climate? Do you want birds that lay well so you can start a small egg selling business? Are you looking for a sweet pet for the kids? Kristen selected her girls by researching the various breeds she liked, then determining which ones possessed the attributes she wanted. For instance, one breed she considered was lovely. But once we learned that it didn't fare well in extreme heat, we knew it wasn't an option for our South Carolina backyard.
Instead, she selected a breed that is becoming rare. Much as I propagate endangered plants, my girl is hoping to encourage others to raise heritage breed chickens.
You can find information about breeds here. And, to make life even easier—do you know there's a “Pickin' Chicken” app offered by Mother Earth News?
Once you've selected your breeds, you need to determine where to find these perfect chicks. Mail order is very popular—but hatcheries typically require a minimum order of 25 chicks. A local breeder is ideal—but if you want only pullets (female chicks), make sure that breeder can determine the sex...which is no easy task. A few websites offer small orders due to the popularity of pet chickens.
We chose to use the resources of our local feed and seed store. They order from the big hatcheries, and Kristen could select the breeds she wanted, with 98% confidence that the chicks are pullets. (Please oh please oh please don't let us fall into that 2%!)
Honestly, can you imagine if one turns out to be a rooster?
Drama and trauma.
Home Sweet Home.
Your babies' first home is very important. During the chicks' early growth phase, they can't maintain proper body temperature without supplemental heat. They need a place that's warm, secure from drafts and predators. They need a brooder.
A brooder can be as simple as a cardboard box with a cover and lightbulb. Our brooder is an old dwarf rabbit cage with a heat lamp attached to the top.
Temperature is critical during chick days. The Small Flock Manual provided by Clemson 4-H provides the following guidelines:
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