Spring is here! That is, if winter doesn’t torture us one more time in the next month or so.
And what does everyone associate with Spring? The tough part is Spring Cleaning, but the fun part is baby Chicks. If you are planning on buying chicks, look into where you will be getting them. There are lots of choices, each with tradeoffs.
You may raise your own, letting a broody hen sit on a clutch of eggs. The great news is that the cost is basically zero. And hopefully you will have a protective mamma that already knows how to raise chicks during their dangerous first weeks. Make sure the hen has access to food and water, and you may want to separate her from the flock during this time while also protecting her and the eggs from problems such as snakes, and other hens! Other hens will often come and add an egg daily to the clutch, and they will not all hatch at the same time. There can even become so many eggs that some are not kept warm & fail. Make sure that the area for the nest is low enough that if a chick hops out of it, the baby can get back up there & under mamma to stay warm. Normally it is 21 days from when the hen sits on them until they hatch, but it can take a day or two more for all the eggs to hatch. And some will not hatch, it’s part of the cycle of life.
Don’t try to help chicks emerge from the eggs, they know when and how to get out, and it is a struggle. But it is the natural process, and your ‘help’ often causes more problems than assistance. The biggest issue people have is the number of roosters. Typically half of these babies will grow up to be obnoxious teenage roosters and start fighting among themselves. Sometimes you can find them good homes, and sometimes you put them in ‘freezer camp’. But this method does maintain your blood lines. And it is when your old rooster does his job to fertilize these eggs.
A common option is buying newly hatched chicks. Local feed stores often bring them in by the hundreds. It is fun for children to go and select the new chicks. And usually you can get them already sexed so you know they will be all females. “Straight Run” chicks should be 50/50 male/female, but it’s not uncommon to get 70/30 rooster/hen from that bin. Often by the time you buy them, the chicks are already a few days old and you can avoid those early losses. And you know exactly when they will be arriving at your home! But usually there are only a few breed choices at the store.
Another common method is to mail order the chicks. Talk to your local post office and make sure they have your phone number. By me, expect a call at 6:30am that they are in and I need to hustle down there to pick them up. The biggest advantage with mail order is that you have several breeds to select from. But, if you place a small order, expect to receive ‘packing peanuts’. For the clutch to stay warm, they put in several unwanted rooster babies in with your order. Usually you can expect an email notifying you of the shipment, so you can track them and know what day to be ready for them. Also you can choose if you want the chicks given their first vaccine shots or not (small extra charge).
One last choice is to find a local breeder. Make sure that they are a reputable source. But children can get the ‘full’ experience. Going out to their chicken yards with all the various breeds and such can be quite exciting. Be sure to follow any disease-prevention protocols and tips for raising chicks that they require. And sometimes you can get them sexed (and sometimes not). You may pay a little more, or maybe a little less, but the visit will be something that your kiddos will talk about for days!
All of these purchasing choices can give you wonderful hens to fill your coop. Note that new chicks are quite fragile and need to be kept warm and dry, but that discussion is for another day. Enjoy!