Monday, January 19, 2009

Picking Up Chicks...

How is that for a title? That is the kind of post title you get when I have a lack of sleep from spending the weekend in cabins with high school kids and the time to think about a title because of a late post! But really, we are thinking about picking up some chicks and I would love to gather some advice from those of you that are more chick inclined than I am. More specifically, I would love to know how it would work to raise them in the situations that we have available.

We can start them in our mud room which is insulated and warmish (60's) if we leave the door open. Of course we would have as many heat lamps as needed and plenty of fresh newspaper or bedding or whatever you need. Does that sound like a location that would work as a brooder?

The next question then becomes where do I put them next? Or more specifically how long do I leave them in there? I would love to get them as soon as we can so that we have some new chickens laying this summer, but I'm not completely sure what we can do with our facilities. I suppose the next natural transition we would have on the farm would be to take them next door to the storage area which is not heated, but is of course completely out of the weather and the wind. We can have heat lamps over there also.

How long does it take until we can have them outside? As you can see I'm pretty clueless when it comes to these things. All of the chickens we have had so far have been already laying so we didn't have much to worry about. I would appreciate any of you answers or ideas that I missed.

Oh, one more thing ... I know that our bloggy friends at Sugar Creek Farm order from Hoover's Hatchery in Rudd, IA and of course there is Murry McMurry which is also in Northern Iowa. Does anyone have thoughts on either of those places?


Anonymous said...

We are big on variety and leaving things to chance, so we have gone with the specials from Sandhill the last couple years and really like them. Otherwise,we have used Murray McMurray as well and been very happy with what got. We used Welp a couple years ago as well, but they ship some of their babes out of Arizona (though they are an Iowa company) and I didn't like that they had to travel so far. As far as starting them outside, they will feather out and that tends to be your sign that they can be slowly acclimated to being in regular weather. Just watch them. If they tend to act unhappy, generally you send them back a notch.

BlueGate said...

We have used McMurry, Hoovers and Welp and have been pleased with all three. We also start our day-old chicks inside (sunroom) and it works well for temp control and for acclimating them to human contact, but be prepared for a serious mess! The chick "fluff" and sawdust (use woodchips, not newspaper to prevent spraddle)will coat everything in the area, and the smell gets a little interesting too. Also, breed selection is a little limited at this time of year if you want something specific. Since you are the reading type, I would highly recommend the book "Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens" for a first timer. It answers just about every question you might run in to. The rough guide we use for chicks is 95° the first week and drop 5° each week after that. But just watch them, their behavior will tell you their comfort level.

Rich said...

I have gotten chicks from McMurray a couple of times and was happy with them, Brown Leghorns and Cornish Roasters one time, and Araucanas another time.

A few times I got some chicks at the local feed store when they had a special in which you got so many free chicks for each bag of starter feed you bought. These chicks were typically straight run Barred Rocks or Rhode Island Reds.

The McMurray chicks seemed to have a slightly longer laying "career", and were "prettier", but the feed store chicks were pretty close in the amount of eggs they laid.

Typically, I had 25-50 chicks at a time and brooded them in a 4'x8' area inside a chicken house.

I used 2 separate heat lamps on chains so the temperature could be easily regulated. If they are huddled directly under the lights, it is too cold and you need to lower the lights. If it is too hot, then raise up the lights, just use one light, or use a lower wattage bulb. In the beginning, it should be 90-95 degrees at chick level in the brooder (the heat should almost take your breath away when you go into the brooding area), and the temperature should slowly decrease as time goes by.

If I remember it right, it takes about 50 lbs. of starter feed for 5 chicks, and then about 50 lbs. of grower feed for each chick before they start laying. When they are switched to grower feed (if not sooner) they should have access to an outside run so they can get used to foraging.

My chickens were raised in typical chicken house, but there were 4 separate runs they could be rotated through.

I also had a simple 4x8 chicken tractor (2x2 frame covered in chicken wire with corrugated metal top and end) that I had some meat birds in for a while as an experiment that was rotated a cover-cropped area of the garden.

I would also recommend the book "Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens", for anybody thinking about raising some chickens.

Jena said...

I haven't used the hatcheries you mentioned but I will be ordering from Sand Hill for the first time and am very excited. You may want to start with chicks from the feed store, they are usually a little less expensive while you're still practicing. I would encourage you to check out some of the older, heritage breeds of chickens when you're ready. They would go right along with the rest of your livestock. I wrote a post recently that has some good links to help you select a breed.

I agree with what the other folks said about starting them out. The smell does get overwhelming quickly (within a couple weeks) so I would have another place set up for them and get them out of your mudroom as quickly as possibly. I remember once having broiler chickens in my mother's basement for a few weeks too long - she forgave me, lucky enough!

Steven said...

Their advice is all good.
If you do have them inside.... it will cause you to find the next place to put them FAST! The smell wasn't as bad as the dust for us. We used a small childrens wading pool with cardboard making a wall around it about 24" high. This worked well as a brooder for 25 and we could have fit twice that for a couple of weeks. We also used a bale of wood shavings for bedding. You would think they dust cam from the shavings, but I think it was something from them growing feathers too. After they were mostly feathered out, we put them in their coop, in the barn and moved the heat lamps with them.

We got buff orpingtons, rhode island reds, and black australorps. The black ones are my favorite now... they've stayed alive the best. :-)

Rich said...

I forgot to add that the feed store chicks I got were pre-ordered, then I picked them up the morning they arrived (i.e. the feed store ordered hundreds from a hatchery similar to how you would order them from McMurray)

I wouldn't advise getting chicks that were on "display" for days at the feed store.

Anonymous said...

This gentleman can probably answer any question you may think of.

Steven said...

and... I forgot to say that we got ours from Ideal Hatchery and didn't loose any until they were laying age. They are in TX so I doubt you'd want to use them.

Anonymous said...

As to heritage breeds vs. available breeds, this is a good post:

Cheap brooders can be made a number of different ways and it is easy to end up spending way too much on fancy equipment the first go round . . . google around and look for cheap brooder plans (out of plastic bins). Get your coop and pen set up before you buy . . .

Rich said...

On the subject of housing for poultry, I built an A-frame chicken/guinea house for my uncle a number of years ago that was relatively easy to build (2x6’s and corrugated tin), reasonably strong and durable, and pleasing to the eye (at least to my eye).

I followed the plans (with some slight modifications) available at the bottom of this webpage:

The A-frame design seems to be stable in high winds (pretty common around here), easy to move with a tractor, and I’ve always had the idea that if some similarly constructed pasture farrowing huts were combined with some A-frame chicken houses then an attractive grazing system could be “painted” across a farm’s landscape.

Anonymous said...

At least with laying ducks, I've learned it's good to have them reach laying age (~5 mo) during the summer; versus in the winter, they may wait til the following spring to start laying, when the daylight hours get longer again. So now seems like a good time to buy, hopefully they should start laying in early summer.

As others said, I think about 2 weeks is all you can stand with them in the house smell-wise; :-0 but they're big enough at that point to do fine in shelter outside, with a heat lamp. They are tough. Getting quite a few so that they keep each other warm also helps.

Good luck!

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