It happens every spring..the sudden arrival of little baby chicks in every feed store in the county. So fluffy and sweet; their tiny "peep" draws me to them. Nearing their little brooder they eye me curiously, a wonder and awe fills my heart. Before the impulse to scoop them up and carry them all home consumes me (and you :) there are a few considerations needed- as my husband would say 'time for a reality check'.
What do you know about them? I personally purchased some chicks once and realized later- they were not the right breed for my purpose. It is important to be familiar with different breeds and their purposes. Another important bit of information is 'straight run or pullet only'. If you don't want a bunch of roosters, you need a pullet only purchase. Buying hens from someone I didn't know well led to a real bad investment. Be sure to know who we are doing business with, what breeds you are getting, and what to do with those chicks when you invest in them.
*Immediate..Small chicks have real needs and their first basic need is a warm brooder. Simple enough, brooders can be made out of several different on-hand (or inexpensive) items:
a cardboard box
a large plastic storage tub
a dog kennel
stock water tank
a roll of metal flashing and a tarp
The amount of chick purchased determines the size of the brooder (or how many brooders you set up). For twenty-five chicks, I use a stock tank with a six foot circumference. With a heat lamp or two and some soft pine shavings we have a nice brood pen for the chicks.
*Long term..Those tiny balls of fluff grow quickly into big pullets and cockerels. Before you know it they have outgrown their cozy brooder and need alot more space for scratching and roaming. Larger brood housing can be made from things you may already have:
a large dog kennel with a roof
hoop houses (pvc or metal framed/often intended as a greenhouse)
quick kit garden sheds
rabbit cages (generally for small flocks)
The key here is room to roam with protection from predators and weather. Exposure to sunlight, fresh air, and grass or bedding gives a healthy environment for long term housing.
*Immediate..Chicks eat..alot. Ready mixed starter feeds are sold in every feed store and do a great job; bear in mind, they do have a medication added to prevent Coccidiosis (a nasty parasite-fatal to chicks). We had batch of chicks with this ailment- it's awful. Water and feed containers can be any container, but the 'fountain style' ones sold at the feed store prevent drowning and waste better than other feed containers I have used.
*Long term..After a few weeks, those chick graduate from the starter and it's time to have a feed plan. The purpose of your flock (meat or layer) will determine your feed needs. All flocks need space, fresh water, feed rations, sunshine and some where to graze. Knowing your plan helps with planning your feeds.
As I kneel beside the cute little brooders at the feed store..melting over the sweet little chicks peeking at me..the bracing dose of reality hits and sets my feet back on the ground. We have had chickens for years (we grew up with chickens on our families' farms) and understand the commitment it takes to raise them. Tomorrow, we will share different breeds we have raised- their benefits and disadvantages..and what we currently keep in the coops.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have some fluffy little darlings to ooh, and ahh over.