Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bringing home babies

This, my friends, is the time of year when many people start thinking about bringing home a box of peeping babies.  In fact, one friend (hi, Steph!) is getting chicks THIS WEEK and another is considering it (Arin - do it!).  The local feed stores are starting to advertise chick availability.  I love going to the feed stores and watching the massive bins of feisty chicks.
Photo from
Because we've already done this several times, G-man and I have agreed that we won't get any more chickens until our flock of nine has diminished somewhat.  Combine the facts that we we don't plan on killing our hens as their productivity declines and that we carefully protect the girls from predators, and it's going to be a while before we have any babies running around on the kitchen floor.

I miss having baby chicks.  We had three batches of them over two summers and they're so much fun.  The're sweet and inquisitive, fearless and easily exhausted.  They run around chasing each other and then fall asleep standing up only to tip over or splay out.  They are, in a word, adorable.

To be fully prepared for having chicks, you'll need a few things:
1. chick feeder and chick feed
2. chick waterer
3. heat lamp with red bulb (Why red?  First, the red light is less glaring and since it'll be on 24/7, this is a good thing for the babies.  Secondly it helps prevent the chicks from picking at each other because they will pick at blood and feathers, potentially harming weaker chicks.)
4. pine (never ever use cedar with birds) shavings
5. A large box.  If you can get a watermelon box from the grocery store, use that.  It'll seem too big at first but we found that our chicks could fly up over a foot after a week, and to nearly 2.5' just a week later.  We used a massive plastic tote with a screen over the top.
6. Paper towels.  Those little buggers crap everywhere.  The poops are small but powerfully stinky.
7. a perch of some sort, even if it's just a block of wood
8. a pie tin and parakeet grit - introduce this around a week and the babies will gobble it like mad

My Pet Chicken has an excellent resource for how to take care of your chicks.  Read it!

After having raised three batches of chicks here's some of my advice:

Frequent handling of babies will ensure friendlier adults.  One of our favorite things was to allow the chicks to fall asleep in our hands and then just hold them.  If you're up for it, wrap a towel around your neck and let the babies burrow into it.  Keep paper towels close!

Monitor household animals closely.  Our geriatric cats liked watching the chicks but weren't interested in hunting them.  The same can't be said for younger cats or dogs.  A friend's dog killed her chicks in just moments.

If there are chicks running around on the floor, shuffle your feet or don't walk around at all.  Curry ran and slid under my foot when she was maybe two weeks old.  I was wearing slippers but still injured her foot.  The sound she made when it happened was horrifying.  Luckily I only lifted a couple of scales and didn't break the bone, but it bled quite a bit and swelled up enormously.  She favored her foot for a few days and I felt like a giant lumbering asshole.

Before you give the chicks any non-feed food, present them grit for a day or two.  After that, introduce them to grass, lettuce, fruits, berries, tomatoes, scraps of cheese or meat, and anything else you can imagine.  If you want to laugh your head off, get a few crickets at the pet store and watch the babies play chicken rugby once they realize it's food.  The downside of this is that my chickens now see any plastic bag as a potential source of crickets.

The cute phase lasts only about three weeks.  Then one day you'll come home from work and find that your fast-growing baby chickens have turned into Skeksis.
Image from
They grow so quickly that you can literally see differences over the course of just a few hours.  Leave in the morning for work and they have just two feathers.  In the evening they'll have four.  It's weird.

Having chickens can be very rewarding but they are a large responsibility.  They're highly amusing and will eventually present you with a regular supply of eggs.

Do you plan on getting chicks this spring?


  1. I ordered some from a breeder and I'm planning my trip to the co-op to get some and next month I'm going to the Poultry Show at the fair grounds in Monroe.I plan on bringing some home from there.I just have to figure out how I'm going to hide them from my hubby. :) Tif

  2. Thank you so much for posting this! I think I almost have the hubby convinced. At this point, it's just a matter of figuring out where we'll put the chicken coop once they have grown big enough to live outside.

  3. Just came across your blog and LOVE it! I'm a photographer in Tacoma, too, trying to live a similar lifestyle (from a downtown loft with an exploding closet garden as the only place we're able to grow food.)

    Can't wait to read more!

  4. Glad to hear that Tiffeny & Arin are *this close* to chicks! Wheeee!! They're a blast to have. Since I wrote this post this morning I've heard my girls do their "egg song" for 2 different eggs. You'll know what I mean after you're getting your own eggs.

    Sara - I've seen & enjoyed your photography several times! We've got friends in common - you've photographed their kids, "Blossom" and "Sprout". :)

  5. I would love to get chicks, but nows not the time with 3 little ones running around. Maybe when they get a little older.

  6. Jenn, what would we do without you? Thank you, thank you. I can't wait for you to come over & meet them.

  7. I'd love a few chickens, but my city slicker hubby isn't so keen on the idea. He's still getting used to the clothesline and canning.