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From Day-Old Chicks to Laying Hens – How to Grow Your Own Eggs!
Most people think eggs come from the store.
Well, surprise! Not only do they NOT come from the store, but anyone with a bit of time and space can raise lovely laying hens from day old chicks. In about five months you will be able to make a delicious omelet with your own eggs.
Guess how the baby chicks come to your door? In the US Mail! Yes, they really do. When the chicks hatch in the hatchery, the yolk of the egg they were in fed them during their incubation. Because of this stored feed, the chick does not need to eat immediately and can be mailed to your door.
The maximum travel time should not exceed 48 hours from hatching to arrival at your home. Most hatcheries will only ship a specified distance to allow the chicks to arrive safely.
When you pick up your chicks from the post office (go get them, don’t wait for the postman to bring them to you), bring them home right away. Keep them warm. Don’t forget, they are chicks! They are fragile.
The ideal “nursery” consists of a draft-free space lined with sawdust or wood shavings, a heat lamp aimed at the ground, a feeder and a water point. (Your local farm store can help here. You’ll want to make sure you buy a chick starter, it comes in big bags.) These little chicks know what they need to do to grow big and strong, but a little help from you does not hurt!
Our best nursery was an old 100 gallon water tank that we lined with wood chips. The sides are high and prevent any drafts (chick killer), and the flooring with wood shavings keeps the chicks clean and hygienic. Add a thin layer of extra wood chips each day, which will keep your chicks healthy. (The wood chips soak up chick excretions and the resulting decomposing action actually provides gentle ground warmth.) A 100 gallon tank will allow you to add chips for at least 3-4 weeks for about 25 chicks, by which time the chicks may be getting too big for the tank anyway!
Back to day #1, bringing the chicks home. Prepare a heat lamp with a 100 to 200 watt bulb, placed downward. Take the chicks out of the shipping container and immerse their beaks, one at a time, in the water and food. (Remember they know what to do with food and water, but it helps them see where it is.) So let them go!
Chicks that have been dispatched can be a little disoriented, and we’ve found that a little apple cider vinegar helps a lot with this. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a gallon of water to help settle their tummy. The chickens thrive there and we have found it helpful for them to have access to vinegar water all their lives. It will also prevent the chicks from pecking at each other.
Add a few handfuls of pinhead sized gravel and sand to the wood chips. Your chicks need grit in their “craw”, the sac inside their throat that serves as their “teeth”. You may have noticed that chickens don’t chew their food. What they do is allow food to go down their throat, where they have a supply of gravel that grinds their food for them. You will see your chicks scratching around in the dirt, looking for gravel and other treats. This is normal and another sign that your chicks are healthy and happy.
You will want to monitor the heat lamp for the first few days. If the chicks are lying underneath, they are probably too cold. If they wander away from it, they’re probably too hot. They should be held at around 95 degrees until their feathers grow. Watch them. If you see chicks walking under the light and stretching a leg or wing then coming back out of the light, you are probably in good shape. The optimal distance between the lamp and the bottom of the floor is when the chicks lie down in a circle around the light of the lamp. You will be able to tell.
Be sure to leave the light on 24/7.
Another sign of happy, healthy chicks is the little chirp they make. Not a “Cheep!” Cheep! Cheep! sound, but a quiet, talkative little chirp. You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly when you have happy chicks because they’ll be making that sound all the time. If you don’t hear anything, something is wrong with your babies. Check their heat, food and water. When they are happy, they will sing.
At about 3 weeks old, the chicks will be fully feathered and able to handle temperature differences quite well. You can transfer them out of the 100 gallon tank now. Some people will use a chicken coop, and others will make a cage with no bottom, but lined with wire mesh on the top and sides so predators can’t get in. If you live in the country, your happy chicks will chirp and be very attractive to skunks, raccoons, possums, foxes, owls and other local vermin. Protect them! Make sure nothing can reach your babies.
The food needs of your chicks change as they grow. We’ve found that cafeteria-style buffet food works best, with their choice of whole or cracked corn, whole oats, brewer’s yeast, and oyster shells. Whole grains prevent pest problems. Make sure your chicks have access to fresh, green grass and plant material. They love to eat insects and vegetables!
Once your chicks are about three months old, they will look mature. They are not. Give them a few more months and start looking for fresh eggs. Yum!
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