Okay. You have to admit it. Baby chicks are some of the cutest little things ever. I mean, what's not to absolutely love? They're tiny, and fuzzy, and slightly clumsy, and those little peeping sounds are just so adorable.
I have always wanted to raise my own chickens for eggs. Some of my co-workers back in Florida kept chickens for their eggs and they really inspired me to want them even more. But having a small back yard, two dogs and two cats just didn't seem like the best conditions for raising chickens. But now that I live at and manage a Bed and Breakfast on nearly 30 acres of gorgeous land in Virginia, I think the conditions and timing are perfect! I mean, what bed and breakfast doesn't need a good supply of fresh eggs?
Meet Amber. She is my Chicken Guru here out here in Lawrenceville, Virginia. She works at a family-owned hardware store called E. E. Vaughan and Son, Inc. You know the kind of place I'm talking about. The kind of place you go to when you need the people who work there to know what they are doing and how to use all of the things they sell.
If you are also thinking about raising your own chickens for eggs, and you're choosing to start out with baby chicks like I am, you will need to do a lot of research... and get yourself an Amber. Having access to a live, local and knowledgeable Chicken Guru will help you enter into this new adventure with the confidence of their experience.
The first thing Amber will tell you is that raising baby chicks isn't something to be taken lightly.
"You can't just give them food and water and expect everything to be fine," she advised. "You have to be attentive."
When I picked up my baby chicks on Thursday, they were only two days old, an age that Amber noted leaves them very "fragile." In fact, these little babies were packed up and shipped off to E. E Vaughan and Son, Inc. soon after they hatched. Imagine the stress they must go through. That's why Amber takes special care to make these little chicks as comfortable as possible when they arrive and why she is there to provide valuable advice to new chickie-moms like me.
While conducting my research on raising baby chicks (watching countless videos and reading numerous articles), one of the primary things you will learn is that it's important to prepare for bringing home your chicks before you bring them home.
As Amber explained, the three most important things you will need to provide for your baby chicks -- aside from a comfortable, draft-free enclosure to house them in -- is "feed, water and heat."
As for my draft-free enclosure, my mom surprised me with this nifty, large cattle water trough. The galvanized steel ensures that the structure is sturdy and it won't become compromised by any accidental water spills. The steep sides makes it perfect for those pending days when the little chickies start growing and begin jumping around.
To "furnish" your chickie's new crib, you will need a feed dispenser (one they can stick their heads in but can't stand in or walk through), a shallow water dispenser (so they can't topple over in it and drown) and a heat lamp (securely fastened with a safety guard, just in case it falls). I also suggest some sort of soft bedding. I mean, come on. We want our new family members to be comfortable. Don't we? Besides, it helps make clean-up a lot easier.
I chose to use a red heat lamp because one of the many videos I watched warned that if a chick gets even the smallest little cut or scratch, the other chicks will zero in on that spot and could literally peck the slightly wounded chick to death. The red light makes anything red disappear. In other words, they won't peck at what they can't see. But this means you will have to lift the little babies out now and then, one at a time, to give them a look-over to make sure they are in good health. Oh darn, right? An excuse to play with the babies!
Oh... and it's important to note that you will also need to get a thermometer. You will need to monitor the temperature inside of their brooding bin to make sure it doesn't get too warm. Keep it around 90 degrees to start. Also, make sure that the mercury in said thermometer isn't red because... well. Refer to previous paragraph.
Make sure you set your heat lamp on one side of the brooding space and allow the other side to stay a bit cooler. When the chicks need warmth, they'll congregate under the heat lamp. When they want to cool down, they'll move to the other side.
I keep the feed and water on the cooler side of the bin. That way, they aren't forced to stay under the heat if they're hungry or thirsty.
I also have a plastic pipe connector in the "nursery" that dad gave me. While it gives them something to satisfy their curiosity, it also provides a place for them to hide when they hear something loud and strange... Oh, say, like when Einstein decides to bark without warning or he bangs the side of the galvanized steel container with his eternal happy-tail.
Fill the water container they day before you bring home your chicks so the water can reach room temperature when they arrive. It's important to make sure they don't get chilled, and drinking cold water will be one of the first ways that will happen.
The feed and bedding are also important. The feed you choose will have to be specifically formulated for baby chickens because they will need the additional protein that's packed into that type of feed. This feed is also smaller and easier for those tiny beaks to handle. Make sure the bedding is also ground small and that it is noted on the bag that it is sifted additional times to cut down on the amount of dust the bedding contains.
Now the fun part -- choosing what kind of chickens you want!
You can look online and find chickens for sale in your area. Or you can order your chicks online and have them delivered to your home through the mail. I opted to begin with baby chicks but I chose not to order them and have them delivered as I would be crushed if I opened the box and saw that any of them didn't survive the trip.
Over at E. E. Vaughan and Son they have a list of what will be delivered when so all you have to do is decide what you want and show up on that day!
For my first endeavor at chicken mothering, I selected three breeds; Rhode Island Red, Amberlink and the glorious Golden Laced Wyandotte. I purchased four of each breed for an even dozen.
First, meet Rita (as in, Hayworth), she is one of my beautiful Rhode Island Reds.
According to The Happy Chicken Coop, "the Rhode Island Red is probably one of the most successful chicken breeds in the world!"
"Why is it so successful?" They ask.
Because they require "little in the way of care and are usually extremely healthy."
"The Rhode Island Red is very good at laying eggs – it is hard to surpass them in output and continuity," the website notes. They add that the hens "will usually start to lay around 18-20 weeks, although some will start as early as 16 weeks."
"A good hen can lay 200-300 eggs each year, although other people put the egg laying at a more modest 150-250 eggs. In general, a Rhode Island hen will lay around 5-6 eggs/week. These eggs are medium to large and light brown in color. Eggs will increase in size over the years, as with all hens."
When little Rita grows up, she should look a bit like this little lady.
Next, we have Shirley (as in, Temple -- note the silver screen Hollywood theme I got going here...). She is a breed of chicken known as an Amberlink.
According to Hoovers Hatchery Company: "This graceful white and amber colored sex link can lay eggs like no one's business, even in the cold dark winters."
"It is a very well balanced bird that lays nice medium size table eggs. They are docile and make great foragers."
Along with being friendly, hearty and good egg-layers, being "great foragers" is one of the features I am looking for in my chickens. Living out here on a large plot of land, Shirley and her sisters will help get rid of ticks and other pesky insects the all natural way!
Amberlinks lay brown eggs and can lay about 270 medium-sized eggs per year.
When my precious little Shirley grows up, she should weigh about five pounds and should look a little something like this:
Now we have the Golden Laced Wyandotte.
This is Mary, as in Pickford.
She is absolutely the tiniest of the dozen chicks I brought home and I chose her because -- although she's little -- she's feisty.
As noted on the website, The Happy Chicken Coop: "Many Wyandottes have a strong personality."
"This means they don’t tolerate any other bird trying to peck them or pick on them."
I have witnessed that first-hand with little Mary, and as the Happy Chicken Coop explains, "They are likely to put the aggressor into their place in very short order."
"Wyandottes," they add, "are usually near the top of the pecking order."
While Wyandottes are generally aloof when it comes to humans, they are docile with their keepers. Many people say they are talkative and friendly but definitely not a lap chicken.
In general, they prefer their own kind and will usually stick together and ignore other breeds.
When my wee-little Mary is all grown up, she and her sister Wyandottes will look something like this...
It's day two of having my baby chickies and (so far), all of my new little ladies appear to be strong and healthy.
I keep the bedding clean, removing droppings and adding fresh bedding regularly and I keep water in a closed pitcher so I can replenish their supply with room-temperature, fresh water...
Oh yeah. Speaking of water.
Our chickens are being raised on our signature Mineral Spring Water. Water that people have been drinking, swimming in and soaking in for medicinal purposes for a couple hundred years now. That should give them a real healthy advantage!
I have to admit, I am a bit nervous about being a first-time chicken mom. I mean, they really are so small, so helpless. So "fragile."
When I pick one up and hold it in my hands, I am amazed at how tiny they really are. Being little more than fluff a beak and some hollow bones, they weigh as little as a passing thought.
I have raised a kitten that was abandoned in the parking lot where I worked in Florida. Our vet estimated that it was ten days old and gave it little hope of surviving. But, she explained what I would have to do and, with the help of my husband and our youngest daughter, Brenna, we bottle-fed her, burped her and stimulated her kitty-parts after her feedings because she was too young to now how to do that on her own. It took about two months to get her through the proverbial "woods." But she made it, and today she's a healthy and happy member of our family.
So, how long will it take to get baby chicks into the safety zone?
According to my Chicken Guru, Amber, "you can stop worrying when they are about a month old."
Well, I don't know if I will be able to "stop worrying" about them, no matter how old they become. I get so attached to my furry, and now feathered kiddies. Any little bump or ingrown hair makes me break out ointments and grooming tools.
But, with Amber's help, I'm confident that I will be able to handle anything that comes along.
So, for those who are interested, I will keep you posted on their progress by posting new blogs and photos each week.
In the meantime, wish me luck!