Feed, bedding and supplies
for Baby Chicks
-When the baby chicks arrive...
-They grow fast!
-As they grow...
Treats for Chickens
Free Ranging in Your Yard
How Much Work Is It Really?
Most people order baby chicks from local feed
Seal in Windham
Union in Portland
Ames Farm Center in North
Supply in Scarborough.
You'll need to order them a few weeks ahead of time in the spring or
early summer (minimum order of six; order sexed -NOT "straight
run"!- for females only.) Tractor Supply may have chicks on hand
in April without pre-ordering.
You can also order larger amounts from the same hatcheries that the
feed stores order from, but you'll need to split your order with other
families or have homes lined up for the extra chicks, since most have
a 25-chick minimum order. Be aware that many hatcheries ship extra baby
roosters mixed in for body warmth, so you'll have to figure out which
those are and find homes for them before they go outside. A few hatcheries
to try are: Murray McMurray,
Sand Hill Preservation
(rare & heritage breeds but may not sell sexed chicks), Ideal
(will do smaller orders with minimum dollar value), Cackle
can also order as few as 3 chicks at MyPetChicken.com
and Meyer Hatchery
(with excellent selection of breeds) but you'll
pay a premium for the heating pad they use to ensure warmth for the
smaller number of chicks.
laying hens: You
can order "started pullets" from some online sites (pullets
are young hens, their beaks will be "trimmed" which is the
same as de-beaking, done on Factory Farms to discourage the overcrowded
birds from pecking each other). Another good resource is CraigsList
(check both "Farm & Garden" and "Pets") as well
as Uncle Henry's (classified magazine) and the bulletin boards at feed
stores. Just be aware that older hens will not be as tame as those you
hand-raise from chicks yourself and handle daily.. on the other hand,
raising chicks takes a lot of time and energy.
Feed, feeders, waterers, and wood shavings are
readily available at any of the feed stores listed above. Most carry
both regular and organic feeds. DE (food-grade diotomaceous earth, excellent
for keeping hens bug-free as described below) can be special ordered
Supply in Buxton. Most feed stores also carry, or can order, one
of the bedding fresheners like Sweet PDZ or Stall Dry (which are terrific
at minimizing odors!)
for Baby Chicks
you commit, are you prepared for:
-Finding someone to take care of your hens when you’re away?
-What you will do with the hens when they get older and slowdown
-The time and expense to build proper shelter?
The inevitability of problems, injuries, illness?
~ this can be a box, fish tank, dog crate, or plastic storage bin
with a screen or wire lid.
- Food & water
dishes ~ add marbles or pebbles to waterer at first to prevent
drowning. (Food and water dishes should be raised to back level to
keep them free of shavings.) For feed, you can choose between medicated
and non-medicated (all organic feed is non-medicated). The medicine
is to help build immunity to coccidiosis, which is usually a problem
of poor sanitation and not generally an issue with small pet flocks.
Do not feed medicated if you got vaccinated chicks.
~ although you can gauge temperature by the chicks behavior, a thermometer
- Hygiene ~
Think about having a bottle of waterless hand cleaner next to the
brooder, especially if you have kids. It’s important to wash
hands after every time you handle the chicks.
- Heat lamp
~ A red bulb is best to prevent pecking. 100 watts for small brooder,
250w for large. Use a ceramic fixture rated for the wattage and rig
it so it is adjustable for regulating brooder temperature.
- Litter & paper
towels ~ Use paper towels for the first couple of days (this
helps prevent chicks eating bedding and getting impacted). Do not
use newspaper, which is slippery and can cause “spraddle leg”.
After a few days you can switch to pine shavings (not cedar!)
(optional) ~ “Gro-gel”, “Chick-Start”
or other chick vitamins, or sugar water (1 Tbsp per quart), is sometimes
given baby chicks for the first couple of days, especially if they
have had a long, stressful trip in the mail.
the Baby Chicks arrive:
- First thing ~ Teach them
to drink: gently dip each chick’s beak into the water.
- Sprinkle a little feed
on the paper towels for the first day. They’ll soon learn where
the feeder is. Change the water daily.
- Monitor the temperature:
the first week, the temperature directly under the heat lamp should
be about 95º F. If all the chicks huddle under the lamp, it’s
too cold: lower the lamp. If they all huddle at the far side of the
brooder, it’s too warm: raise the lamp. They should be evenly
spread out around the brooder most of the time. Drop the temperature
by 5 degrees each week thereafter.
- Use paper towels for the
first few days, then switch to shavings. You can start with a thick
layer of towels and simply remove each layer as it becomes soiled
(usually several times per day!)
- Watch for “pasty
butts”. Sometimes baby chicks get “pasted up” with
loose droppings. Check them at least once a day, and gently clean
with a warm cloth if needed. If left unattended, this can cause death;
however, they are only susceptible when very young.
By the time the chicks
are about 2 weeks old, they may have outgrown their baby brooder.
Since overcrowding can lead to boredom and pecking, it’s a good
idea to move them someplace bigger. Some ideas (they will all need
lids; old window screens are great):
-An old playpen or baby play yard (install cardboard to keep the shavings
-Wading pool (two can be stacked as shown)
-Empty cardboard watermelon bin from the supermarket
As they grow...
- Add a small perch
to the brooder and show them how to use it.
- Keep raising the
food and water to the level of the chicks’ backs as they
grow. Use inverted bowls, bricks, wood, flowerpots, etc.
- Continue to lower
the temperature (by raising the heat lamp) by 5 degrees each
week until you get to 70 degrees.
- After a few weeks,
you can introduce “treats” such as cooked oatmeal,
plain yogurt, crushed hard-boiled egg, small pieces of fruit
of finely chopped grass, garden worms. At the same time, you’ll
need to provide “grit” so that they can digest the
treats. A sprinkle of play sand or “parakeet grit”
on the feed is fine.
- If it’s warm
enough, they can have supervised “field trips” outside.
- At about 6 weeks,
you can switch from “starter” to “grower”
feed. Gradually add a little to the old food over the course
of a week, increasing the amount of new feed.
- Depending on the
weather and how fast the breed matures, your chicks may be ready
to move outside to the coop at around 7-9 weeks old. They should
be fully feathered and if nighttime temps are still cool, continue
to use the heat lamp at night.
- If your nest boxes
are already installed in the henhouse, block them off for now.
You don’t want them sleeping and pooping in them.
- Offer grit free
choice, especially if you’re feeding lots of treats, scraps,
or letting them on grass.
- At around 19 weeks,
begin to transition to “layer feed”. It contains
calcium harmful to young birds but necessary for producing strong
egg shells. Also offer oyster shell (for calcium) free choice.
- At around 20 weeks,
open the nest boxes. You may wish to add a golf ball or fake
egg until they are all laying in the right place.
- Start watching for
signs of egg-readiness: the best indicator is the comb and wattles.
When they suddenly get larger and redder (like the orange pullet
at right), and when the pullet begins to “squat”
for you, start watching for eggs!
dinner…. Chickens are omnivores. You can choose to trust your
feed manufacturer for a “balanced diet” or supplement with
wholesome foods and free-range sessions. In “the wild” chickens
forage for insects, reptiles, and small mammals as well as a variety
of green plants and seeds.
to feed your chickens:
Plain, live-culture yogurt
Chopped meat/fish/fat scraps
Vegetable peelings (except potato)
Veggies (cukes, tomato, broccoli, etc.)
Lettuce, kale & greens
Weeds from the garden
Cooked, mashed eggs
Fruit in moderation (they love grapes!)
Cooked brown rice
Seeds and nuts
Crickets and mealworms
Black Oil Sunflower seeds
Raw potato skins
Dried beans or peas
Avacado skin and pit
Too much of anything
Whole grain breads
Cooked white rice
in South Portland, you're required to keep your chickens in a fenced
area at all times. If they're allowed into your (fenced) yard you
must supervise them.
-Chickens LOVE to explore
in the yard! They will eat the grass, dandelions and clover in the
lawn (make sure it has no herbicide or pesticide on it) which will
contribute to the healthfulness of your eggs.
-They’ll gobble up slugs, caterpillars, japanese beetles and
even scratch the grubs out of the lawn.
-Your hens will add to the natural beauty of your yard! -It’s
so much fun to sit and watch them on a summer evening.
in any loose dirt available. Your nice mulch won’t stand a
chance. If you have careful landscaping you’ll want to keep
the hens away from it. -Newly planted seedlings will be eaten. Ripe
veggies may also need protection.
-Watch out for chicken poop! I go around with a hose and blast the
droppings into the grass after free-range time.
-Be prepared to lose some of your plants; mine particularly love
hosta! (Strong-scented plants like lavendar, mint, rosemary and
catmint seem to fare well.)
We use a green-coated wire
fencing (which blends
into the yard unobtrusively) and move it around the
yard depending on where we want the girls to be
(or where we want to keep them out of!) They
respect the fence, even though it’s low and flimsy,
but we always keep an eye on them!
Much Work Is It Really???
Let them out into the run
Clean off droppings board (compost?)
Check for eggs
Check food & water
During the day:
Check for eggs if possible
Check for eggs
Shut them into the henhouse at dusk
-As often as waterer is
empty, clean it well with hot water and vinegar/soap/bleach.
-As needed (depending on whether you have a droppings board), possibly
daily, every few days, or weekly, pick the dirty litter out of the
henhouse (compost?) and replace with fresh litter (and Stall Dry or
Sweet PDZ if used.)
-As needed, or once every few weeks, remove all litter, sweep well,
scrub floor and walls. Scrub roost and droppings board, clean out
nest boxes. Let dry thoroughly, then sprinkle DE (you can also make
a DE “whitewash” to paint onto roost); clean feeder; replace
-As needed, depending on substrate and dampness (anywhere from daily
to monthly!) clean out and replace substrate in the run. If you have
packed dirt, you can “pooper scoop” it daily; if you use
hay, straw, or leaves, you can go longer by adding new litter every
week or so.)
-A couple of times per year: major cleaning of all surfaces with bleach
or vinegar and hot water.
- Pasty butt (pasting
up): from stress, drafts or cold, baby chicks can develop
pasty butt, where loose droppings cake the vent and eventually stop
digestion. As it can be fatal, check baby chicks a few times a day
and gently clean the area with a warm, damp cloth as needed.
- Crop issues:
the crop is the first in a series of stomach-like organs in the digestive
tract. It is on the right breast and will be visibly full after eating.
Some birds develop “sour crop” from a digestive imbalance
(crop will be filled with squishy, gassy liquid and breath will be
sour). Plain live-culture yogurt can treat mild cases, or prevent
sour crop. An “impacted crop” occurs when the birds ingest
fibrous material that doesn’t break down. Olive oil and hourly
crop massage can help pass the impaction.
- Broken beak:
chickens beaks are like fingernails. A split or chipped beak will
usually regrow, although if the bird is in too much pain to eat you
may have to hand-feed her for a few days.
- Feather pecking:
use preventative measured to keep birds occupied and not bored, supplement
diet with protein and amino acids (meat/fish scraps, black oil sunflower
seeds, Avia Charge 2000 in the water), but in the case of a bird with
bare skin, you may need to separate her and/or use a “saddle”
made of duct tape until her feathers regrow.
- Worms and mites:
using DE in your coop and feed helps keep parasites away. Commercial
wormers can be found at feed stores, but you cannot eat the eggs for
a specified time after worming.
time a bird is acting ill, its best to isolate her in a warm place.
We use a dog crate inside. Monitor her eating, drinking, and droppings
for clues. Most vets in southern Maine will not see birds, although
there is an avian vet in Windham. A great source for immediate help
is the forum at www.backyardchickens.com.