Chicken Care and Resources

Resources & Supplies~

Chicks
Chickens
Feed, bedding and supplies

Chicken Care~

Care for Baby Chicks
-Be prepared with...
-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?
Common Ailments
Composting

Chicken Breeds~


Resources and Supplies:

Chicks: Most people order baby chicks from local feed stores, including
Blue Seal in Windham
Paris Farmers Union in Portland
Ames Farm Center in North Yarmouth
Longhorn Supply in Buxton
Tractor 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 Hatchery.

You 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.

Already 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.

Supplies: 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 from Longhorn 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!)


Care for Baby Chicks

Before 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 slow down laying?
-The time and expense to build proper shelter?
The inevitability of problems, injuries, illness?

Be ready with:

  • Brooder ~ 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.
  • Thermometer ~ although you can gauge temperature by the chicks behavior, a thermometer is easiest.
  • 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!)
  • Vitamins/sugar (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.

When 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.

They grow fast!

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 in)
-Wading pool (two can be stacked as shown)
-Empty cardboard watermelon bin from the supermarket
-Appliance box


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!


Chicken "Treats"

“Treats” versus 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.

Great things to feed your chickens:

Plain, live-culture yogurt
Cooked oatmeal
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

Avoid feeding:

Raw potato skins
Salty food
Sugary foods
Dried beans or peas
Milk
Avacado skin and pit
Raw eggs
Citrus (?)
Too much of anything

In moderation:

Whole grain breads
Cooked pasta
Cooked white rice
Cottage cheese
“Scratch”


Free Range Fun

Remember that 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.

PROS:

-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.

CONS:

-They’ll scratch 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!


How Much Work Is It Really???

Daily~
AM:

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
PM:
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 shavings.
-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.


Common Ailments:

  • 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.

Any 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.

 
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