Let's be honest, there is nothing better than fresh eggs straight from the hen to the skillet. There is a sort of peace of mind and pride that comes from knowing exactly where your food comes from and how it was raised. In this post we will cover everything you need to know about starting your own flock of laying hens.
Before you run to the feed store or place an order for laying hens it's very important to be prepared. Chicks are fragile and will need a safe warm space for the first 4 to 6 weeks of their life. This safe warm space can be achieved using a brooding system. A brooding system is an area set up with heat and essentials for your new chicks.
Setting up a brooding system - To set up a brooding area for your new chicks you will need:
Container : You will need some sort of container/box to keep your chicks in. This can be anything from a plastic tote to a metal horse trough. A good rule of thumb is 1/2 sq-ft per chick up to 4 weeks old (for example - 10 chicks need 5 sq ft). You will want to make a lid for your container out of chicken wire - this will allow air flow but keep pets or other unwanted guest out.
Bedding - Chicks create waste and will need a bedding that absorbs their droppings. We have found that pine shavings work the best for us but some other options are shredded paper or animal bedding pellets. Soiled bedding must be covered often. It is best to add bedding and not remove it. Continually adding bedding allows microbiology to form and break it down creating heat for your chicks. Moisture in your brooder can lead to health problems in your chicks including brooder pneumonia and Cococcidiosis, both almost always leading to death.
Heat Lamp with infrared bulb - You will need a 250w red infrared bulb and a ceramic heat lamp. Stay away from the plastic based heat lamps as they can melt with a 250w bulb. You will want to use a red bulb because chickens do not see the red spectrum well as opposed to a white heat bulb which would be like living in the daylight 24/7 and can be stressful for the chicks and can result in extensive pecking. Once a chicken hits blood it will continue to peck which will eventually result in death. You will want to arrange your feeder and watering system close to your heat lamp. The chicks will be spending a lot of their time eating and drinking and must stay warm while doing so. You don’t want them to travel too far from the heat source to eat or drink. If they are cold, they will not eat or drink.
Thermometer - Chicks need to be kept at 99.5 F for the first week and the temp must reduced by 5 degrees every week after this until 4 weeks of age. At 4 weeks of age most chicks are fully feathered out and no longer need a heat lamp.
Feeder - The current market is absolutely saturated with different feed types. We use a locally sourced non-GMO, Corn, Soy and Drug free grain for all our chickens, but this is our choice. It’s just as easy to go to any feed store and pickup a bag of chick grower, medicated or not. You want to make sure when picking a feed that it has a high enough amount of protein (chicks need 18% - 20% protein) and does not contain high amounts of calcium. Feeding calcium to young chicks can cause kidney issues. You will feed this grain to them until they lay their first egg at 16-24 weeks. At that point you can change the feed to a laying formula.
Grit - Also known as “rooster teeth”. Since chickens don’t have teeth, they use a gizzard that stores rocks or “grit” to grind up the grain before it reaches their stomach.
Water - Always provide your chicks with fresh water daily! If it gets soiled with bedding or droppings clean it out immediately and give them fresh water. Clean water equals healthy birds (clean water is by far the simplest and most important thing you can do for your chicks). Bonus - Add in apple cider vinegar to their water to help with the formation of microbiology in their guts.
Getting Your Chicks
When you receive your chicks they will only be 1-3 days old. Here are a couple tips to keep your chicks alive and get you closer to collecting eggs! First, the night before you receive your chicks, turn on your brooder light and allow it to get warm. You will want to add your chicks to a warm brooder, not a cold one. As you open the box of your chicks, take them out one by one and gently dip their beaks into their water. This lets them know where their water is.
4-6 weeks of age
Congratulations! You are 4-6 weeks closer to collecting fresh eggs! At this point your chicks should be fully feathered and can be moved to their permanent housing.