The new chicks are here! Our 18 little girls arrived home with us last Wednesday evening under the watchful eye of our Labrador Retriever, Jazzy.
We started raising our first chickens two years ago – and it has been a truly rewarding experience. When we first began, we really knew little other than what we had read in books and on line. But before we knew it, we had a coop, nine full grown hens and about four to five dozen eggs a week!
I think more people might consider raising a few chickens if they knew how simple it can be – not to mention the added benefits they can provide to your garden, flowerbeds and breakfast table.
Our chicks come to us as 1 day old little balls of fur. We keep them in a brooder we made from some old shipping crates that we set up in our basement. The brooder gives them plenty of room, and will serve as their home for the first 8 weeks of their life. We use a heat lamp attached to the brooder to keep the temperature around 90 to 95 degrees during the baby chick’s first 5 to 7 days. With no feathers and just a little fuzz to protect them at birth, its important to provide them the warmth their little bodies need to survive. As they continue to grow – we reduce the temperature by about 5 degrees each week until they feather out and can provide their own body heat. It is amazing to watch how quickly they learn to use the water and food feeders – and by the end of the first week, they are already trying to learn the art of perching.
At about 8 weeks, they will be ready to move to the farm and will take up residence in the “big coop” with our older chickens. It takes about 18 weeks on average for our new chicks to start laying eggs. The first few eggs are usually on the small side – but they get the hang of it pretty quick and start laying nice sized eggs at about week 20. We raise mainly Golden Comets and Leghorns, and they will lay an egg about 6 of the 7 days each week.
Our chickens have become the stars of the farm, and are an integral part of our goal of creating a self sustaining homestead. In addition to the great tasting eggs they give us each day – they provide us with valuable manure that is a key ingredient to our composting process. Chicken manure is high in nitrogen, and when mixed with carbon materials such as shredded leaves, coffee grounds, straw, grass and vegetable scraps – it helps to heat our compost pile quickly. The end result is rich organic matter that we work into our garden soil to provide valuable nutrients to grow our vegetables each year.
Our chickens also provide crucial pest control services. Chickens can devour hundreds of bugs each day as they roam about, and do wonders in keeping the farms insect population under control. When Mary and I first cut down the high grass on the property, we would almost always come home with a tick somewhere on us. Once the chickens arrived – finding a tick has been rare!
And of course last but not least – they are just plain fun to have around. The farm wouldn’t be the same without them! We will keep you updated on the progress of new chicks as we head into spring!
– Jim and Mary