New Chicks 2012

New Chicks

I couldn’t resist adding two new chicks to my little chicken family this year. This time I decided to try two different breeds to add some diversity:  A New Hampshire Red and a California Leghorn.  Both are supposed to be good egg layers.

As usual, I just started them out in a big plastic container with newspaper on the bottom layered with straw on top.  I find the straw tends to absorb the poop and the smell better than just a layer of newspaper, and I don’t have to clean it out as much.  The poop dries quickly and you can just shake the straw and the poop will kind of sink to the bottom.   With just two chicks I use the little round feeder and elevate the water trough on a brick to keep it cleaner.  The heat lamp is clipped to the desk, about a foot above, to provide warmth on one end of the box, while the other end with the water and feed can stay cooler.  It’s simple and seems to keep the chicks content. They can regulate how much warmth they need themselves.  If the chicks are really tiny I keep the heat lamp on all the time until they’re about two weeks old, only turning it off during the daytime if it’s warm enough in the house.  At night I keep it on the whole time until the chicks are about 3 weeks old.  It not only assures that the chicks are warm enough, but it seems to sooth them and they remain quite during the night.

I always put a section of mesh on top just to be on the save side with my cat, but she pretty much ignores the chicks nowadays anyway, and their peeping and screeching actually makes her want to avoid them.  Still, better safe than sorry.  You never know if a cat’s primal instincts will override everything else!

Baby chicks grow really fast, and they usually start jumping out of the box by week three.  Once out of the box though, they still don’t quite get it that they have to jump back into the box to get back to their feed, so you still need to return them to their box and put the mesh cover on for a while so they’ll stay in there and rest and feed.   If you don’t want them pooping on your floor then you’d better not let them out at all.  Last year when I had 6 chicks (2 ended up being roosters that I had to butcher later) I set them up in the shed.  That way I didn’t have to deal with the noise, the smell and they could run around the whole shed before they were old enough to go outside in the coop.  It was still a mess to clean up on the floor of my shed, but being a dirt floor covered with tarp it didn’t really matter much.

At 4 weeks I decided to put them outside in the unused rabbit hutch which is just about a perfect transition shelter.  It’s about 3 x 5 feet and protected from the wind and glaring sun by the surrounding trees and shrubs.   They seem very happy with all that extra space and are showing a lot of curiosity for the outside world.  I’ll keep them in there until I think they’re big enough to introduce to the other hens.  It’s still chilly and rainy outside much of the time, so the heat lamp needs to stay on most of the time.  They are running around and resting comfortably all around the hutch, so it looks like they can handle 50 degrees, but at night they do sleep under the heat lamp.  I turn it off if it’s a warm day.

I feed the chicks the regular Purina Start & Grow, which it says they are supposed to eat until 18 – 20 weeks, but I’ve started my hens on the other feed sooner than that and they were fine.  The label says “natural” and no animal proteins or fats, but considering the fact that it contains ground corn and soybean meal you’re pretty much guaranteed that those two are genetically modified, as are the other Purina feeds. I don’t like the idea that the feed isn’t organic, but the organic chicken food is outrageously expensive, so it’ll have to do.   As long as they get to free range and get all those healthy bugs, greens and worms, then I’m not so worried.  When I put the new chicks outside in their new pen they saw a few big ants and gobbled them up immediately.  Then I gave them a few little worms today for a snack and they knew immediately what to do with them.  It’s always so fun to see how chicks respond to worms the first time.  They don’t really know what they are, but their natural instincts take over and before you know it they’re pecking away at them and in they go!

I haven’t decided yet when to introduce the chicks to the hens.  I’ve been told to sneak them into the hen house at night in the nesting area so the hens won’t be bothered by them and may accept them better.  If you just throw them in with the hens during the day you might get a bloody massacre.  Even introducing them at night isn’t a sure thing either, and after googling “introducing new chicks to the flock”, I’m anticipating the worst.  I have some ideas that I will try and write about in a later post after the results are in.   I just heard from someone I know who had a few hens that when he introduced his 3 new chicks to the older hens, they never did accept them.  They used to be very affectionate hens towards him, especially the Buff Orpington, but when the new hens were introduced they became aggressive and antisocial in their pecking order frenzy.  It changed their personalities so much for the worst that he decided to give them to his sister and keep the new hens.

These are a few of the most interesting and informative websites that I’ve found that give advice on how to introduce new chicks to the flock.  After reading some of the comments on a few forums, I wonder what I got myself and my chicks into here, but it’s something I need to learn to do since every year I seem to lose a hen or two to the racoons.  I have to know how to refurbish my flock.




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