Chickens, Getting Started with Chicks

Children and Chickens

Animals of all kinds tend to bring out the best in children. When I was a horseback riding instructor in college, I loved that the most surly, uncontrollable, teenaged boys would come up to the barn, and invariably become sensitive and careful with the horses. Chickens and children are a wonderful, happy, combination. But there are a few precautions to take, especially with young chicks.

Of course, chicks are tiny and fragile, so, especially with young children, it’s important to teach them to be gentle. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years:

1.) Make sure that chicks’ wings are close against their body when being held, so that the wings don’t get twisted or injured.

2.) I keep a stack of old hand towels next to the chick brooder. When someone wants to hold a chick, they use it as a little play-mat for the chicken, so as not to spread chicken germs in the house. The hand cloth is also a cozy place for the chick to snuggle up and stay warm and protected. And the hand towel also saves the holder from getting pooped on.

3.) If you have very young children, put a couple chicks inside a shallow storage crate on the floor, like a playpen, for the children to watch, rather than holding them.

4.) When children are playing with chickens, pay attention to make sure that the chicks don’t get too cold.

5.) Give the chicks time to eat, drink, and warm up, before being held again.

6.) You’ll get favorites, but it’s good idea to rotate holding all the chicks. This way you won’t overtire any one chick, and they’ll all get socialized.

7.) ALWAYS make sure that anyone who was around the chicks washes their hands with soap afterwards. If children are very young, I usually put on a fresh change of clothes – just to be safe.

A sleepy chick, cuddled against your chest, is incredibly sweet. Take lots of pictures. They’ll grow out of the fluff in just a couple days. Like all our babies, they’re only little for such a short time, and it goes too fast. Enjoy your little chicks!

Chickens, Getting Started with Chicks, Keeping Chickens

The Babies are One Week Old!

We’ve had the chicks for one week now. They are growing so fast! The brooder is already getting crowded. I’ll move them to a bigger pen soon, but I want to keep them warm by the fire for one more week, so I needed to make a little more space for them. I decided to get rid of the standing waterer and feeder, and hang feeders from the outside, to give the chicks more room to spread their wings.  Also, the standing water feeder gets dirty so quickly, even if you do put it up on a block.

I drilled a few more holes in the container, (I love my power drill – can’t imagine life without it!), so the chicks could access the spouts of feeders and water bottles hanging in the outsiders the brooder. I’ve never tried a water bottle for chickens before. I didn’t even get the special chicken nipples, I just used a water bottle we had never used with the bunnies. I wasn’t completely sure it would work. But these smart girls figured it out almost instantly!  I dripped the water on the tip of new waterer with my finger a couple times.  Once one chick figured it out, the others quickly followed.

The chicks are eating and drinking so much more than they were a week ago.  They need it because they are getting big so fast!  Pretty soon you may want to switch to larger feeders and waterers, to make sure they don’t run out.  They are also getting flight feathers on their wings, and will start to flutter out of their brooder, given the opportunity, so make sure your lid is secure!  Even though they are such sweet fluff balls when they are brand new, they are getting stronger and more hardy every day.  This is good news!  You’ve passed the first, most fragile, week.  Congratulations!

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Chickens, Getting Started with Chicks, Keeping Chickens

Speaking of Chick Poop!

If you’re going to bring home baby chicks, you need to know about “Pasty Butt”. Just like human babies, you need to keep the little chick babies’ bottoms clean. If the poop dries on the chick’s bottom, it can block things up, which a little chick can die from. So you need to check their little fluffy bottoms daily, especially when they are tiny. When you find one with Pasty Butt (because you will), you’ll need to wash it VERY gently. It is important to use warm water, like you would for a baby bath, and not to pull any down out. If you pull down out, it can cause bleeding. Also the chick needs her down to stay warm. Some people use cotton swabs. The method which works best for me is to hold the chick with one hand, and create a little baby bottom bidet out of my other hand by cupping it under the chick, with a trickle of warm water running into it. If you keep the chick warm, she may actually relax or even take a nap. It will take a few minutes of soaking for the poop to loosen. You can use a little mild soap to help loosen it, but be very gentle! You will be amazed how tiny and fragile a little chick with a wet bottom seems. If you are grossed out by touching chicken poop, nitrile or latex exam gloves are fine. After you have shampooed the poop out, gently dry the chick with a paper towel or cloth. You’ll need to use a blow dryer, on low, to dry the chick’s down until she is fluffy again before you put her back. Keep the chick against you, and shield her with your hand as you blow her dry, so that you can feel the temperature and air pressure. Be careful not to blow her little wings the wrong way.

Giving this Pasty Butt baby a little bottom bath. She was super relaxed and happy!

Some people put a bit of Vaseline on the chick’s vent afterwards. I’ve never needed to, but if the vent seems irritated, or if the “Pasty Butt” persists, a little Vaseline can’t hurt. It’s also a good idea to have some Vetericyn (animal-safe wound care) on hand, to use for any abrasion, or any other injuries. If Pasty Butt persists, adding some corn meal, or mashed hard boiled egg, to their feed, can help. Also, try providing some chick grit. And finally, make sure that the temperature is neither too cold nor too hot in their brooder. Temperature is so important for these tiny babies!

Ok, that’s all I have to say about baby chick poop for now. I don’t think I’ve ever written the word “poop” so many times at once! 😂

#urbanfarm #farmtofork #fresheggs #cooptofork #chickens #eggs #coop #farmlife #coopdreams #coopgoals #prettyeggs #chicks #chickpoop #pastybutt

Chickens, Getting Started with Chicks, Keeping Chickens, Things I Like

The Heat Source

Keeping chicks warm is one of the most important parts of raising new chicks.

Baby chicks need at least part of their coop to be 95-100 degrees for the first two weeks. Then it should be reduced by 5 degrees a week, for a month, until their feathers have grown in.

We keep our youngest baby chicks in front of the fireplace, which, in the winter, always has a pilot light lit and is warm. I’ve made a window in one side, with hardware cloth and duct tape, to allow the warm air in. I had read horror stories of fires started by heat lamps, and decided they were too risky. So our first batch of chicks were warmed by the fireplace, and a waterproof, fire-safe, pet-warming pad, under half the crate (only half, so that they could move away from it if they got too hot). There was a lot of starting and stopping the gas fire, worrying that they were too hot or too cold.

But a more consistent heat source would make life easier for everyone. Last year I bought a brooder plate. It was about $60, which is more than I usually spend on chicken supplies. But it has been worth it. It’s safe, holds a steady temperature, and adjusts higher as they grow. I really like it.

I also put a sticker thermometer on the inside of the box, to easily keep an eye on the temperature. Even so, we still keep them by the fire when they are tiny. It’s cozy there, and so fun to watch them!

#urbanfarm #farmtofork #fresheggs #cooptofork #chickens #eggs #coop #farmlife #prettycoop #coopdreams #coopgoals #prettyeggs #chicks

Chickens, Getting Started with Chicks, Keeping Chickens

The Brooder Box

This is our newborn chick nursery for the first few days. You can see it’s just a standard storage box. For our house, it’s important to have a clamped lid, because we have two curious house cats. The lid also helps contain the heat. Also, although the chicks are too small now, they will be able to jump and flutter out of the box sooner than you think!

I’ve drilled a few circulation holes in the top, and a larger hole in the side to run cords through. I also have holes with bamboo sticks for baby perches.

We’ll graduate to bigger chicken homes along the way. But this is the first step.

#urbanfarm #farmtofork #fresheggs #cooptofork #chickens #eggs #coop #farmlife #prettycoop #coopdreams #coopgoals #prettyeggs #chicks

Chickens, Getting Started with Chicks, Keeping Chickens

Food, Water, and Chicken Poop

You can get “chick starter” electrolytes to add to the water at your feed store. Chicks don’t love it if they know there’s an alternative, so it’s best to use it right away, or some will hold out for plain water. Chick water gets yucky, quickly. So I only fill the little red waterer less than half way, so as not to waste the expensive electrolytes. I change it frequently. Putting the waterer on a small block helps keep the water more clean. Just make sure your littlest babies can reach it. The block trick helps keep the food more tidy also.

If you don’t have a waterer, you can also use a shallow dish or bowl for water. Put small stones in it so that the chicks won’t drown. (This definitely can happen.) You will want to change the water in the dish frequently, because the chicks will poop in it. You’re going to get used to chicken poop. It’s part of having chickens. Just make sure to wash your hands after each contact. 😁

#urbanfarm #farmtofork #fresheggs #cooptofork #chickens #eggs #coop #farmlife #prettycoop #coopdreams #coopgoals #prettyeggs #chicks

Chickens, Getting Started with Chicks, Keeping Chickens

Are You Considering Chicks?

My favorite feed store (with gorgeous heritage breeds) was sold out of everything but roosters after the long weekend – so we had fun cuddling the chicks, but haven’t gotten any yet. But soon!!!

If you’re thinking of getting chicks, but nervous, this is for you.

First of all, you can totally do it! It’s not as difficult as it seems. You’ll learn as you go. You’ll make it work. And it is so rewarding!

Second of all, even though I really shouldn’t get more chicks, I have selflessly decided that I must, for your sake, get at least a few. 😊 I’ll walk you through the steps.

Do you remember Julia Child on PBS in the 80’s? When I was little, my mom would assemble the ingredients, pour a glass of wine, turn on Julia, and cook along with her. This will be like that, except that I’m no Julia Child, (who is one of my idols). However, like Julia, I believe in making mistakes and getting messy (or is that Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus? Yet another brilliant woman!)

We’ll start this week with how to prepare before you bring home your chicks. So pour yourself a glass of wine (or coffee), start picking breeds, and stay tuned. 😊

#urbanfarm #farmtofork #fresheggs #chickens #eggs #cooptofork #coop #barn #farmlife #coopdreams #coopgoals

Chickens, Family, Getting Started with Chicks, Keeping Chickens

Bringing Home Baby

Those of you with kids probably went through something like I did when you were expecting your first baby. Remember how everyone had advice and opinions about what kind of diapers, or pacifiers, or baths, to use? Remember the strong opinions of well meaning aunties about nursing vs. bottle feeding, or vaccines? And god forbid we get into sleeping habits, or discipline! Do you remember the first time you walked in to a Babies-R-Us? Personally, I wandered around overwhelmed, and stunned, by the vastness of it all, and finally fled without having bought a thing.

And do you remember, how, once the baby came, there were some hiccups along the way, and a learning curve, but eventually it mostly worked out. And how all that advice was kind of helpful, but also, that you figured out what worked best for you. And that it turns out a lot of different choices work for different people. And that your kids have somehow grown up to be pretty spectacular, whatever diapers you used, or mistakes you made.

That’s what it’s like with chickens. I wanted chickens for twenty years, and was afraid I didn’t know enough about them to do it. I will forever be grateful to Lisa Steele for sharing her experiences at Fresh Eggs Daily, which is what gave me the confidence to try. There are a lot of different ways to raise chickens. But it’s not as complicated as it seems. And you have to figure out what works for you. Want to keep the little ones inside to cuddle and stay warm and get tame? Great! Want to raise them in a grow out pen or a barn? Sure! Want to have your hen be mama? That works too! Medicated, vaccinated, fed only organic – all reasonable choices. Three hens in your urban backyard, or too many to count, with roosters, on rolling green acres, are both perfectly reasonable. Heritage breed show chicks, hatchery eggs for incubating, a handful of fuzzy yellow babies from the feed store bin – will all be lovely, spectacular, chickens.

So I’m not going to tell you what you ought to do, just what works for me. It doesn’t all work out perfectly. My kids have learned the phrase “farm strong”, because sometimes chickens die. But we have also each held a small chick to our chest until the chirping stopped and it fell fast asleep against us, warm and soft. We have had the magical joy of a first egg. We have laughed at their dinosaur run, and learned their personalities, and hunted for precious eggs hidden in the straw. My hope is that I will give someone else the confidence to give it a try. If you have questions, I’m happy to answer them. But also, you will figure out what works for you, and it will be fine. You can do this! ❤️

Stay tuned for the first steps of getting set up for baby chicks…

#urbanfarm #farmtofork #fresheggs #cooptofork #chickens #eggs #coop #farmlife #prettycoop #coopdreams #coopgoals #prettyeggs #chicks