So SOMEONE has convinced you that getting your own chickens will be awesome, and you have decided to take the plunge.  Good for you.  You will most likely enjoy every moment of owning your bumbling adorable birds.  But where do you get them from, and what do you do once they show up?  If you are like me, you will be nervous about caring correctly for your cute little fluff balls.

First, some general advice about new life, no matter what kind it is.  Relax.  All animals have an inherent will to survive.  All you have to do is not screw it up, and provide for them.  They will do fine, and you will do fine.  So just breathe.

In terms of where to get them, there are hundreds of different options online, as well as any local options in your area.  I am a strong believer in supporting local business, so if you know a neighbour or a local shop in your area that has a breed you want, go for it.

When we got our chicks, we used Efowl.com.  We had pleasant, quick service from them, and I would order from them again.  We ordered 15 chicks, and ended up with an extra.  Two died while very young, and we were refunded for our purchase price.  We also ordered all females, and ended up with two roosters.  We also received a credit for them.  Service was prompt and responsive, so I would have no problem recommending them if you don’t have a preference.

If you don’t know, when you order chickens online, they are shipped in the mail in a box.  So you want to have a brooder setup ahead of time, as they will need to be warmed up.  Also, holding a box full of little peeping fluff balls is one of the cutest things you will ever get to do.

A brooder is basically a box that holds you chickens, and allows them to be protected, and warmed with a heat lamp.  There are as many ways to make one as their are people with imaginations, but ours worked out really well for us, so I will share it.  For another look at brooders, check out this video.  He is very good at presenting his brooder.

Here is a look at our brooder.

Completed Brooder

This is an old dog cage that we had from my weiner pug, which was basically three feet long, and about 18 inches across.  This was actually the perfect size, as it allowed the peeps to self regulate their temperature.  When they got cold, they ran under the light, too hot, they ran to the shady end of the pool.  Some people recommend using the pine chips as bedding for your peeps.  We chose not to do this, as the dust can be hard on their little lungs.  Instead, we used some puppy pee pads, and changed them twice a day.  We chose it to protect their lungs, but I think the pee pads actually ended up being a heck of a lot easier to clean up too.  Just roll em up, and pitch em.

Why you need pee pads

Notice the poop. This is why pads are awesome.

As you can see, we just clipped the heat lamp onto the side.  We were able to get the heat lamp, thermometer, and bulb all from Amazon.com, and it was a lot cheaper than buying it locally.  Your exact options will vary, but as long as it keeps the peeps warm, you are good to go.  As you can see, we also put cardboard inside the cage walls.  This serves to both keep the peeps contained, and it also anchors the sides of the pee pads.  If the pads were anchored, the peeps would just rip them up, and poop under them.

Chickens in a brooder

At first we had the thermometer laying on the bottom of the cage, because we were panicked that the temperature would fluctuate wildly and our chickens would die.  Then we learned the advice I mentioned above.  They want to live.  So we hung a towel on one side of the cage, and let them just run back and forth to regulate themselves.  Use the thermometer if you like, but we took ours out after two days, so it might be better just to relax.  It is recommended that the warm side be about 100 degrees for the peeps.  It’s best to monitor their behaviour.  If they are spending all their time under the lamp, they are too cold, if they are always on the shady side its too hot.  Their placement in the cage will tell you if you need to make adjustments.  Notice the picture below, the chicks are distributed throughout the cage.  That’s what you want.

Brooder Waterer

The first thing you have to do when you get your peeps in the brooder is teach them where to drink.  You have to pick them up, and actually hold their beaks in the water until they open them and take a drink.  Otherwise they will never learn.  Its important to do this fairly quickly, as peeps can go days without food, but not nearly as long without water.  If yours were mailed, it will have already been a few days since they got a drink.  You don’t want to wait too long.  We found a great water dish to use was our cat’s old waterer, seen in the picture above.  It keeps them in water for awhile, with no danger of them spilling it by turning over a bowl.

Chicken feeder in the brooder

Now a surprise to me, was that chickens start eating solid food from day one.  So we fed them the medicated layer feed what we actually got from WalMart, although you can buy it many places.  Given their tendency to poop on everything, but realizing that they eat a lot.  We needed a way to keep their food feeding out slowly, but low enough they could reach it.  Cue a cottage cheese container on a plate.  Poke a couple holes in the bottom, and viola.  Instant time delay peep feeder.

Chicken Shelf in the brooder

At first your peeps will be too small to do much of anything, but shortly they will learn to roost.  We ended up with a plastic box in the cage, pictured above, and several boards running through the cage rails, this gave them places to practice roosting and perching.  Chickens naturally like to sleep up off the ground, and it made them very happy as peeps to have this option.  Pictured above is miss Downy, one of our Orpingtons, roosting on her box.  She basically lived on that thing till we let them outside.  It was adorable.

Hopefully you now feel comfortable both ordering chickens, and building a brooder.  Chicks are incredibly easy.  Keep them warm, fed, watered and clean, and they will thrive in your care.  You can also amuse yourself for hours just watching them scamper around the cage.  One thing we did learn, is that if you hold them a lot as peeps, they will be friendly adult birds.  Given how they scamper after us all day, I think it worked.

This is a brief overview of what we did with our baby chickens.  We had 14 out of 16 survive into big lovable chickens.  For some more good information, a great book is A chicken in every yard by Hannah Lit.  Its an excellent book with lots of detailed information.

My final thought is simply this.  The enjoyment you get from owning chickens greatly outweighs the work involved.  Sure, at some point, you won’t feel like changing those damn pee pads before bed.  You will get mad the chickens pooped up their water again.  You won’t want to deal with it.  They are worth it.  So don’t stress, relax, and enjoy the ride.

 

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