There are lots of ways to get chicks. Ranch supply stores usually get them in sometime in the middle of March. A local farmer might be selling chicks. You could order them from a hatchery. We bought a broody hen sitting on 12 eggs one year(only two hatched). You can also incubate fertilized eggs and be a part of the whole process! Check out my post on incubating here.
Most chicks that you can buy will only be a few days old, and you’ll need some sort of a brooder. This can be an elaborate brooder that you purchase, or it can be as simple as a large box, or a water trough from a ranch supply store.
– Heat lamp(with extra bulbs)
–Feeder-you can purchase a feeder, which is especially nice if you have a lot of chicks, but I have also just used a dish from my kitchen.
–Waterer– I do recommend getting a decent sized one, otherwise you will be constantly checking and filling water.
–Feed– We use an organic chick starter feed. I will warn you that it is usually about double the price of the regular chick starter. We can get into a conversation about organic vs. nonorganic at another time, but as far as we’re concerned, its worth it. This is one we have used in the past.
–Bedding– Wood shavings(not cedar which is toxic) are probably my favorite. But if you already have hay or straw for other animals, that works just fine. I have also seen people using newspapers, but that is not my preferred bedding because they end up with poo all over their feet unless you are really diligent about changing it out.
Once you’ve got your chicks situated, it’s just a matter of keeping them warm, fed, and watered until they are old enough to start spending time outside. You can purchase a thermometer to keep an eye on the exact temp. of the brooder, and we used one when our brooder was out in the shed the first year. But I have found it to be just as effective to watch the chicks behavior. If they are all huddled under the heat lamp, the brooder is too cold. and the lamp needs to come down. If they are all huddled as far away from the heat lamp as possible, they are too hot, and the lamp needs to go up. If there is an even distribution of chicks eating, drinking, sleeping under the lamp and wandering around, your temperature is good.
Troubleshooting For the first week, keep an eye on the chicks’ rear ends. You are watching for something called “pasting”, or pasty butt as my neighbors call it. This is when the droppings stick to the chick and clog the vent opening. Use a warm moist paper towel to soften the wad of droppings before carefully picking it off.
It is also important to keep the bedding nice and dry. Moisture combined with the warmth of the brooder provide a delightful environment for fungal growth, and the chicks can end up with a respiratory infection called Brooder Pneumonia.
Between 4 and 6 weeks your chicks will feather out (get their adult feathers). Between 6 and 8 weeks your little roosters will start to find their crow(its pretty funny watching them practice). And between 20 and 24 weeks your hens will start to lay eggs!!!