We’ve begun a new adventure today. Chickens! I love chickens. I have since I was a little girl. I even ordered 50 little chicks once with the intention of raising a fine flock of brown egg layers. Unfortunately, several run-ins with the resident farm cats reduced my flock down to one incredibly mean rooster. I’m hoping we have better results this time.
I ordered from the same place I had ordered from in the past: Murray McMurray Hatchery. The choices are unlimited, but we settled on two varieties which will do well for both egg-laying and eating. They’re both hybrids, but supposedly great producers of eggs and decent meat-producers as well. They are called Red Star and Black Star. They are the results of cross-breeding red, white and black chickens (depending on which one).
The chicks are shipped right after hatching, which is possible because they can live off undigested yolk in their stomachs for quite awhile. I remember as a kid being quite excited to go to the post office to pick up my box of cheeping chicks. It actually was just as exciting as an adult. When I walked into the post office I could immediately hear my new little charges peeping in the background. They come in a box, full of holes to allow for breathing. We had ordered the minimum of 25 chicks, which meant we received 26 because MM Hatchery always throws in an extra rare breed chick for fun.
We brought home our box of chicks and the supplies we’d picked up for them this morning. Once home, we banished the cat to the outdoors, in case she thought we’d brought home chicken nuggets just for her. Then we set to work setting up what is called a brooder. Basically that’s a fancy name for a large container with food, water, and a heating source. Sorry for the creepy red lighting in these pictures. Red light is supposed to reduce the risk of the chicks pecking each other too much, apparently it turns my boys into scary monsters as well. For our brooder we used a large metal basin I had found in the barn. I thought it looked huge until I got all the chicks in there. Now I think we might need to divide them into two brooders in a couple weeks when they get bigger. We used some nice wheat straw for their bedding, gave them two waterers (since I’d read that sometimes some chickens guard the water and won’t let some of their flock-mates drink), and a nice long feeder full of chicken starter. As they get older we hope to feed them mostly kitchen scraps and what they can find for themselves outdoors, but for now they are on commercial feed to make sure they get what they need to get a good start. We carefully added each chick to the brooder, first dipping its beak in the water so they’d know where it was. The marbles in the water are supposed to reduce the risk of a chick drowning in it. It also keeps them from wallowing in the water we’ve found. Once we got them all situated and made sure they were all drinking and eating, I added a screen top so the cat can’t help herself. They all seem to be adjusting fine, regularly going from napping, to eating, to drinking and back again. The kids have found that it is really entertaining to throw a grasshopper in the brooder and watch the chicks chase it. They aren’t quite big enough to eat it yet, but I’m all for getting them used to the idea.
The really neat thing about these chicks is they are sex-linked. Which means that the males and females can be distinguished by color. The Red Star females are reddish in color. And the males are classic yellow.
And here’s our rare breed mystery chick. We haven’t figured out what it is yet, but Elise has adopted it as hers.
Speaking of Elise, she treats these chicks just like all her other animals. They are each special individuals and she even asked if we would be putting tags in their legs with their names on them so we could tell them apart. I am consistently reminding her that all the little roosters are destined for our freezer, so hopefully she’ll focus on getting attached to the little hens instead.