April Showers Bring Peeping Chicks

What better way to introduce spring than the arrival of 72 chicks? This will be round two of our experience raising a brood of meat birds. (Round one is documented in a previous two-part post.) I picked up the cheeping hoard from our post office last Thursday and brought them to their temporary quarters. When they are a little bigger, they will move into our chicken tractor.

Our peeping hoard of chicks arrive.

For now, I put the chicks inside an old hay ring covered in chicken wire. Cardboard also goes all the way around the bottom of the hay ring. Otherwise, the chicks would escape. This chick brooder is inside of a barn. I use pine shavings (bedding) on the concrete floor and two heat lamps hung from wire to help keep them warm. We have two feeders and a three-gallon waterer for them. This time around, I bought a special vitamin/electrolyte mix from the hatchery to add to their water. I wanted to do what I could to give them a good start. As I mentioned in my earlier post, chickens die rather easily, so you do what you can and hope for the best. For example, chicks can easily drown if you don’t provide a safe way to water them.

We have raised ducklings in the past. They are sort of the opposite when it comes to water. We put a little “pool” in the brooder with our ducklings, because they love to swim as much as possible. Chickens don’t appreciate a pool.

Our ducklings enjoyed their pool, complete with a ramp.

To feed baby chicks, farm supply stores sell feed known as “chick starter.” In my opinion, it is always expensive. Some stores even have organic chick feed, which is even pricier. I wanted chick starter that wasn’t “medicated” but didn’t want to buy the expensive organic feed. After trying two other stores, I found that Tractor Supply sold 50 lb. bags of chick feed that wasn’t medicated. It was $18 a bag, but that’s about the same as the medicated feed and a lot less than the organic.  

Freedom Ranger chicks roam their brooder.

So far, my chicks are doing swell. And, as of this writing, I haven’t lost even one! This is very surprising. Even the hatchery expects some loss. That’s why it sent an extra two chicks to add to my order of 70.

I should put in that I haven’t lost any that I know of. The second day I had the chicks, a couple had managed to wiggle out of holes in the cardboard. I had to catch and return them to the pen and fix the holes. If there are any Houdinis in the mix, they might have gotten out without my knowledge.   

Chicks are shipped out in a cardboard box like this.

Another reason I was surprised I hadn’t lost any birds was because they were shipped on Tuesday and didn’t arrive until Thursday morning. I visited our local post office promptly at 8 a.m. Wednesday to pick up my chicks, expecting they had been sent overnight, like the last batch we received. Nope. The post office didn’t call me until 7 a.m. Thursday to come get them. I was worried about the chicks not having water for so long. I’m not sure what magic was used to keep them alive during delivery, but it worked.

I counted them upon arrival by taking them one by one out of their delivery box, dipping their beak in some water, and setting them down on the bedding in the pen. I knew I’d only get so many chances to count them. Ever try to count moving poultry? It’s not easy. The last time we had chickens, we learned we could take a photo of them while they were in the chicken tractor and count them that way. But chicks are more difficult to count, because they like to huddle. “Yes, I see two big blobs of puff-balls. I’m not sure how many chicks that equals.”

This time around, I ordered a breed called Freedom Rangers. I didn’t want to get the “franken-birds” known as Cornish Rock or Cornish Cross that most people raise to butcher. Of course, I didn’t want them last time either, but I’ve already told that story. I received the correct breed this time, and they already seem healthier than my last batch. My hope is their survival rate and health will do better until…  we kill them all on butchering day, of course.

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