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From Day-Old Chicks to Laying Hens – How to Grow Your Own Eggs!
Most people think that eggs come from the store.
Well, surprise! Not only do they NOT come from the store, but anyone with a little time and a little space can raise beautiful laying hens from day-old chicks. After about five months, you can make a delicious omelet from your own eggs.
Guess how chicks come to your door? In the US Mail! Yes, they really do. When chicks hatch at the hatchery, the yolk of the egg they were in fed them during their incubation. Because of this preserved nutrition, the baby chick does not need to eat immediately, and can be sent by mail to your door.
Maximum time for travel should be no more than 48 hours from hatching to arrival at your home. Most hatcheries will only ship a certain distance to allow the chicks to arrive safely.
When you pick up your chicks at the post office (go pick them up, don’t wait for the postman to bring them to you), take them home right away. Keep them warm. Remember, these are chicks! They are fragile.
The ideal “chick nursery” consists of a draft-free area covered with sawdust or wood shavings, a heat lamp directed at the floor, a feeding trough and a water source. (Your local farm store can help you out here. You’ll want to make sure you pick up some chicken starter, it comes in big bags.) These little chicks know what they need to do to grow big and strong, but a little. help from you does not hurt!
Our best nursery was an old 100 gallon water tank that we covered with wood shavings. The sides are high and prevent any drafts (killing baby chicks), and covering the floor with wooden shavings keeps the chicks clean and sanitary. Every day add a thin layer of additional wood shavings that will keep your chicks healthy. (The wood side absorbs the excrement of the chicks and the resulting decomposition action actually provides some gentle heat from the floor.) A 100 gallon tank will allow you room to add shavings for at least 3-4 weeks for about 25 chicks, then. the chicks might get too big for the tank anyway!
Back to Day #1, bringing the chicks home. Have a heat lamp with a 100-200 watt bulb ready, placed pointing down. Take the chicks out of the shipping container and dip their beaks, one by one, into the water and the food. (Remember, they know what to do with the food and water, but it helps them see where it’s located.) Then let them go!
Chicks that have been shipped can be a bit disoriented, and we’ve found that a little apple cider vinegar helps this tremendously. Add one tablespoon of cider vinegar to one gallon of water to help settle their tummies. The chickens thrive on it, and we’ve found it helpful for them to have access to the vinegar water throughout their lives. This will also prevent the chicks from pecking each other.
Add a few handfuls of pin-sized gravel and sand to the wood shavings. Your chicks need gravel in their “crew”, the bag in their throat that serves as their “teeth”. You may have noticed that chickens do not chew their food. What they do is allow food to travel into the krave where they have a supply of gravel that grinds their food for them. You will see your cubs scratching in the dirt, looking for gravel and other goodies. This is normal, and another sign that your pups are healthy and happy.
You’ll want to check the heat lamp for the first few days. If the chicks lie under it, then they are probably too cold. If they circle away from it, they are probably too hot. They should be kept at about 95 degrees until their feathers grow. Look at them. If you see chicks walking under the light and extending a leg or wing and then walking back out of the light, you’re probably in good shape. The optimal distance for the lamp to be from the bottom of the floor is when the chicks lie in a circle around the light of the lamp. You will be able to tell.
Be sure to leave the light on 24/7.
Another sign of happy, healthy chicks is the little chirp, chirp they make. Not distressed “Cheep! Cheep! Cheep!” a sound, but a quiet, small, pleading chirping. You will be able to tell pretty quickly when you have happy chicks because they will make this sound constantly. If you don’t hear anything, something is wrong with your babies. Check their heat, food and water. When they are happy, they will sing.
At about 3 weeks the chicks will be fully feathered and able to withstand temperature differences quite well. You can transfer them out of the 100 gallon tank now. Some people will use a chicken coop, and others will make a cage without a bottom, but covered on top and sides with chicken wire, so that predators do not enter. If you live in the countryside, your happy chirping chicks will. be very attractive to skunks, raccoons, opossums, foxes, owls and other local warmongers. Protect them! Make sure nothing can get your babies.
Your chicks’ dietary needs change as they grow. We’ve found that feeding a cafeteria-style buffet works best, with their choice of whole or cracked corn, whole oats, brewer’s yeast and oyster shells. The whole grains prevent parasite problems. Make sure your chicks have access to fresh, green grass and plant material. They love to eat bugs and greens!
When your chicks are about three months old, they will look full grown. They are not though. Give them a few months longer and start looking for fresh eggs. Hum!
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