Well, today 96 chicks came to live at our farm! 75 heritage breed chickens, along with Mallard and Rouen ducks. Last month we started Geese and Indian runner ducks. They are now outside in a larger pen to give them some space and a water pool, and so these new chicks could take their place inside the poultry barn under heat lamps. Next month our third batch of chicks will arrive - heritage breed turkeys and guineas! They are more fragile, and their hen birds wait later to lay eggs, but by mid-May they'll be settled in when the weather is a bit warmer for the barn.
The arrival of chicks in spring, and their subsequent raising, in one of the most fun parts about living on a farm. Most cities and towns these days allow for small flocks to be raised, but 96 - wow, that's a lot of chicks! Their peeping is almost deafening, but they are so cute!
Baby animals on the farm are definitely the best thing about raising livestock.
God was so brilliant when He created chicks! They don't need food and water for a couple of days, so can easily be shipped by US Mail from the hatcheries. Our feed store, Miller's, orders wholesale from a Texas hatchery. We put our order in during early February, with dates scheduled for arrival that work for us. We usually work backward on the calendar from late September/early October butchering date. Heritage breed chickens, turkeys, guineas, geese and ducks all need at least 5 months to mature to full size; Cornish rocks are ready in 7-9 weeks, so we won't get those until mid-summer.
We'll also teach folks how to butcher chickens en masse at our Homestead Bootcamp Sept. 20, 21; we'll put those in the freezer for ourselves, then the rest will go to the Engle family processing facility in Wray for the birds we sell to customers. That way we don't pay the high butcher fee for the ones we eat, but we do roll it into the price we charge our customers as we don't want problems with our butchering for other's consumption.
We raise our chicks in plexiglas rings about 4' in diameter. We made these ourselves out of recycled materials. They have lasted more than 5 years, with a few repairs here and there. The height has to be about 30", so the birds stay in, but we can bend over to replenish feed and water twice daily, and bedding as needed. A heat lamp - we prefer a red light bulb - is mounted over the ring. Feeders are set directly on the floor, with waterers on a block to keep the shavings out as much as possible.
For chickens and ducks, we use wood shavings we purchase from our feed store. We top off the shavings every couple of days to make sure the bedding has a dry top for the chicks to stay clean, and then once they go outside in 4-6 weeks, we put the bedding w/ poo in the compost pile for excellent garden dressing. If it is still too cold out when they are ready to move out of the rings, we move them onto the floor inside our poultry barn.
For guineas and .turkeys, we use newspaper, topping with fresh sheets once or twice a week. These birds are the morons of the poultry world, and actually think that wood shavings are feed, ingesting them and then choking to death. We learned this the hard way, having lost 50% of these expensive chicks for several years; they also huddled in square corners and smothered each other. With the rings and the paper, we tend to lose only very few, Lord willing!
Chicks do best eating out of a multi-holed long feeder for the first few weeks. Then we switch to larger plastic round feeders in a few weeks that hang so the larger chicks, called poults, won't step on them. Finally we switch to long metal reel feeders once they are outside. Mostly by that time, they are pecking food directly off the ground.
All our birds are free-ranging in our paddocks and tree shelter belts around the house. They eat bugs, worms, and whatever kitchen scraps, including old bread, we feed them. They are omnivores, eating both plant and animal matter, even other cooked poultry carcasses - cannibals!
We do begin by feeding them medicated chick starter to keep them healthy and give them a good start. Then we change their diet to grain and grass/hay once they are outside. We are currently investigating a sprout system for the farm that may really help us be able to switch over to a complete barley sprout diet, along with kitchen scraps. We'll see, and blog more about that later.
We have not had success hatching our own chicks. For the volume we need as finished meat birds (50-75) and egg laying hens (40-50), it is worth the reasonable cost to order them from a reliable source. You gotta make decisions based on time and work on the farm, and this is one decision we are sticking with, unless the good Lord shows us otherwise.