I had owned a lot of poultry in the past (chickens, ducks, geese, and even some guineas!), but I sold them all about ten years ago. At the beginning of 2013, I made the decision to get into chickens again, to provide my family with fresh eggs and enjoy the lovable antics of chickens once more.
My intentions were innocent enough at the beginning. I decided I would get four to six hens and keep them in a chicken tractor. Of course, that didn’t last at all! Chickens have a way of being addictive, like potato chips, and the next thing I knew, I had placed an order for 28 chickens from Ideal Poultry. My initial order consisted of:
– 10 Assorted d’Uccle Bantam
– 2 Silver Laced Wyandotte
– 2 Easter Egger
– 2 Black Australorp
– 2 Buff Orpington
– 2 Silver Spangled Spitzhauben
– 2 White Faced Black Spanish
– 2 Salmon Faverolle
– 2 Barred Plymouth Rock
– 2 White Leghorn
Unfortunately, it got really cold right before the babies were due to arrive at the end of February. The poor chicks arrived in very poor condition as a result. Four had died in the box, and several more failed to thrive and died a few days after arriving. Of the survivors, about half of them had stunted growth from shipping trauma and matured at half the size they should have been. However, I don’t blame the hatchery for the poor results of this order. These things unfortunately happen with live chick orders, though it is very sad when it does happen!
One of the chicks arrived with a severe case of spraddle leg–a condition where chicks are unable to stand due to their legs splaying out limply. This is probably due to the fact this chick was at the bottom of the box and the others were standing on top of it in a pile (the poor things were smothering each other due to being so cold!). However, after about ten hours of having its legs bound in the correct position with a splint made from scotch tape, it made a full recovery and was walking by the next day.
The chicks settled in just fine with minimal problems despite their traumatic delivery. I kept them in two Rubbermaid containers on the ground for the first few days, with paper towels over sand. Within the first week of their arrival, a nice wooden brooder was built for them and kept in the house. Their outside coop still wasn’t finished, so I knew they would have to be inside for a while. What I didn’t expect was that they would be inside for a month.
I don’t ever recommend having chickens inside your house for a month! I had always heard it was a bad idea to have a brooder in your house for more than the first week or so because chickens are very dusty. Pfft–dust! I can handle a bit of dust, so I wasn’t worried at all. However, when people say chickens create dust, they mean DUST. Every single surface was covered with a thick coating of ultra-fine dust and you couldn’t even enter that room without your eyes feeling gritty. I had to wear a dust mask to take care of them. It was horrible!
Since I knew the chicks were going to be in the house for so long, I decided to use sand as bedding. Despite the incredible dust this setup caused, it was worth it in the end for one simple reason–virtually no odor! I had bad experiences with different types of chicken bedding in the past, and wanted to avoid nasty odors. The brooder was easily cleaned out every single day with a small-mesh reptile scoop, like scooping out a cat litter box. I also used Sweet PDZ–a horse stall freshener that keeps ammonia levels down–which contributed to the dust, but did its job in neutralizing smells.
I started giving the chicks hard boiled egg and oatmeal when they were only a few days old, and they loved it. They proceeded to play “chicken football”–that game where they draw needless attention to themselves by running away from the group with food in their mouths, causing the other chicks to give chase. (Treats should only be given in addition to a balanced chick starter feed and chick grit to make sure the babies get maximum nutrition and can digest their food properly.)
The chicks started wanting to roost right away, so I had a little roost put in for them, which they loved. I think this is a part of brooding that is often overlooked, because chicks don’t “need” a roost–but that doesn’t mean they don’t love them! The roosting instinct kicks in very fast, when they’re only a few weeks old.
Seemingly overnight, they got their wing and body feathers and started looking like “real” chickens in miniature. Unfortunately, this made cleaning their brooder a pain… because…
…they quickly learned how to jump out of the brooder, as this Salmon Faverolle demonstrates. Usually I was able to quickly grab them and put them back in the brooder, but they didn’t make it easy. More than a few times, they flew all the way out of the brooder, landed on the floor, and ran under furniture. That wasn’t fun!
But the older and bigger they got, the worse the jumping problem was! I was incredibly relieved when the outdoor coop was finally finished and they could move out there. While having them inside was not ideal at all, it was also enjoyable in its own ways, since I got to see them up close for so long and they became very tame as a result. Still–I will never have chicks inside the house for longer than a week again!
The babies loved being outside with more room to explore. We decided to use sand as bedding for the coop, too, and it has worked wonderfully for us. At first, they just had a simple roost and a few heat lamps in their 12 x 12 coop, but it gradually got more elaborate as they grew up, with roosts, ramps, and litter trays added over time.
And, they grew up to be very beautiful! We got our first egg on the Fourth of July–a green one, from one of our Easter Eggers.