And now you're a chicken tender...
Let me guess; there was a quarantine, you were worried about the food supply chain, bored at home with nothing to do, and when you went to pick up dog food at your local feed store they had chicks. This was clearly the answer to all of your problems and now you're a chicken tender. Welcome to the dark side, we have fresh eggs! Let me introduce you to this new world. My Facebook has been blowing up with requests for tips and tricks as people have carried their new feathered friends home, only to realize they've never had a crash course on chickens.
Peep! Peep! Peep!
While chicks are all cute and cuddly, they do take some commitment! Although the realization of that commitment is often clouded when I can hear their little chatter at the store. Here's a few things you need to make sure they have, things to check, and a few secrets to help them transition.
First off, you've got to keep them warm, dry, and away from drafts! Most people set up a brooder (small box to raise them in) with a heat lamp or brooder plate to keep their chicks warm. How warm do they have to be? Well the first week 90 degrees is optimal but take a look at your chicks. If they're all huddled together, they're cold. If they're spread out and not under the heat at all (possibly with their wings out or mouths open), then they're too hot. You want a mixture of both! Most people use pine shavings (NOT cedar chips) in the bottom of the brooder to absorb any moisture.
Chicks are small, fragile animals yet somehow hardy enough to ship in the mail at only a day old! Whether you order from an online hatchery, pick up at your local feed store, or hatch your own there's a few things to look for. First is your feeders and waters! It's far too often that I see bowls of water set up in brooder pens and inevitably chicks will fall in and drown. A small waterer that is made for chicks often works much better as it is shallower and more difficult for them to get stuck in. The same goes with feeders, small chick feeders are safer because on occasion with the larger ones the chicks can get stuck inside. Picking out the right tools from the get go saves you that return trip to the store to buy what you actually needed. You'll also want to watch out for pasty butt with your chicks around a week or two old. It's basically where the poop gets stuck in their down. Just take a warm, wet paper towel or cloth and wipe off.
Now for this section I need you to know I'm not a veterinarian! I'm just someone sharing their experience and testimony of what I've found works. I'm not looking to cure or treat your animals. Veterinarians go to school for a really long time to be able to help you, that's their job not mine. Now that we are all on the same page, I have to share a few things I do to keep my chicks healthy. That's one of the rules of raising chickens, keeping them healthy works a lot better than trying to mend them back to health. When I get chicks, whether from the store, a friend, or mail order, I always add electrolytes to their water. Transitioning is hard for chicks, especially if they were mail ordered, and I've noticed that they do much better when I give them electrolytes. After about 4-5 days I transition to using apple cider vinegar with mother. It has electrolytes as well as probiotics and I'm pretty sure it's one of the oldest chicken tricks out there.
Transitioning to Outside
This is one of my favorite parts of raising chicks, the day they move from the brooder to outside! I can finally put away the heat lamps, worry a little less, and watch them scratch around in the grass. Your awkward teenage chickens can generally move out at about 4-6 weeks, depending on your climate where you live and the breed of chicks. Whatever you do, don't get antsy and move them out too early. You'll also want to keep them as dry as possible, just to be on the safe side. At this age they'll probably eat you out of house and coop, as they really grow quickly during this time period.
Waiting and waiting and waiting
In case no one has told you, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it can take many months before your chicken lays eggs. It's heavily dependent on the breed, some take 16 weeks while others can take closer to 6 months. I had a speckled sussex that took her sweet time and finally laid an egg at 8.5 months! You'll also want to feed chick food until they start laying eggs, it's higher in protein which allows them to develop properly. So while I'm super excited that you are getting empowered and taking control of your food supply, you might not want to disregard the farmers' market quite yet. The one positive thing about this age is that it's the best time to tame them! While not everyone likes their chickens to be "lap chickens", I do! It makes it easier to tend to and catch if you need to. Plus if you're like me, chickens are pets. I don't want them running away the moment they see me!
Finally! Your first egg! You treasure it as if it's made from gold! You'll eventually cook it up, oohing and awhing over how much brighter the yolk is compared to store bought eggs! And yes, it is perfectly normal that out of your 6 wonderful nesting boxes filled with straw or pine shavings that they only lay in one or two. It's just what they do and they generally won't be convinced otherwise. I personally don't wash the eggs because left unwashed they don't need to be refrigerated. They usually last for 3-4 weeks but if you're not sure how good it is just put it in water. If it sinks and lays flat to the bottom it's good, if it floats it's bad.
Your chickens will love treats! My favorite treats to feed are black oil sunflower seeds, veggie scraps, cooked oatmeal (mostly saved for cold winter months). I try to stay away from the bread and don't feed anything high in sugar. The general rule of thumb is that treats shouldn't make up more than 20% of their diet. 80% should come from their chicken feed and goodies they forage for.
To free range or not to free range
There is so much that goes into this answer. Obviously if you live near others, aren't allowed to free range, or perhaps pets or predators make it impossible then you'll need a secure fence. However, on the other hand if you're out in the country, have a generally safe property, and are okay with the occasional chicken poop on the sidewalk then consider free ranging. An added plus is if you do have a dog that doesn't chase or attack your chickens, it adds a lot of protection from predators. While you are more likely to lose a chicken to predators while free ranging, I personally wanted my chickens to be able to forage and explore. I love watching them wander about the yard. While my heart breaks when I lose one to a fox, I gain a lot of joy knowing that they get to live good, full lives exploring the yard.
Will this work for a coop?
Ok y'all! Probably the most important piece to raising chickens is a safe coop! You want this place like Fort Knox! As sturdy and protective as possible. Have you seen raccoons? Those things are night time ninjas and they will wreck havoc on your flock if your coop isn't secure. If there is one thing I've learned about chicken coops is spend the extra money and do it right from the get go. Yes, I'm super cheap and thought I could save money by doing this and that but in the end I just had to redo it. My coop today is predator proof, warm, and just about filled to the brim with chickens! Oh, and I'm going to change your life right here. Get an automatic door. Have it be a birthday present or whatever, but it will change your life! Mine has a light sensor so I don't have to stress or rush home to get the door closed at night.
Remember that piece above where I'm not a veterinarian? Insert it here too. This is just my experience, take it or leave it but don't leave a mean comment! I've been through the ups and downs of chicken raising and my essential oils have been brilliant tools to help me through. My general rule of thumb with chickens is topical or internal use, I stay away from aromatic use with them. Keep in mind, purity with essential oils is everything! I only suggest using certified pure therapeutic grade essential oils.
- Oregano Oil- I use one drop per gallon in their drinking water. It supports their immune system, digestive system, and promotes protection against any parasites. I generally alternate this with apple cider vinegar, just switching between water fill ups.
- Thyme Oil- This works very similarly to oregano oil and often times I'll use them interchangeably. Most of the time it's just whichever I find first.
- Rosemary Oil- Every once in a while one of my hens will need a little extra respiratory support. I'm not really sure what exactly it is but I've found 1 drop of rosemary per gallon of drinking water to offer them that needed support. Rosemary is supportive of the respiratory system and the immune system.
- Spearmint Oil- I usually use this only if it's really hot during the summer. The mint family is cooling and I love being able to offer this to help support them in regulating their temperature. Again, 1 drop of spearmint oil to a gallon of drinking water.
- Fennel Oil- Sometimes I feel like my hens need a little hormone support. Usually after molting or after raising chicks, I like to do fennel essential oil for some added hormone support. As always, a drop of fennel to a gallon of drinking water.
- Basil Oil- I have only used this one a few times. I usually use it if I purchase an adult hen and she's stressed after making the move. I usually use a drop on my hands then pet down her back and tail. Stress is never good for chickens and I've found this to be really grounding.
- Lavender Oil- Used the exact same way as basil but I also use it topically for skin support. I had a rescue chicken that had come from a bad situation and had large areas that it was missing feathers. I used 1 drop of lavender in a TBS fractionated coconut oil base (for moisture) to protect the skin and allow the feathers to regrow.
- Correct-X- This stuff here! It's my go to! I literally keep a tube specially for the chickens. Any time of abrasions, scratches, broken feathers that might bleed, bumble foot, or even scaly leg mites; this has been my go to support for my girls! It's all about supporting the body in its natural healing process.
- Coop Spray Recipe- I use this before and after cleaning the coop out! Before it helps to settle any dust from getting stirred up, after it helps to repel any unwanted pests... not to mention it smells great! My recipe is 5 drops spearmint, 5 drops rosemary, and 5 drops terrashield to an 8oz misting spray bottle. I even spray some in the nesting boxes to repel any unwanted guests.
- Roost spray- It's possible you could get unwanted pests that camp out on your roosts. Generally these are mites and they're a pain to get rid of. I have a natural recipe that I use as a preventative and have used a few times when I didn't catch them early enough. If I absolutely must, after trying all natural things, I will resort to chemicals. They're an absolute last resort for me. My natural recipe is only for the roosts, not for topical or internal use with chickens. The recipe is 5 drops wild orange, 5 drops arborvitae, 5 drops clove, a TBS of fractionated coconut oil in a water base of 8oz in a spray bottle. Diatomaceous earth in the area that the chickens dust bath is also a great way to prevent mites and a natural option.
I hope this helps! I honestly wrote it to have as a resource to share with my friends and family trying to navigate the new world of raising chickens. Everyone is always asking what I use or what I do so I figured it would be easiest to put everything in one spot! Plus you know I'm always looking for a reason to talk about my chickens or essential oils so an opportunity to write about both of these passions was just too good to pass up.