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ONE FAMILY’S PRACTICAL, HOMEGROWN ADVICE

So you want to raise chickens.
But what do you need to know before bringing your chicks home? We hung out with a family of chicken rearers in upstate New York to get you the practical advice you need.

“My advice for raising chicks indoors—Don’t do it! … We raised our second batch in a brooder box in the garage and they were perfectly fine.”—Marissa, chicken-owner

“It has been an educational experience for the whole family!” says the mom in the family. Raising chickens is a great way to promote sustainability and healthy eating in your family as you will have an ample supply of fresh, hormone-free eggs. Plus, chickens are relatively low maintenance.

There is nothing like the sense of satisfaction you get when you start collecting plenty of fresh, wholesome eggs from your chickens.

A good heat lamp is a necessity when you’re raising a new brood of chicks.

Bringing chickens to the household was all the idea of Marissa Redmond, a 13-year-old with a vision for helping her family become more self-sufficient. She wrote an essay to convince her dad to get chickens. Her points were valid and persuasive: They could eat fresh, hormone-free eggs that were produced under clean and healthy conditions; they could convert the shed to a coop; and it would give her something worthwhile, meaningful, and educational to work on. Her powers of persuasion did the trick, and the next morning her dad said, “Let’s go to Tractor Supply!”

SHOULD YOU RAISE YOUR CHICKS INDOORS?

“My advice for raising chicks indoors?—Don’t do it!” Marissa advises. “My dad says, ‘Never again will chickens enter this house!’”

“We had them in a box in the basement. The first two to three weeks were fine, but as they grew, the only way to keep it halfway decent smelling was to thoroughly clean it every day,” Marissa says. “Having 21 chickens living in our home for two months was definitely hard.”

Your chicks may be tiny when they arrive, but it won’t be long before they’ll rule the roost!

The family raised its second batch of chickens in a brooder box in the garage and they were perfectly fine. “It’s amazing how hardy they really are, and we all agree that the extra warmth of the house wasn’t necessary,” Marissa says. So just set them up in a draft-free garage or outbuilding with a good heat lamp and a cozy box with lots of shavings and they’ll be fine.

100% ORGANIC PEST CONTROL

Another benefit to having chickens for pets—when you relocate your chickens outside, you may notice a decline in bugs! Chickens eat anything, including bugs, insects, and weeds—so your backyard coop plays a dual role as a natural pesticide and weed killer.

When asked what was the most challenging part of raising baby chicks, Marissa pauses to think, then simply states, “Getting into a routine. I wish I visited someone with chickens before we got ours so I could have helped out and gotten some real life experience. You can read all the books in the world, but no amount of reading will take the place of that.”

PURCHASE YOUR PEEPS

Spring is the perfect time to bring home your baby chicks. To decide where to purchase them, first figure out how many and what type of chicks you want, and then consider these options:

Mail order

You can mail order chicks from a hatchery, which allows you to be selective as to which breed you want. Keep in mind you’ll usually have to order a minimum of 25 chicks, a quantity which allows the chicks to stay warm while shipping. If this is more chicks than you want, consider splitting an order with a friend.

Local Feed Store

You can purchase smaller or more exact quantities of baby chicks from your local feed store. You should purchase at least two, however, because chicks are very social. The downside to purchasing locally is you don’t have as much control over which breed you buy.

Hatch Your Own

You can order hatching eggs either by mail order or from a local feed store. This option does require you to purchase and set up an incubator, too. Also, know that the average hatch rate is 50 percent for shipped eggs and 80 percent for eggs purchased locally.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED FOR THE FIRST FEW DAYS

Whether you are hatching your own eggs or purchasing day-old chicks from a supplier or hatchery, you need a few things in order to care for your young. Fortunately, baby chicks don’t require much: a warm place to stay, food, and water.

Brooder

A good brooder box simplifies the early stages of raising chickens.

Your chicks will need a warm, dry, draft-free place to live. Your brooder simulates the warmth and security a mother hen gives her chicks. This doesn’t have to be fancy; a wooden box 18 inches high will suffice as long as you allow 1-2 square feet per chick. It may seem large at first but they’ll live in the brooder until fully feathered. Line the brooder with either pine shavings (never cedar because it’s bad for their respiratory system) and avoid newspaper in the early days because the slippery surface is not good for the chick’s leg development.

Heat Lamp

Your chicks will need to be kept warm (90°-95°F for the first week, lowering five degrees each week until they acclimate to room temperature), so you’ll need a heat lamp. You’ll know if your chicks are comfortable by their behavior. If they all huddle together under the heat lamp, they are probably too cold. Likewise, if they are all hanging out against the sides of the brooder box away from the heat lamp, they are probably too hot.

Water

Clean water is vital to your chick’s health. When your chicks arrive it is sometimes helpful to gently place their beaks into the water so they know where it is. Once a few of them start drinking others will usually follow. To avoid drowning, it’s worth the investment to purchase a water dish designed specifically for baby chicks. Elevating the water dish as the chicks get older will help to keep the water clean.

Food

While your chicks will survive the journey from hatchery to home without food (they are provided enough nourishment from the egg sac when they hatch), they will need food when they arrive. Starter feed is nutritionally complete and comes in both medicated and non-medicated. Medicated feed will help prevent some diseases, but check with your hatchery to find out if your chicks have had any vaccinations that would indicate they shouldn’t eat medicated feed.

Your baby chicks need the warmth and protection of a brooder in the early days.

“You can read all the books in the world, but no amount of reading will take the place of {firsthand experience}.” —Marissa, chicken-owner

SO, YOU WANT TO RAISE CHICKS?

TAKE THIS ADVICE:

Read a lot! Books, magazines, mail order catalogs from hatcheries, and the Internet are all fantastic places to read up on raising chickens.

Check with your local town government office to see if there are any restrictions for raising chicks in your town. While many won’t have any restrictions, others may require a permit or have a limit on how many you can have.

Visit someone you know who has chickens and ask if you can help with any of the chicken chores. No amount of reading can replace firsthand knowledge and hands-on experience!

Carefully consider the characteristics you want in your chickens and then purchase a breed that fits the bill. Broody chickens will tend to nest their eggs and stop laying; docile and affectionate breeds are a better choice for families with children, and depending on the climate you live in, you may need an especially cold- or heat-hardy breed.

When you first get your chicks, limit handling. After a few days, though, it’s actually good to hold them. Chickens who where held as chicks are friendlier and less skittish than those that aren’t.

FRESH IDEAS FOR YOUR FRESH EGGS

Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, from The Farmstead Egg Guide & Cookbook by Terry Golson. Photography by Ben Fink. Copyright 2014.

SPANISH GARLIC SOUP

This soup has the big flavors and full body that are perfect for a winter dinner. It is finished in the oven like French onion soup, but in this case, instead of melted cheese, there is an egg poached on the surface.

Makes 4 servings

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground saffron
  • 4 thick slices crusty French bread
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro  or parsley

 

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes, until the garlic is soft and golden. Take care not to let it scorch or turn dark brown.
  2. Stir in the paprika, cumin, and saffron. Heat for 1 minute, until the aromas intensify.
  3. Place the bread in the seasoned oil and toast on both sides.
  4. Pour the broth in carefully over the bread. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the broth to a boil and then immediately lower the heat to a low simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary (the saltiness of broth varies).
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (F). Put four ovenproof soup bowls on a baking sheet. Ladle the soup and a slice of bread into each bowl. Crack an egg into each soup bowl.  Slide the baking sheet into the oven (it’s much easier than handling each bowl) and bake until the yolks are set, 8 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle each serving with the cilantro.