Spring is coming and baby chicks will be coming to a feed store near you very soon. I am in the poultry project and I would like to tell you what I have learned from Pat Strimling, my Poultry Project Leader, because I know that a lot of people in our area raise chickens.
Before you buy chicks, you should have a home for them ready and decide what kind of chickens you want. Chicks need to stay warm so I like to start them in my house in a box big enough for them to walk around with high sides because they start to fly pretty quick. I keep mine in a big Tupperware box with wood shavings and a heat lamp until they get bigger. It is important that your heat lamp is clipped to the side of the box or something that will not fall down. The heat lamp is very hot and can catch fire if it touches the side or falls into the shavings.
Your box should be big enough so that if the chicks get too hot, they can walk away from the heat. If the chicks are cold, they will all clump together to keep warm. If they are hot, they will walk all over and try to get away from the light.
When they get bigger and have most of their feathers, they can go outside and wander around, but I bring them back into a box or cage at night because we have a lot of predators outside that can eat them and they get the heat lamp if it is cold. I try to change the shavings at least twice a week to keep their box clean.
The food and water bowls should be heavy because chicks like to sit on the edge and flip it over and also not too big because they can drown in the water or they will scratch the food all out of the bowl. Its probably a good idea to buy the food and water containers from the feed store.
You can buy chicks from a feed store or you can also buy them from poultry breeder catalogs. If you get them through the mail, you must buy a minimum amount so they can stay warm while they are being shipped. I have bought chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery before and the post office will call you when they come because they don't like to hear them cheeping in the box. When you buy a baby chick, it first needs clean water. You can put a little sugar in it so they want to drink it. Dip their beak in the water so they understand what it is. Then they need smashed up food called chick starter crumble. When they get bigger, you can feed them pellets.
Female chicks are called pullets and they will start to lay eggs at around 6 months old. You do not need a rooster (male chicken) for a female to lay eggs. So if you want eggs soon, you should get your chicks as soon as possible. Chicks are very cute and a lot of fun. If you already have chickens and are going to buy new chicks, you should probably keep them separated until the chicks are big enough to get along with the older chickens because older chickens tend to pick on younger ones.
I am learning a lot in 4-H and I hope that you learn something from this article, too. Having chickens is fun. I show some of them at the fairs and I have different ones for egg layers.
Our leader is Pat Strimling and if you would like to join our 4-H, you can call her at (559) 683-5149. You don't have to be a student at Coarsegold Elementary to be a member of Coarsegold 4-H, you can live anywhere in Madera County as long as you can come to our meetings. Our group meetings are at 7 p.m. every second Thursday of the month at the Coarsegold Community Center off Highway 41.
4-H Statement: Madera County 4-H Youth Program is a non-profit organization for youth who are 9 years old or who have completed the 3rd grade and up to age 19 years of age.