As California finally gets a glimpse of winter it may seem odd to consider an icon of spring- but there is no better time than now to delight in raising baby chicks.
According to Kristen Bateman of Steve's Pet Shop in Oakhurst, there is a big perk to getting chicks early on. The sooner you get chickens the sooner they lay.
“We get a lot of feedback about early season babies laying before winter and many continue laying into the winter. Chicks hatched later are easier to warm and brood but feedback suggests most will not start laying until the following spring- all that said, every breed and chick are different and other factors do come into play.”
Taking the leap into chick parenting is pretty simple. When raising chicks its important they have a warm place to live for the first 2-6 week. Their home, also known as a brooding pen, should be layered in bedding- shavings are most common. And the temperature should begin at 95-100 degrees (a clamp light and heat lamp will suffice) and then slowly wane over the next 4-6 weeks.
Their pen should be stocked with a feeder full of food and it is recommended that their waterer contain water with added probiotics and electrolytes - available where you purchase your chicks.
When selecting their brooder Kristen says, “people get creative and use totes, small animal cages, large boxes and even secure kiddie pools.”
Once the chicks are ready to move outdoors for hardening ( typically in 6-8 weeks, depending on the breed) there are multiple solutions for a coop. These days one can purchase a coop in person or online -suppliers include big box stores and boutique designers- and can assemble them at home.
The DIY route is possible for the handy and if vision is lacking plans can be found for free. Some of the most exciting coops have been up-cycled. People have appropriated everything from pallets to armoirs to vintage beat up cars. A little sweat and a roll of chicken wire later they have a coop.
The most important thing to consider when selecting, designing or parking a coop is predators. According to Bateman the Sierra Mountains are wrought with them.”We have so many up here, from dogs to bears, even skunks and wild cats...the coops need to be secure enough to keep them safe. A warm, walled off coop with a roof will help keep the big cats out. Strong fencing will help too. If they're out free ranging during the day it's important to keep your yard secure.”
Once chicken lay their first egg (called the “jellybean” because it looks like one) it is important to begin feeding them with food rich in calcium so their shells will harden. Eggs can start as early as 5 months old.
Of course eggs are an obvious perk but according to Bateman there is another reason to raise chickens from babes.
“What surprises people is that they don't have to be just farm animals, they can be pets. We've had customers bring their chickens shopping with them, and many others that sit outside with them on their laps.”
Whether your looking for food or friends or both, now is a great time to start.