What comes first, the chicken or the egg??

February 23, 2022

To continue our miniseries on chickens, we thought this week we would go back to the beginning and talk about the process of getting baby chicks and how we keep them until they integrate with the rest of our flock. 

First I should start by saying, we don’t have a rooster. So our chickens don’t lay fertilized eggs, meaning we have to have an outside source if we want to grow the flock.

There are several ways of getting started in raising chickens, you can:

  1. Purchase fertilized eggs and hatch them in an incubator
  2. Buy day old chicks and raise them in a brooder
  3. Purchase pullets (aka teenager chicken) which are fully feathered and ready to go outside

We choose to start with day old chicks. We do this for two main reasons.

  1. We get to manage them from the start, and make sure they’re fed and treated the right way
  2. They’re stinking adorable

So where do baby chicks come from?

Once again, there are multiple options here. If you’ve stopped by Tractor Supply in the spring, you’ve heard those baby chicks chirping in the store. Then there are local farms and larger hatcheries that will ship day old chicks around the county. We prefer to get our locally, but use hatcheries when our local farmers don’t have availability. We prefer these hatcheries to Tractor Supply because we like to work directly with the farm that hatches the egg. We have a relationship with them, and we know and trust their processes. Shipping chicks through the mail is something that sounds crazy, but is safe because of the biology of a baby chick.

Newly hatched chicks are able to go 72 hours without food or water. In nature, not all chicks hatch at the same time. The mother hen will sit until all her babies are hatched, before going to get them food/water. So these babies take a big gulp of albumin right as they are hatching from the egg to sustain them until momma can feed them. Hatcheries use this to their advantage. They only ship chicks on their hatch day. They have a very close relationship with USPS, and ship in special containers. USPS agrees to get those sweet babies where they’re going in 3 days or less. For us, we almost always receive them less than 24 hours after the hatchery drops them at the post office. So they’re home and setup in our warm brooder with food and water well before the 72 hour mark.

So what’s a brooder? The biggest objective with young chicks is keeping them warm. During their first week of life they need an environment that stays somewhere around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The easiest way to do this is by creating a contained environment where you can control the temperature, which is commonly referred to as a brooder. They’ll stay here until they are fully feathered and can regulate their body temp enough to handle the outdoors. This amount of time will vary depending on the time of year and the weather pattern. We always err on the side of caution and keep the girls inside a little extra time.

Once they’re ready to go outside, they move to the “grow out pen.” They get their own coop and fenced area, so they can start to learn to forage, and have plenty of space to stretch their teenage legs. We set it this up right next to our adult flock. That way they can see each other but can’t directly interact. Chickens have a very distinct pecking order, and they can be pretty intense when newcomers arrive. So, we give them a couple weeks to get used to seeing each other in the yard. 

Once we’re comfortable that they’re acclimated, it’s time to join forces. One funny thing about chickens is they have a very serious instinct to sleep after dusk. They go in their coop (or wherever they deem fit to sleep) at dusk, and they go into a light comatose state. We use this to our advantage, and always combine flocks at night. Because of this instinct, they will all just go to sleep in the “adult” coop. If all goes well, when they wake up, they act like the new chickens have been there all along!

Next week we’ll talk more about our adult chickens, where they live, what they eat, and what they do all day!

Jared Frye

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