By Frederick Dunn
You've selected your breed, ordered through a hatchery... now what? In this article, we'll cover what to expect after you've ordered your birds.
How to Order Mail-Order Chicks:
Day old chicks are shipped via Priority Mail here in the United States. Since you order well in advance, there is no way to know what the weather will be doing on the day of their arrival. Don't delay in collecting our day old chicks from the Post Office, every minute counts at your end! As you may imagine, shipping chicks (normally 25 at a time), is stressful for the buyer and the birds. You should have a proper brooding area set up well in advance. A brooder is simply a space, large enough for the chicks you've ordered, that shields them from drafts, protects them from pets and provides warmth. On average, start brooder temps at 95 deg. F and step down five degrees per week after. Portions of the brooder should be cooler, allowing the chicks to choose their individual comfort level. Here is another informational video, showing a simple brooder made from a glass reptile tank. Yes, right in my kitchen!
Setting Up a Brooder for the Babies:
There are brooder kits available from online resources, the requirements remain the same... shelter and warmth. Some people will allow the chicks to cool down too quickly... stating "they are doing fine and don't seem to mind". That's true and they may feather early with cooler brooder temps... however, by keeping warm temps and gradually reducing by five degrees/week, the chick is able to concentrate its nutritional resources on organ and skeletal growth and development. By cooling too soon, those resources go to feathering and chick survival instead. Adjust warmth in the brooder (stepping down 5 deg./wk), until it matches outside/or room temperatures. When weather permits, allow chicks out to forage for tiny bugs and sand bits, along with the odd blade of grass. Chicks introduced to wider environments early on, are more adventurous later in life and are more effective foragers. My general rule is that at six weeks of age, if properly nourished and maintained, chicks may be introduced to the normal coop environment. They should be completely feathered out and are now called pullets (female) and cockerels (male).
Watch Them Grow!
After the sixth week and they are introduced to their ultimate environment, you'll have approximately a five month wait for the first round of eggs to begin. Some breeds may come into lay as early as 4 months, while others not until 6 months. Remember my information about starting your chicks with proper temps? If they are cool in the brooder, or have inadequate feed, laying quality and onset may also be affected/delayed. If you've hatched your own fertile eggs, after the hatch, the procedure is the same. Of course, there is an outstanding incubator out there, it requires no electricity, turns eggs automatically, comes adjusted from the manufacturer and will educate the chicks after hatching... it's the mother hen ("> we can make no improvements on her.
Frederick J. Dunn is a retired Navy man and a life long poultry man. He raises bees, emu and chickens in rural PA and is the author of the DVD Regarding Chickens. Fred is a contributor to Mother Earth News. Check out his website: www.fredsfinefowl.com to learn more about him.
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