Raising Your Peeps
To get started, all you need is a draft- and predator-free place to nurture your chicks, like a basement or garage. Place a cardboard box on the floor and hang a height-adjustable 100-watt lamp with a downward-reflecting metal shade about 18 inches above it. Scatter a layer of wood shavings, sand, or shredded paper (avoid cedar chips—they can be toxic to baby chicks) in the box. Buy an inexpensive chick feeder and waterer at your local farm supply store.
Chicks are great at regulating themselves, eating and drinking only what they need. If they find their home too hot, they’ll avoid the bright light, or they’ll huddle together if it’s too cold. Adjust the light’s height as necessary. Replace the bedding when droppings begin to build up, and maintain a fresh supply of chick starter-food and water. During the first week, a temperature of 95 degrees is ideal. Each week thereafter, raise the bulb about 3 inches—which will lower the box’s temperature by about 5 degrees—until you’ve reached 70 degrees. This will condition the chicks for outdoor life.
After a few weeks your chicks will enter their awkward teen years. Parents can put away the camera as their chicks’ downy fluff goes a little punk—they’ll sport spiky young feathers and their necks, toes, and waddles will grow more quickly than their bodies. When their gorgeous, postpubescent, feathery coats finally blossom, they are ready to transition to grown-up food and the great outdoors.
Three grown chickens will eat about 50 pounds of food in 2 to 3 months. Feed your hens organic layer pellets, which are supplemented with calcium. Kitchen vegetable scraps also make excellent snacks—just take care to leave out the eggshells, as they may cause your chickens to start pecking at their own eggs in search of food.
At about 4 months, the adventure of egg-laying begins. It is not uncommon for
a young hen to be surprised by her first egg, and the first few might be misshapen or sporadically timed. Within a week or two she’ll hit her stride and enter full production mode. Expect fewer eggs in the winter, as day length regulates your chicken’s laying cycle.
Full-grown chickens require little other than clean, safe homes; food; and water. It is a rare bird that requires physical attention. Most prefer attention from afar. For a special treat, let your chickens roam freely in the yard.