chickens

Not too long after I posted these fox photos, the chicken coop door was accidentally left open (ok, it was my fault!) and at 4:30 one morning I was awakened by chickens screaming and all three of the birds I had left were killed. A couple weeks after that, we discovered that there were three kits with their mama on the adjoining property to ours, so we felt a little less bad that we had fed the hungry foxes some chicken dinner.

I had already planned to buy new chicks this spring and having no older chickens to integrate chicks with actually made the job easier.

Since I only wanted a few chickens, I called up my local hatchery and asked for some Araucanas and some Barred Rocks. Araucanas are also known as Easter egg chickens, and lay eggs in pretty shades of blue, green, and brown, like the ones in this picture:

Rainbow

Barred rocks are the cool black and white striped chickens that look like this and I really love their looks.

But I guess it's really hip to raise chickens now (for once, I was ahead of the trend!), and Araucana chickens are in high demand. I called the hatchery in early April, and the earliest hatch available to me was June 1. I hadn't wanted to mail-order chicks since they come in batches of 25, but I was impatient. My sister-in-law also needed more chickens (the fox shops in her yard for groceries, too) and I knew that between my girlfriends and Craigslist, I would be able to sell the extra chicks, especially since now I knew that Araucanas were popular. I found a hatchery in Ohio that had chicks from their April 21 hatch available and I ordered some. A few days before they were due to arrive, I went out to my now-empty chicken coop and readied it for the chicks. I stapled up some cardboard to keep the chicks and shavings from falling out when I opened the door, and I screwed a hook into the ceiling on which to hang the light. I stuck a thermometer in there to make sure that it was warm enough. The day that I did this was the only day this spring that has reached 80 degrees. It was so hot in my brooder that I was afraid I was going to scald my chicks and burn the coop down with my 250 watt bulb. I went out and bought a 100 watt bulb to use instead.

chick brooder set-up

The day before the 25 mail-order araucanas were due to arrive, I went to my local feed store to see if I could find some barred rocks. I wanted more than one breed of chicken and I wanted them to be the same age. I was unsuccessful but came home with 2 gold sex-links and two black sex-links. Interestingly enough, the chickens in each pair are both unique, so we are going to have some pretty color in our flock this year. On this day, the weather also turned back to what it has been for most of the spring: cold, windy, and rainy. The chicks not only needed the 250 watt bulb, I also ended up cutting a piece of foil bubble insulation and putting it up in the opening so it could block more wind and reflect the light's heat. It worked surprisingly well. It shouldn't have been that much of a surprise, since the reason I had the foil insulation on hand was from building an insulated pasure hover the second year I raised broilers. These hovers allow your chicks to stay warm by reflecting and trapping their own body heat--useful when your chicks are pastured far from a power source.

happy baby chicks

The mail-order chicks came early one morning and we got to go to the post office to pick up the cheeping box. Luckily, between family and friends I was able to find homes for all the chicks without having to resort to selling to strangers. By the end of that day, we had our own ten chicks in our brooder.

girls holding chicks

The chicks are now 7 weeks old and have grown enough feathers and have learned to go into the roost at night, so I have unplugged the light and opened the upstairs of the coop down to the open area below. And while they won't lay eggs for a few more months, they don't take the intense care anymore that new chicks do.

We did have an interesting turn of events this week. The sexers at the hatchery are supposed to be 90% accurate. Of our ten "hens", we seem to have a rooster because I heard one start to crow. I hope he's not too aggressive or we will have to make chicken pot pie. Araucana roosters are gorgeous, though, so I kind of hope he gets to stick around. I'll rethink the location of the coop, however, since it's very close to my bedroom and roosters don't just crow at dawn.