Most of my readers and subscribers already have an interest in rural life, country living and caring for animals. Most in fact, already have pets but actually live in towns, whether small or large. Here in California, most cities allow pets obviously, but also chickens. Most however, are not likely to allow other livestock within the city limits. Anyway, be sure to check you local codes and be sure you stay within the law. Local codes are almost always enforced only when there's a complaint, so you might also want to check with your neighbors. If they're close by, KEEP your coops and other animal housing CLEAN! Nothing will raise the ire of a neighbor more than foul odors and flies.
If you decide to keep a few chickens, or rabbits or ?? Just be ready BEFORE you ever bring them home. We're talking about housing here. This is the time of year to buy baby chicks. Various breeds are available at many feed stores from some time in February to about October. The winter months are just not productive times for hens, so chicks are usually not available then.
Ok, so back to housing. Mature hens can be perfectly happy in a dog kennel, simple wire pen, chicken tractor, or just your backyard if it's legal and you don't mind having your yard picked over by free ranging chickens. We'll talk about housing mature birds on another blog post. You'll have about 1 month to build a coop when you buy the day old chicks. IF you keep chickens, make every effort to keep them on your own property and not wandering off and wrecking relations with neighbors!
Before you bring home any baby chicks get their brooder box ready. A brooder is a small pen, plastic tub, or anything else that you can keep warm, clean and covered. Even though, these are warmer months, nights can be cool and a heat lamp or other heat source is a must for the first few weeks. Like most animals, chicks don't like to be alone, so start with at least a few.
Just so this post doesn't get too lengthy, I'm gonna keep it simple. You can use a large cardboard box for a brooder if you want, just be careful about the heat lamp and the potential for fire. I use a large 3 by 3 foot plastic container, I could easily raise a dozen chicks in mine for about 3 weeks. Usually I raise between 6 and 8 for replacements for any aging hens I might have. Keep the brooder inside if possible, even if its just your garage. Cover the brooder with wire and give them water, heat and some medicated chick crumbles. Never let animals run out of feed or water!!! The cover will keep chicks in the brooder and other animals out. I only purchase enough medicated feed to get the birds started. A 5 pound bag will last quite a while, even for 8 for chicks. After the 5 pounds is gone, regular chick starter is all they need. It's also a good idea to put some pine shavings in the bottom of the brooder as this will absorb any fecal waste and it should be replaced every week or so. Sooner, if it starts to smell.
About the heat.... If young chicks crowd to the center under the heat lamp and chirp loudly....they are TOO COLD! If they form a ring at the edge of the heat lamp they're too hot and you need to raise the lamp slightly. Medicated chick starter and regular chick starter is available at all feed stores. These little birds should get the added protein of the starter until they reach the ripe old age of 16 to 18 weeks. I just keep feeding the non-medicated starter until the first eggs appear in my nest boxes. When you buy chicks, study the breeds and differences, then buy sexed chicks to ensure you don't get any roosters. By the way, you don't need a rooster to get eggs from your hens. I like roosters okay, but most cities have code restrictions against keeping roosters because of the "crowing". I know I've left a lot out here, so shoot your questions or comments by responding below. Uncle Bill