Country Living Series

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Chicks ahoy!

If you remember, we've been incubating some eggs using the incubator we purchased last fall.

The eggs are due to hatch Monday (three week incubation period). So, according to the incubator directions, a couple days ago in anticipation of the hatch, we filled the extra reservoir with water and removed the eggs from the automatic egg turner.

We laid the eggs directly on the mesh screen...

As I said, the eggs are due to hatch Monday. But here it is, Saturday night, and we hear peeping! The girls were instantly entranced, watching a couple of eggs rock slightly and counting the number of shells that are breaking.

They counted a total of ten (so far) in the very early stages of hatching. See the crack?

Naturally this means we have to put together a brooder box in anticipation of 42 (or so) Happy Events. Normally we'd use one of the stock tanks as a brooder, but they're both being used. So we took a large cardboard box and lined it with a plastic garbage bag.

Then I got some wood shavings from the shop...

... and spread them out, with a gooseneck lamp ready to go for heat.

We washed the chick feeder and waterer.

For food, I took a bit of our usual layer crumbles...

...and ground it up in the blender.

This extra-fine food will do for the moment, but come Monday we'll purchase some chick starter. Many years ago when we still lived in Oregon, we thought we could get away with just grinding adult food into finer bits for our batch of chicks, and what followed was horrible: the babies grew up grossly misshapen and crippled (no doubt lacking some key nutrient), and Don had to put about half of them out of their misery. I don't know what magic ingredient is in chick starter that keeps chicks growing healthy (make a note: find out), but we've never again attempted to raise chicks on adult food.

We're all set! Hopefully by tomorrow we'll have at least a few chicks already out of the shell. I'll be sure to document everything as it happens.


  1. How fun for your girls! Hope none of them end up in bed with the girls, Ha My kiddo's would so do that

  2. I don't think your light is going to be big enough. I buy the shop lights at wal-mart. The ones with the metal shield around them in the automotive section. They can clamp on to the side of the box or be hung over it. You want to make sure that they can all get under that light and that the temperature is at least 95 degrees, or they will be too cold and you will lose them anyway. The chick stater has extra protein the chicks need plus it has grit and without the grit the chicks can't process the food they are given. That laying mash doesn't have any grit in it.

  3. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)July 15, 2012 at 6:25 AM

    Love the sound of baby chicks! I just bough new ones, but are not really big enough to put in with bigger girls and the rooster. Right now, they have their own pen and I am using a dog carrier for their coop. Still have about two weeks to go. I would be careful using plastic on the bottom of the box. I know it really, really makes it a lot easier for clean up, but try regular waxed paper as a liner instead. The boxed cereal bags are wonderful to use for this. Chicks peck at anything and you don't want them to eat the plastic. Good luck with all the new babies and post pics!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your ongoing homesteading adventures - you're on my google reader and I catch up everyday. Your weed-wacked garden looks lovely and I'm sure the chicks will be lovely too.


  5. Neat! You may not need the food you just ground up, but I would give them water. I believe the chicks will still get all the nutrients and liquids they need for the first 2 days from their yolk sac. When I have my chicks shipped to me they are in a box for at least 24 hours without food and water and they are just fine.

    Also, I believe your light will be enough depending on drafts and the size of the light bulb. We used to use the large lamps with the metal shield but found we did better with just a 100 watt light bulb and a cheap indoor/outdoor thermometer in the bottom with the chicks. $10 at Walmarts.

    God Bless,
    Janet in MA

  6. With all the trouble and "Just So" conditions it's amazing chickens ever survived even with human help.

    I know mine never do but the coons around here love it when I try.

    Good luck with the new chicks and I will be very interested in your step by step posts.

  7. We have found that, with the incubator, we often have chicks starting to hatch at 19 days. Indeed, we've have them hatch before I took the egg turner out! Surprise, surprise, surprise! (Oops-better check calendar more closely next time!)

    Our brooders are 90-quart Sterilite boxes from Walmart, KMart, or whatever Mart you have in your area. We've cut the inside part of the lid out, just leaving the plastic thicker portion around the edges that attaches to the top of the Sterilite box (and about 2" in), and replaced it with hardware cloth that is screwed into place. We place a 100-watt bulb (if you can still get 'em) inside a reflector on top of the hardware cloth facing down. A small heat bulb might work if the weather were colder. If the bulb is bigger than the reflector and would come into contact with the hardware cloth, we use plumber's (or pipe) strap to make legs for the reflector.

    For bedding, we use the bagged sand. It's sterile, the chicks get the grit they need, it's cheap, and easy to clean out (just dump the box in a hole in the yard that needs filling). Oh, did I mention it was cheap? (grin)

    The sand does a GREAT job of dehydrating chick droppings and the occasional water spillage with NO BAD SMELLS unless you've got too many chicks in one brooder.

    Chick starter has coccidiostats in it to control coccidiosis because, well, chickens are dirty nasty critters that will poop in their food and water. Often we have ducklings that have been lost or orphaned that get popped in with the chicks, and these little critters (depending on their breed) often cannot tolerate coccidiostats, so we usually start all our tiny poultry on game bird starter, medication free, with no ill effects. Even so, our ducklings often have problems with thriving/surviving unless we move them outside for a period of time every day after about a week. (grin) Chicks get the same treatment, put in a bottomless cage for varying amounts of time, depending on the weather, to pick at green grass, weeds, and whatever hapless bugs happen to be in the area.

    If you have a weak stomach, skip this next part. A good chick/duckling supplement, proteinwise, is maggots. In the summer, a piece(s) of rotting fruit/vegetable in a disposable non-food plastic item with a little water will be covered in fly eggs and then hatching maggots in a (very) short period of time. Chicks love it! (The smell is bad. Make sure your maggot farm is outside!) The maggot farm needs to be protected from hungry birds and poultry, though. An unused brooder with hardware cloth top placed in the shade is a good place in which to incubate maggots.

    Other protein supplements: Diced boiled eggs, a chunk of liver, some hamburger...

  8. The layer ration has too high calcium percentage for chicks, causing chicks to be crippled or other deformities.

  9. that's exciting! My grandson wants an incubator really bad so I'm thinking about it. Have to wait for the ol' rooster to mature first.

  10. I wouldn't give them that layer mash food either. The chicks are ok, I've heard 24 hours(shipped that way), without food because they are still absorbing the egg sac. I think you will need a bigger box. I used to get refrigerator boxes in the appliance stores. The chicks need to get away from heat as well as under it. I put a thermometer on the brick and it should be about 100 degrees. I used a clamp-on metal lamp and tied a string on it and tied that to a screw in the side of the box. I also put the water-er under the lamp, in case the lamp fell off. You can decrease the temperature by a degree a day and raise lamp gradually. Do you put your water-er on a brick? We raised it that way so they don't scratch debris into it. We used hay/straw in the box. They will eat the wood shavings and I'm not sure that would be good for their stomachs. They peck at the straw bits and I think it is more natural for them. Raising baby chicks is sooo much fun!
    --K in OK <><

  11. We buy non-medicated chick starter/grower and feed that from the beginning along with adding in fresh cut grass (by hand with old scissors), some alfalfa hay, scratch, BOSS and grit. We bought 40 chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery this year, all male buff orpingtons, for meat birds. They shipped 42 (including a free rare breed-turns out it is a Golden Polish). All 42 are now outside, split evenly between two 8x10 "tractors" that we move every other day. If the chicks are healthy, and their living area clean, I think they do just fine without the medication. Two years ago, we started with 104 straight buffs and ended up with 45 birds in the freezer, 45 layer hens and 2 roosters. All the meat birds were boys. Only 2 died before leaving the brooder and in one cage 1 died after a week (I think he was smothered at night). All others died in the other cage when they smothered each other the first night out, and they were put out a week after the first ones. No telling with chickens. At least all these this year transitioned just fine. The ones that smothered each other were in the "girl" cage. Do not know if that is why they reacted differently than those in the "boy" cage.