Today is the chickens’ birthday! Last April, I headed down to our local Tractor Supply and picked up six 4-day-old baby chicks. They started out in our garage in a brooder box, that initially had to be kept around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I lovingly named them: Agnes, Reba, Cecilia, Lady, Beatrice, and Ophelia. I can tell Agnes, Reba, and Cecilia apart, but the other 3 look exactly the same.
As they grew and reached milestones, I documented everything in my Chick Days series that ended up going for 18 weeks. It started with their living in a brooder box in the garage and ended with them laying their first eggs. From the picture on the left to the one on the right in a mere 4 and a half months.
The chicks spent their first 4 weeks in a brooder box under a heating lamp. Initially, they were in a small cardboard box, but they quickly outgrew it. We then moved them into a large Rubbermaid tub, but we had to move them into a larger cardboard box when they out grew the tub. We moved the heating lamp up a few inches each week, lowering the temperature by 5 or so degrees each time. We also had to keep a wire cover on top of the box to keep them from jumping out.
When the chickens were 5 weeks old, they were finally ready to move out of the brooder box and into the coop. They were mostly feathered, but still had some of their baby fuzz, and were in an awkward “teenage” stage.
|What is this big, new place?|
As they continued to grow, we started giving the chickens scraps of fruits and vegetables from the kitchen. They especially loved strawberry tops, pineapple, and cantaloupe “guts.”
We discovered little things about the chickens, like how they would sunbathe when it was warm and sunny outside.
By 15 weeks old the chickens were big enough/confident enough to get up onto the roosting poles in the coop to sleep. It is their natural instinct to find somewhere high to sleep, but up until that point they hadn’t been getting up there. When they were little we put them up there to give them the right idea, but it was awhile before they could get up there unassisted.
Finally, at 17 weeks old the chickens laid their first eggs! We had to train them to lay in the nesting boxes by putting egg-shaped rocks in the boxes. This makes the chickens think there are already eggs in the box, so they should lay their egg in the box, too. It took some training, and at first they would lay on the floor in the coop and even outside, wherever their instincts told them was safest. But eventually they learned.
Initially we got a lot of double-yolk eggs, but we don’t get many of those anymore. As luck would have it, the very first egg we ever cracked was a double yolker. That’s good luck for life, right?
Since the chickens started laying, we typically get one egg per chicken per day, for a total of six eggs each day.
Sometimes we have more eggs than we know what to do with. During the fall, we would trade eggs for vegetables from our neighbor’s garden. We also gave some away as host/hostess gifts during the holidays. Other than that, we simply eat lots of eggs!
Over the winter, we discovered that the chickens will come outside no matter how cold or windy it is, but that they won’t step foot in the snow.
|Shut the door, please!|
During the extremely cold temperatures we had earlier this year, we set up the heat lamp in the coop to help the chickens stay warm. Between that and huddling together, they made it through the polar vortex just fine.
The extremely cold temperatures also presented another problem for us: keeping their water from freezing. We had a plastic waterer that had heat tape on it to keep it warm. But one day the heat tape got turned up too hot, and it melted a hole in the plastic. We ended up replacing it with a metal waterer that can be placed on a heated base. The base is temperature sensitive and automatically comes on whenever the ambient temperature drops below 35 degrees F. We haven’t had any more issues since we got this waterer and base.
Chickens are very susceptible to predators, but luckily we haven’t had any issues with that. We did a good job predator-proofing the coop and chicken run, mainly to protect the chickens from our darling dogs. Recently, Hank did finally manage to get into the chicken run area with the chickens, but by some miracle we did not have the Chicken Massacre of 2014.
Barring any other disasters or illness, chickens will typically live 8 to 10 years. I look forward to enjoying them and their eggs for years to come!