52 Homesteading Skills in One Year: Top 10 tips for raising chicks to chickens and building a chicken chunnel
Chicks are tougher than they look and more challenging to care for than you may have thought. Here are my top 10 tips for raising chicks.
Tip #1: Don’t underestimate the size of a raccoon’s paw.
I cried. There was blood dripping down the side of my six week old chick. One of her wings was missing.
Sometime during the night a raccoon had reached through the coop’s 1 x 1 inch wire mesh and ripped off her appendage.
I called the vet who confirmed my suspicions. She was lucky to be alive. If this were to happen to a human, an amputation would be performed, but in the case of a chicken, there wasn’t much that could be done – except wait.
Since the other chicks, sensing weakness, were pecking at her, we separated the Buff Orpington from her “friends” and put her in a box with some food and water.
Twenty minutes later she had somehow managed to jump/semi-fly out of the box. To my amazement, I found her happily foraging around the yard. Apparently, she wasn’t going to let only having one wing get her down.
With my dad’s help we sprayed some antiseptic solution on the wound (I held the chicken while he, not wanting to see the damage, closed his eyes and sprayed). I added a little infection fighting garlic to her water and hoped for the best.
Two weeks later and my one-winged wonder chick is still alive and now lovingly nicknamed – Tuff Orpington. We have since learned from this rookie mistake and our coop is now surrounded by much smaller wire netting.
Tip #2: Beware of the dust
I thought it would be a great idea to keep our chickens in a contained area in our dining room. It was lots of fun – at first. That is until they started to make dust. Chicks like to scratch and that creates dust from their food, bedding, feathers, etc. So do yourself a favor and keep your chicks in the garage or any other heated area other than your home.
Tip #3: Purchase a heat lamp
You will need to invest in a heat lamp to keep your chicks warm for the first few weeks. I used the brooder hen pictured below and highly recommend it.
Tip #4: You may fall in love with your chicks
Buyer beware. These tiny, fluffy, balls of cuteness will steal your heart. If you had plans of culling your chickens when they stopped laying, think again. What I’m trying to say here is no one is going to be able to afford my eggs because I’m going to have to factor in the cost of letting these chickens live out their old age on the farm.
Tip #5: Surprise! Chicks can fly.
Within a week our chicks were able to fly to the top of their enclosure. We thought they were so adorable as we enthusiastically applauded their efforts. Until we watched in horror as they turned their fuzzy butts out over their pen and pooped onto our floor.
Flying also led to several chicks losing their balance and falling. Panicked, they would scream for help until I found the poor things and put them back in their enclosure.
It wasn’t long before we placed chicken wire on top of their home.
After reading these tips you’ve probably already figured out that our chicks didn’t stay in our house for very long. In just a few weeks, they were housed in a…..
Tip #6: Consider raising chicks in a chicken chunnel
How do you control the grass and weeds that grow inbetween your garden beds? You get yourself some chickens and you build a chicken chunnel. You will never see weeds in your paths again.
Chickens love to scratch (it’s basically all they do) and in just one day they cleared out the path in the above picture to bare dirt.
Our chunnels are built using 16 gauge, 1/2 x 1/2 inch wire mesh. It’s sturdy, it’s predator proof, but it’s not permanent. Depending on the amount of chickens you have, it should be moved on a daily basis.
Since the chickens were housed overnight in the chunnel, we cut old wire shelving and stuck them in the ground to prevent predators from digging underneath. If you’re interested in more details about our chicken chunnel, check out my book – 52 Homestead Skills – available in Kindle format on Amazon or in hard copy through Mother Earth News’ bookstore.
Tip #7: Save money and keep your flock healthy by soaking their feed
Fermented foods are not only healthy for humans but for your chickens too. It aids their digestion, strengthens their immune system, and boosts the nutritive content of their feed providing B vitamins, vitamin K, and enzymes. Not only will you keep your flock healthy, but you’ll also save about 10% on your feed costs. Here’s how: Soak your chicken feed in a bucket filled with water for a couple of days. Note: To prevent problems with mold and bad bacteria, the feed will need to stay submerged in the water. Once it begins to slightly bubble and smells sour (but not unpleasant), it’s ready to give to your chickens.
Tip #8: Prevent odors
If you’ve ever kept chickens, you know they poop a lot and they will poop anywhere and everywhere. So be sure to cover your coop floor with absorbent pine shavings, which neutralize any nasty odors. Eventually, the bedding and other matter will end up in the compost and a new layer added.
Tip #9: Save money on nesting boxes
Our neighbors came up with a creative and inexpensive method for creating nesting boxes using plastic pails set on their side and filled with a cozy layer of pine shavings.
Traditionally, nesting boxes are built out of wood and secured to the wall in a row. You will need roughly one nesting box per three or four hens. The nesting boxes can be set wherever you like as long as they are lower than your roosts so the chickens don’t decide to sleep (and poop!) in their nesting boxes. It goes without saying that you want your eggs to be as clean as possible.
Tip #10: Predator proof your coop
Our first attempt at chicken keeping was thwarted by a sneaky ferret who burrowed underneath our coop and squeezed in through a small opening – eventually killing all 30 of our birds. So, if you have a dirt floor, it is suggested to bury wire mesh 12 to 18 inches under the ground.
Raising chicks was definitely a challenge and like everything we’ve done so far on the farm we made lots of mistakes including one that cost a chick its wing. But hopefully, these tips for raising chicks will prevent you from making some of the same mistakes. Just remember – If you are a beginner homesteader, you have to start somewhere and there’s no better way to learn than by actually doing. Fortunately, from each experience, we learn to do it better next time. And thank goodness for that.
PIN IT FOR LATER!