Some of you have a already have a brooder filled with peeping, fluffy chicks, but I have to wait until the end of April for my dose of extreme cuteness. I had planned on getting the chicks this week, but the breeds I want aren’t available until the end of April. As it turns out, it’s a good thing that the chicks aren’t here. Temperatures remain well below freezing at night and barely above during the day. I’d planned on putting the brooder in the big barn. With this cold spell, there’s no way, even with a heat lamp, that I’d be able to keep a constant temperature out there for them. When chicks crowd under a lamp, the ones on the edges of the group become chilled and the ones in the center overheat. They can’t space themselves out and so pecking happens. Also, this year, I’m going to try to put a few chicks under a broody hen. It’s just too cold to do that now.
I could have changed plans, and kept the chicks in the basement, but 15 chicks grow really fast. A small cardboard box is fine for the first week, but then you start scrambling for bigger and bigger containers. Also, as they lose their down and grow real feathers they generate a surprising quantity of dust. And manure. I really want the chicks outside. Besides, this year, we’re going to have a ChickCam! And that requires the wiring that we have in the barn. (Many of you have asked about our cam set-up. It’s complicated and expensive and is detailed in this FAQ.)
In preparation for the chicks, I’ve cleaned out the Big Barn of the old bedding. I’ve used the shop vac to get all the dust and cobwebs out of the crevices and the rafters. I’ve put the roosts outside so that the sun will disinfect them. As soon as the ground thaws, Steve will turn over the dirt in the pen and I’ll plant grass. Dust and earth harbors diseases and although I can’t eliminate them, the cleaning will reduce the load.
I placed my chick order deep in the middle of this snow-bound winter. Even after years of having chickens and knowing what I like, it was still a hard choice! To make the decision easier, I ordered more than I want to keep, thinking that I could sell a few started pullets when they are about two months old. (Check back with me in June and see if I can bear to part with any.) I often get asked what is the best breed to start with. That’s like asking “what dog should I get?” It’s a decision that differs for each individual and situation. This is what I’ve ordered:
2 Blue Cochins – I’m not one for feather-legged fowl because they get muddy in the spring, but cochins are so pretty and fluffy and gentle and I’ve been lusting after blue hens for awhile. All of the other hens I’ve ordered are clean-legged (no feathers) and winter hardy.
2 Delawares – these are very pretty, hardy, docile and good layers, and a breed I haven’t kept before.
2 Welsummers – they lay dark brown eggs and I like their classic big brown hen look – like out of an old picture book.
2 New Hampshire Reds – I miss Marge and Petunia and am hoping that these girls will have their out-going, friendly dispositions.
2 Rhode Island Reds – Always a good choice, the RIRs are good-layers, good foragers, and all-around nice birds.
2 Buff Orpingtons – Buffy is a HenCam favorite. She’s sweet but no push-over. And gorgeous! She’s old and I can’t imagine my backyard without a Buff O, so I’m getting these to be in the wings.
2 Speckled Sussex – Lulu is my crazy lady. These are beautiful, busy hens that surprise. I’m hoping the new ones will be a tad saner in a pair. But not too sane. That’s the fun of them.
I realize writing this that I did not order any blue egg layers. A terrible oversight! I think I’d better call Meyer right now and order a pair.