Urban chickens: Part 3: Choosing your flock

Well it close to Easter which is the best time to find chicks that have been purchased for the holiday with no clear future plans for the poor birds.  Check KSL regularly and you will find many that need a good home.  I bought five chicks last year this way and they have been very healthy birds.  IFA and Cal Ranch also have regular shipments of chicks coming in for the next month or so.

If you go the chick route you need a few things to make the chicks safe and warm.  I’d suggest buying a good sized plastic tote, Make a screen to fit on the top to keep them from escaping, buy a small mason glass water jar and a small feeder.  Attach a cheap thermometer to the side of the pen to keep and eye on the temperature.  Place newspaper on the bottom and a little bit of wood shavings but not too much as chicks will eat it by mistake if the pieces are small.  You need to have a heat lamp hanging over the enclosure.  I made a simple pvc stand and hung the lamp over the tote.  You can tell if you have the heat right by how the chicks act.  If they bunch up under the lamp the heat is too far away.  If they all move away from the lamp then it is too close.  If they are moving around in a scattered pattern you have the heat just right.  Chicks need a pretty high temperature to begin with (about 90-95 degrees) and every week you can decrease the temperature five degrees as they start getting their feathers.

Chicks need to eat chick starter feed for about six weeks before moving to a pullet developer.  Chicks need to be medicated for a few ailments when they are hatched or the mortality rate is very high. Starter feed usually contains some medication which is necessary to get them successfully through the early stages of life.

Chicks are messy little creatures and it is amazing how much dander they produce which coats the immediate area where they live.  I raised my chicks in my home office and I had a layer of fine powder all over everything so make sure you place them in a warm and secure place that is easy to clean.

Chick behavior is hilarious as they run around and then pass out for a minute or so and repeat the process over and over.  They constantly mess in their food and water so I would check and fill the feeder and water a couple of time a day.  The advantage of raising chicks is the enjoyment of watching them grow and by handling them from a very young age you will be able to easily handle them as adults.  They become yard companions rather than skittish birds that you have to chase if they escape.  If you chase them they will remember they don’t like you.

Another route to start your flock is to buy pullets which is the name for an immature hen.  When you buy pullets you mostly get hens but every once in a while you get a rooster.  You need to have a plan on what to do with any roosters as neighborhoods don’t like the crowing.  Pullets cost between five and ten dollars so the investment to have someone else to do all the chick work is a plus when life is busy.

At about six weeks you need to change feed to a pullet developer until the hens start to lay eggs at around 18 to 30 weeks (depending on the breed).  At that time you move to either a lay mash, crumble or pellet form of feed.  Choosing which type is personal preference but I have found the birds waste a lot less feed with the crumbles and pellets.  I suggest regularly adjusting the height of the feeder to be close to neck level so the hens cannot get in the middle of it, poop in it and spill the food out of the feeder.

Once the birds are laying you should add some crushed oyster shells in a separate container from the feed which the birds will choose to eat when the calcium supply in their bodies is depleted from the egg production.   Always keep fresh water in the coop for the birds.  Regularly dump the water and refill.  I have a several gallon gravity fed double walled waterer which is sold in all farm stores.  If chickens run out of food for a little while they will probably be okay but if they run out of water you will have trouble. As chickens cannot sweat to cool off, they utilize shade and water for this purpose.  The summer is much harder on chickens than a cold winter as their feathers insulate them well against the cold.

There are many breeds of chickens.  They all differ relating to egg size, egg color, productivity, how well they do in captivity, how well they do in certain temperatures, etc.  Egg color depends on the breed of chicken as color variations go from white, to pale brown to chocolate brown.   Common chicken breeds that do well in captivity in our climate are the White Leghorns, Barred Rocks, Black Austrolorps, Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons.  If you like really dark eggs buy a Maran (several varieties) or a Wellsummer (terra cotta colored egg).  If you like blue to green eggs go with an Americana or an Auracana.  My flocks have been very calm birds but every once in awhile you get an aggressive bird that makes life miserable in the coop.  May need to cull that one (culling means killing and eating it or giving/selling it to someone else).

Be very careful when you introduce new chickens to an existing flock of mature birds.  Never introduce immature birds with adults and never send one new chicken in alone as there is definitely a pecking order.  I have successfully integrated new birds into my flock several times but I have heard a lot of horror stories.  If you raise them separately to adulthood and then send in a few at a time seems to spread the amount of abuse so no one bird takes it all.  After a few hours or days the new pecking order is established and life goes back to normal.

Always keep a close eye on your flock for any signs of disease or distress.  Sometimes chickens are fine one minute and they kick the bucket the next.  Most of the time, barring an autopsy, you will never know what happened.  If you have multiple birds die at once you need to figure out what is wrong asap and quarantine any other sick birds from the rest of your flock.  I have successfully saved a few chickens from ailments so identifying a problem early on and getting to IFA for medication or vitamins can save your chickens. Sometimes you just need to dig a hole in the backyard as there is nothing you can do as you never want to eat a bird that dies of unknown causes.

Hope this information helps you pick out and successfully raise the flock you have been so anxiously awaiting.


About urbancompostsystems

I am a retired law enforcement officer who is an avid gardener. I have a compost bin business named Urban Compost Systems. I believe strongly in the concept of growing healthy food and I utilize chickens and redworms in my "compost system". The only ingredients that I need from outside my system are leaves in the fall and some supplemental grass clippings from neighbors. I make hundreds of gallons of compost in my four bin system. I thoroughly enjoy the summer bounty I get from my yard and I take great pride in knowing that I am using my yardwaste to make healthy compost for my yard.
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