Here it comes! Your normal visit to the feed store is about to be exponentially more exciting with the arrival of the first chicks of the season.
The normally placid, twang-accompanied sound of the store will be piercingly split with the sounds of hundreds of little peeps speaking up, "Take me home! Are you my mommy?"
It's far better to be prepared, because you'll be bringing home a little happy meal-style box of fuzz whether you're prepared or not. It just happens that way. So, let's see what you need!
A good thermometer
You need a good thermometer that won't change its reading despite changes in the humidity in your room. Cardboard backing on commonly found thermometers can shrink or expand, causing an inconsistent brooding area.
These aquarium thermometers are just a couple of dollars and are sealed in glass. They do the trick much better than the expensive digital devices that often fail.
Keep one end of your brooder 95-100˚ so the chicks can adjust their own comfort by moving around the space.
While clamp-on heat lamps are easily found in farm stores with chicks and supplies, the 150-250W bulbs and fire-hazard clamp appliance are an inefficient old-school way to heat your chicks.
An infra-red low wattage brooder like Brinsea's Eco Glow or a Sweeter Heater would make a far safer and eco-friendly comfort zone for the chicks' feathering-in stage.
Using only 12-22W, these heat panels adjust to the height of your chicks' development stage and provide a safe alternative to a momma hen.
You'll need some way to manage the chicks either indoors or in a climate-controlled out-building safe from predators. Keeping them safe from family pets inside must be a concern.
A spare bathroom, a kiddie pool, an appliance box, plastic tubs...there are infinite ways to brood a handful of chicks. A piece of hardware cloth makes a great lid for keeping chicks in and family pets out. For the first week, paper towels should be used while the chicks become accustomed to what is safe to eat and what isn't- no newspaper as its slick surface can cause leg issues.
After the first week, graduate the babies to pine or other non-aromatic pure wood shavings.
A water device that is not a drowning hazard is a must. A small compote cup is safe to start for a small number of chicks, because it isn't deep enough to be a risk. It also contains only a small amount of water, so fresh, clean water is provided regularly.
A quart waterer with marbles in the trough is another good choice.
Feed must be available at all times for chicks all the way into adulthood. The more passive chicks won't get a chance to sufficiently nourish themselves as the more aggressive chicks will consume it all first- unless there is enough feed for all.
A conventional feeder is a good choice to keep the chicks spaced well around the feed and prevents food from being kicked out and lost among the bedding.
Roosting & climbing fun
A couple of logs are a blissful bit of endless fun for chicks. They jump up. They jump down. They peck at bark. They jump up. They hunker down on their hocks and roost. They jump down.
You get the picture. It's beneficial to their respiratory system to do a lot of jumping and flapping, and THEY LOVE IT. Naturally expanding the chicks' living space vertically is easy and improves health and happiness for all.
While one can grow chicks out in just about any space to begin with, it's important to plan for their inevitable growth and expansion. Be prepared to offer them space with the appropriate heat and protection until they are fully feathered out.
If it's still cold outside, what will you do when they outgrow your closet? A small group of 6 or 8 chicks can easily require a 4' x 4' space at 6 weeks of age, when they aren't yet feathered enough to go outside without a heat source.
An open-sided coop can be enclosed with 6-mil clear plastic to create a heatable space for the tween weeks. The Sweeter Heater infra red heat panels can be hung from the provided chains at a height suitable for roosting older chicks in an outside coop application.
Where will they go after you are done growing them out? You have about 6-8 weeks to get your coop together if it isn't already built!
Remember the important features in a chicken coop, and review your existing coop if you have one, to be sure it's safe and appropriate for the size your flock will ultimately be with your new additions.
A fenced run is safer than free range unless your property is fenced to discourage stray dogs and other daytime predators. Strong netting is great overhead to protect from aerial predators.
Always remember that poultry netting (chicken-wire) is strong enough to keep chickens in, but not strong enough to keep even raccoons out. For predator prevention, hardware cloth with holes smaller than a 1" is best for keeping your birds safe.
If good planning is undertaken, the results of your hard work will become apparent in wonderful feathered yard ornaments.
Buying spring chicks at your local Chick Days event can go smoothly and be fun for the family!