Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Chick Days Are Coming Here and Near You Too

Do you know what "Chick Days" are? They are the annual day at feed and grain stores in the countryside when the baby chicks arrive, as ordered, by all the chicken keepers in little towns throughout the USA. Julia and I went to Bernardston Farmer’s Supply the other day to order this year's new chicks. All over the country, people are raising chickens. I think it is great that folks who formerly weren’t interested in raising their own food are now thinking about raising chickens for their fresh eggs. It's a great sign that people are starting to pay attention to their source of food.

I’ve raised chickens ever since The Farmer and I bought our first house in Pepperell, Massachusetts back in 1988. In fact, it was one of the first things I bought for our new house – a flock of baby chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery in Iowa. The minimum order was 25 chicks that was way more than I really needed. I bought the “exotic assortment of egg layers” which meant that I got a good deal but that there was no guarantee what breed of chickens I would get. I still remember the first time I went to the Post Office to pick up my day old chicks that arrived peeping louder than I would ever expect 25 little birds to peep.

I raised the 25 chicks in our teeny little kitchen in a giant box that yarn came into the warehouse where I worked at TYC. One big box, a bag of pine shavings, some newspaper, one of those clip lamps from the hardware store with a 100 watt bulb, a mayonnaise jar which I turned into a chick waterer by purchasing one of these, and a shallow bowl for the chick starter was all I needed. Every year since, I have dug out all these same supplies in the spring - except for the big box which I scour cardboard dumpsters for. Our chicks arrive May 10th this year.

If you are thinking about raising chickens, jump right in. It isn't hard to do. Chickens need very little care except for daily watering and feeding and collecting of eggs. I treat my chickens as a composting aid - feeding them lots of scraps from veggies, old bread and little bits of leftovers that aren't enough for a meal. In return, our fridge is constantly stocked with fresh eggs with yolks so bright and deep they in no way resemble store-bought eggs. Throughout the year, I feed the chickens all kinds of things including weeds from my garden and leaves that fall off the trees in the fall. I dig out the compost whenever my garden needs it - my plants grow big and strong and I never ever have to buy fertilizer or compost - it's all free courtesy of my chickens.

The best advice I can give you is don't fret and worry too much about your chicks. You can name them if you like but I find that naming them makes them more human and I get more attached to them which isn't a good thing around here.... Things happen on the farm and most of it is out of my control! If you are new to the blog, you can read about some of those things here and here.

I know so many people who are interested in the whole "free range" chicken movement. I have found though that true free range doesn't work when raising chickens. Over the years, my chickens have become tasty little morsels for hawks, possums, foxes, and raccoons. I do let my chickens range around the yard, depending on what state my garden is in. By this I mean, don't let your chickens range when you have young tender seedlings because they think they are really tasty. A few chickens can destroy a freshly planted vegetable garden in no time. I make sure they are closed into their coop every night. I also have a "chicken run" which is 16 feet square and it is covered with chicken wire to keep out the critters. I highly recommend a covered run if you want to keep your chickens safe. You can use it for years and years and years and your chickens will be safe.

Here's a fun video about chickens from a recent Martha Stewart TV Show. If you think you need a book to help answer your chick and chicken questions, I suggest Storey's Guide To Raising Chickens. It's a great book and covers pretty much all you will need to know. The chickens shown in this post are some of my current chickens. The top photo is a White Silkie Rooster. The middle photo is an Aracauna hen. I love this breed - they are gentle and lay an abundance of green and blue eggs. The bottom photo is a cross-bred rooster which was hatched out here on the farm last fall by one of my setting hens. He's quite elegant and colorful, isn't he?

p.s. If you order chicks from a grain store, you won't have to buy 25. I think there is a minimum of 6 but you'll have to check at your local feedstore. Or you could make an order from Murray MacMurray if you find some friends who want to keep chickens too.


Flower said...

You have given lots of good chicken advice! Our young peeps are in the barn with a warm lamp, food, water, and plenty of protection. They'll join the big girls in a few weeks.

I Love Pretty Little Things said...

Another beautiful and interesting post! I LOVE the white chicken!
What a fun life you have on your farm! Love it!

Wooly Knits n Bits said...

That was very informative Kristen. I might try chickens next year just to see how it goes.

Brigid said...

Thanks for the encouragement! I would like to keep chickens. One thing that bothers me though: do you keep your hens until they die naturally (or unnaturally!)? Eventually they stop laying, don't they? Are you happy to keep pensioner hens?

johnson_paige said...

This is my first visit to your blog. I love it. The picture with the two lambs wearing sweaters and "talking" to each other is now my computer background.
I've been knitting for only five weeks. You have taught me so much on Knit and Crochet Today (now "Now"). I learn something extremely useful everytime I watch you on the show. Thank you.

melissaknits said...

Our rule is to only name birds that have shown that they'll be here for much longer than a year or two.

This means they have to do something to merit a name.

Sitting on my lap and sharing my dinner plate on a summer afternoon counts. Bonus points if you don't get down when the food leaves.

Vermont Designs said...

Thanks for the flashback. I raised chicks from MMcM for years, always took mixed breeds. Also had black, brown & white Silkies. And Guinea Hens. I do miss the eggs and chicken talk, but some of my spinning friends are bringing eggs for sale to meetings right now, so that is the easy way out!

technikat said...

Pardon this city girl, but when you get your chicks are they both male and female? What do you do with the males since they don't give you eggs?

Ivy said...

I think "free range" is one of those terms where the meaning has gotten diluted. I think for many people, it's simply shorthand for chickens that aren't raised in super confined, factory farm type conditions.

Sigh. Someday, I will have my own chickens! Somehow!

marit said...

I missthe chickn! We had 10 when we first moved here, they had a tiny room inside the barn, I'd let them out every morning, and lock them up at night. The first morning we had winter, they stood on the doorstep yelling and arguing for a long time, before eventually stepping out into the snow. They were quick to get back in-LOL! Then we had to separate shep and other animals- due to some government regulations- and we didn't have a suitable place to put them osthat was the end...we are always planning to build a henhouse though!
Thanks for sharing the advice and the photos!

Whosyergurl said...

We were in Hawaii in February and it seemed that everyone had chickens...eggs are $5./dozen!
I buy my eggs from the "egglady," one of my collegues.
Hoosier hugs,

(In)Sanity Gal said...

I CANNOT wait to raise my own chickens! It'll be several years before I get to do that, but thanks for a post to get me excited. :)

Turtle said...

My birthday is coming up on earth day, the big 4-0! I have only asked for chickens and yarn, lol, typical right? Not holding my breath yet but sooo hoping!

Lol, i am betting more on some cash to pick out my own yarn and a truckload of 5 way compost!

Kekumukula said...

My gosh. Who would have thought chickens could look so majestic. What interesting tidbits you have given about chickens. It just amazes me how an egg can come out of its body.