What came first - the chicken or the egg? Well, we won't answer that question here, but I can tell you that the chicken came first here at Root Down Acres, LLC! On January 2, 2013 I drove to Meyer Hatchery in Polk, OH and picked up 52 1-day old chicks! I could've had the chicks mailed, but I also needed to pick up organic chick feed and it was cheaper to drive there to pick that up than it was to have it shipped so I just picked everything up at the same time.
Actually what came first was a lot of research and then building the brooder boxes and buying supplies. I built two brooder boxes, each one 3.5 feet by 6.5 feet, with moveable partitions so I can start using half the box and then expand as the chicks grow and need more space. The brooder boxes are also fully collapsible so I can break them down and store them relatively flat between batches of chicks. I lined the floor of the brooder boxes with linoleum remnants to keep the concrete floor under them dry (that's the "wood" at the bottom), and the linoleum is also easy to clean and removable as well. I wrapped the edges of the linoleum up the sides of the brooder boxes which provided the added benefit of insulation and eliminated drafts under the edges of the boxes. And yes, these brooder boxes are in our basement!
I started out with radiant heat brooders because they use less electricity and are safer than traditional infrared heat lamps. While that sounded good when I ordered them, I ended up returning them because the temperature fluctuated to temperatures that were unsafe for the chicks. I found out from the manufacturer that there were problems with some of the transformers on the power cords. Why they didn't recall them is a mystery to me (I should add that both the manufacturer and the hatchery were very accommodating in trying to solve this problem and accepting my returns) but I'm glad I was monitoring the temperatures closely and also that I had purchased two infrared heat lamps as a back up just in case. The infrared heat lamps have worked fine and I also like that I can see all of the chicks whenever I look in the brooder box (with the radiant heat brooder the chicks went under the brooder to get warm so I couldn't see them unless they came out to eat). The moral of the story is that you should always expect the unexpected and have a backup plan!
In the photo above I had put out both oyster shell and grit, in addition to food and water, and then it dawned on me that the chicks won't need the oyster shell until they start laying eggs so I took the oyster shell out. The yellow square is the radiant heat brooder that I started out with. The U-shaped brackets on the wall of the brooder box hold the roost once the chicks are ready for it, and I needed to make the roosts removable so I could collapse the brooder boxes between uses.
In the photo below you can see Plan B with the infrared heat lamps. We were still fine tuning the setup at this point. We ended up moving the lamps to the center of the brooder box because I'm too short to reach them at the back of the box and they have to be moved out of the way to open the lids on the boxes.
I got an assortment of 25 brown egg layers (all hens) and 25 "Leann's Adopt Me Bargain" chicks (straight run, so they could be hens or roosters). The Adopt Me Bargain chicks are called that because they are the healthy late bloomers that are found when they clean out the incubators at the hatchery. The hatchery throws in an extra chick with each assortment in case of mortality so that's how I got 52. It's hard to identify breeds based on how the chicks appear at this stage because many of the chicks look alike initially, so I haven't determined which breeds I have yet. I am pretty sure I have some brahmas (they have feathered legs and feet), barred rock, Rhode Island red, and Easter eggers. As for the rest I'll just have to wait and see!
So now the chicks are almost 3 weeks old and they are growing fast! We have only lost one chick so far, so we are down to 51 now. I put their roosts in the brooder boxes just before they were 2 weeks old because they were jumping around and trying out their newly growing wings so I thought I'd give them something to aspire to. Later that day I checked on them and there were several on the roost! Some of them have grown big enough wings now that they can fly up in the air, and we are careful when we open the brooder box to care for them so none have flown out...yet! Watching these chicks develop has been so fun and interesting too. I love birds and it is such a joy to go down to the basement and watch them run around or even sleep (they are so cute when they sleep!). I am looking forward to identifying all the different breeds when they get all their feathers in and I am really looking forward to them laying eggs!
Stay tuned for a future blog post when we start building a hen house for all these chicks! I'll also be announcing the availability of eggs in the monthly newsletter which you can sign up for here. We'll be selling eggs in the Farm Store (which we're building now and I'll also be blogging about that soon) and I'll post a sign outside the store as well to let passersby know when we have eggs available.