Our baby chicks are growing quickly. This coming week they will be 4 weeks old (hard to imagine). Chickens do not start to lay eggs until 18-20 weeks, so we still have a little while to go until we begin to see any eggs. It has been a very enjoyable learning experience for our family. The birds are now about 5 – 6 times the size they were when they first arrived. Most of the babies have lots of feathers now. I would best describe their “look” as that of a teenager. They are a bit awkward in how they look and move. As they grow, they are losing their baby fluff, and feathers are starting to grow in. During this time, feathers are sticking out in all directions, and there are some bare spots as new feathers are waiting to come in. We have 5 different breeds of chickens in this first group—a variety which will provide us with “rainbow eggs” in a few months.
We have also found that raising chickens has been much more expensive then we first expected. This is due to how cold it has been this winter, along with the high price of keeping them warm. Baby chicks need to be kept at around 90-95 degrees for the first few weeks, then you can drop the temperature a little down to 85- 80—not an easy feat when the wind chill pushes the outdoor air to negative temps!
With this high cost in mind, we have decided to go ahead and purchase our next round of chickens to arrive in June. This should hopefully defray some of the costs in raising the chicks, plus will allow us to have more eggs around the holidays.
During the wind and rain of the last few days, I have started to work on a new chicken coop design for our soon-to-be pastured chicks. It is amazing how many different ways folks have tried to raise chickens on pastures. There are a lot of things to consider—everything from protecting the birds from weather (cold, heat, wind, rain, snow) to protecting them from predators (hawks, coyotes, foxes, skunks). You also must have enough roosting space to allow the chickens plenty of room to comfortably sleep. Laying hens prefer to sleep on roosts, whereas broiler (meat) hens prefer to sleep on the ground.
The new design is really nice, but will be my personal biggest carpentry project to date. Abby thinks I am a bit crazy taking on this size of a project… especially considering that I want to have the birds out on grass by the middle of May. But isn’t that one of Joel Salatin’s tag lines: “the sheer ecstasy of being a lunatic farmer”?