The Basics of Caring for Baby Chicks

Learn how to raise baby chickens and what breeds are best suited for your needs in this comprehensive guide from 1977.

  • Baby Chicks
    A healthy baby chick is bright, energetic and lively. Learn helpful hints to keep your chicks happy and healthy.

  • Baby Chicks

Dollar for dollar and pound for pound, poultry — especially chickens — has got to be the all-time best livestock that any homesteading family can raise. A flock of a half dozen to 50 birds will, if allowed to roam freely by day and protected from predators at night, provide endless entertainment, exert a positive control on any mini-farm's insect population, and set the table with both fresh eggs and tasty meat. 

And it's so easy to get started with poultry! Day-old chicks are readily available by mail and/or from local hatcheries and feed stores in almost every part of the country. One caution: You should deal only with reputable sources that certify their little cheepers to be registered and guaranteed U.S. — Pullorum — Typhoid Clean. That'll protect your flock, right from the start, from the two worst poultry diseases.

It doesn't matter whether you've started a new batch of chicks every spring for the last 25 years or you're still anxiously looking forward to your very first flock. This is the time of the year when at least one member of almost any farmstead family (or would -be farmstead family) begins to scan the pages of hatchery catalogs and to check poultry breed books out of the library; begins to mentally compare the egg production of Leghorns against the meat production of Black Australorps, the meat and eggs of the Rhode Island Red against the novelty value of the Araucana, the foraging ability of the Black Minorca against the setting and mothering instinct of the Columbian Wyandotte. 

This is the time of the year, in short, to think and talk about chickens; and about how to select a breed and raise day-old chicks into hearty hens and roosters. So give a listen, if you will, to Jeanne Tetrault and Sherry Thomas, two country women who can more than keep up their end of the conversation. 

No puzzle at our farm: The chickens came before the eggs. Twenty-five Plymouth Rock chicks ("steady layers of good size brown eggs") arrived lively and healthy in a cardboard carton at our post office — tiny, fluffy yellow Easter card specials — the beginnings of our flock. Raising those cheepers was a learning-by-doing experience. Five years and hundreds of chicks later, I'm still learning about raising chickens, but some of the basics are quite familiar. See A Poultry Mini-Manual for further coverage of fundamentals.

Buying Baby Chicks

We fancied our farm incomplete without a few solid, sensible hens scratching around the barnyard and a rooster to crow us awake. Most people won't want to part with good layers, and we didn't want to buy commercially raised pullets, so we decided on day-old chicks. These can be "straight run," or "95 percent pullets." If you eat meat, straight-run chicks are a good way to simultaneously start a laying flock and raise some healthy table fare. If you just want a flock of laying hens, buy the 95 percent pullets. These will be more expensive per chick, but you won't have a surplus of unwanted males at the end of six months. You will probably end up with a few cockerels out of every twenty-five chicks, but if you want fertile eggs you'll have to keep one rooster for every twenty or so hens. See Sexing Day-Old Chicks: How to Identify Pullets and Cockerels.

6/11/2007 12:24:57 AM

I've moved to Guam over a year ago. Eggs here at the Grocery Stores anre 2-3 mo. old. So, I decided to raise my own chickens for eggs and organic meat. I ordered 60 chicks from the McMurray Hatchery (vaccinated) they should be arriving any day now. I am NEW at this, so I was looking around online. Your Website is very informative, thank you!!! God bless! Maria Z Ho, Guam, 96915 (Guam is 14 hours ahead of EST)



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