Urban poultry interest booming … but know what you’re doing before jumping in
March 17, 2014
The unmistakable sound of peeping can be heard in feed stores across the state this time of year.
This time of year people purchase new poultry.
Being prepared for new birds will help them to survive, and live productive lives.
Many urban residents are now purchasing small flocks for their backyard, but it's important to know your city rules and what it takes to raise chickens before you make the purchase.
Before purchasing chicks, people should know what they want the birds to do.
"Breed selection can be complicated, so we typically ask people what their goals are with their chickens. Are they are looking for birds that are good for family, production or dual-purpose for meat and egg? We work with the future owners to see what kind of chicken will be best suited for their lifestyle, depending on what their answers are," said Danielle Nater, manager of Northern Colorado Feeder's Supply in Fort Collins, Colo.
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The place where the chicks will be raised should be prepared before the birds are purchased, so they can immediately be placed in their new home upon arrival. Chicks get cold very quickly and if left sitting in a cardboard box while facilities are prepared, there is a chance they could die due to being too cold.
"The most important thing is to make sure they stay warm and away from drafts or breezes, and then to chickens that go home to families with young children they need to make sure they don't get over handled or rough housed," Nater said.
There are several items that need to be purchased or prepared for raising chicks in Colorado. Chicks are typically purchases from as early as a day old to four weeks of age. At this age they are unable to control body heat, so temperature is critical to their survival.
"You will need something to keep them inside for the first four to six weeks of their life, as they don't have the ability to naturally regulate their body heat at that young and need to get their down feathers developed," said Nater.
She continued, "You also need a heat lamp and bulb, because they need to be kept at 85-95 degrees during that time. We also recommend a feeder, waterer and shavings for bedding. We do not recommend you put them on any kind of slick surface, as they need to have something grippy in order for their leg muscles to properly develop."
Generally deep-sided tubs or troughs, or a brooder work best, as chicks can escape from shallow pens.
"Housing for your new chicks should be dry, draft-free, mold-free and safe from predators. Cover the floor with clean bedding and allow it to become heated before introducing the chicks to the area," Ranch-Way Feeds states in its chickens management tips.
They continued, "If chicks are crowding the heat source or peeping loudly, they are cold and need more heat. If chicks crowd outside the heated area, it is too hot. Reduce heat by 5 degrees each week for the next five weeks. After week six, (and development of hard feathers) the chicks should be able to survive without heat lamps."
They suggest using red heat lamp bulbs, as they help reduce pecking and to control feed consumption at night.
Chick setups should not be kept in a kitchen or bathroom, as chickens can carry disease. Hands should also be washed after handling chicks and cleaning their facilities.
All chicks should have access to clean, fresh water at all times. It may be necessary to put the waterer on a small block, as chicks may scratch at the ground and fill the waterer with bedding. Adding small rocks to the watering base will help young chicks from drowning.
"Provide two, one-gallon automatic watering jugs for every 100 chicks. Check watering devices frequently to ensure clean water is always available. Clean, disinfect, and re-fill watering jugs before water is entirely depleted," Ranch-Way states.
Nutrition is the next key factor to raising young chicks successfully.
"If improper nutrition or the wrong kind of feed is given to baby chicks, it could affect their lifetime laying ability, their growth and development and possibly even their survival. It is very important to ensure your chicks are getting the proper nutritional needs," Nater explained.
Chicks need to be kept on a chick starter/grower for at least the first four to eight weeks, and can be slowly transitioned to adult feed once they mature. The starter can be medicated or not, depending on what the producer prefers.
Birds can be put outside after they grow their down feathers, at which point they can regulate their temperature better.
"In Colorado, we typically recommend putting your birds outside at the 4-6 week point, however if its still cooler we recommend waiting closer to the 6 week point," she said.
If a producer already owns older chickens, care needs to be taken when introducing young chicks so they are not pecked. It may be necessary to keep them separated for a little longer to give the chicks a chance to grow bigger.
Outdoor housing must be ready before the birds can go outside.
"Depending on your city's rules and regulations, the average chicken needs 1.5-2 square feet per adult chicken. They do require shelter. However, we also recommend that there is a run attached to the coop to let the chickens out to scratch and dust bathe. You also have the option to free-range your chickens, but you can watch out for predators," said Nater.
Chickens will usually start laying eggs between 16-18 weeks of age.
"However some chickens are late bloomers and go up to 20 weeks before producing their first eggs. There is no way to tell when a chicken is going to start laying, so the best thing one can do is provide nesting boxes and keep track of weeks," she stated. ❖