Welcoming Home Our Chicks!
It was before I had Tad that I wished for the kind of lifestyle where I was living out in the country, living day by day without worry about what the next day would bring and a routine that left me to care for other living beings and a breath of fresh air in my lungs. Fast forward three years and here I am, in the most beautiful Midwest countryside surrounded by gardens bursting with color, rolling hills of corn, livestock under the sun, and my own little homestead to care for. I believe that if you put positive energy out into the world, if you create a vision of the life you want in your mind, that you can find a way to get there. Well, universe, I'm listening! Let's continue this conversation.
Like all of my other interests, I knew that before we brought chickens into our home, that I would need to do my homework. These were live animals, and if anything I'm extremely thorough. I crave knowledge and know that it is only to my own advantage that I learn all I can, from all perspectives, about how to do something. That's why I love this blog so much! I speak about what I've learned, and sometimes it's wrong or someone doesn't agree with it, but I love hearing your feedback even if it's negative or you think I could correct myself. I love that we can all learn about urban homesteading together; fail together, succeed together. I hope that I can offer you some good advice, especially five years from now when I've been growing a garden for that long and raising chickens. Just know that in these early stages right now, I don't have all of the answers yet, but I hope that one day I can have a few of them.
Today, I don't want to give you advice on how to keep chickens. I've only had mine for a little over a week now, so I am definitely not an expert on keeping them by any means. I think this year, I'll just be sharing what we're up to, introducing you to our flock, talking about our mistakes, and sharing some fun treats we feed them and how we've built our coop. If you're wanting to look into purchasing your own chickens and don't know where to start, please check out my good friend Melissa's blog, Tilly's Nest, or pick up a copy of her book, "A Kid's Guide to Keeping Chickens." It's actually a really great resource for adults because you don't feel overwhelmed by jargon, and it explains everything quite simply. She's an expert on keeping chickens as pets, which you don't find too often out in farm country - at least not around here! Most of the farmers I know keep chickens solely to sell eggs and produce meat, which is just fine!
I am so excited to share a little information about our girls with you today! Eek! Have you been keeping up with us on Instagram? I generally share information there first before anywhere else, and I've been posting little videos in our Instagram Story of the chickens, even on the day we brought them home. I haven't wanted to post too much about them yet because I really didn't know them all that well. They've been in our home for a week this past Saturday, and it actually feels a lot longer since then. I feel like they've always been here; they're starting to sound like I brought home a newborn baby. BAHA! I am just in love. They're sweet, interesting, and already so fun to observe and learn about. I think they're filling up a space of my heart that was hoping one day I would bring another babe home, and the more I give up on that dream, the more I am enjoying this new one.
We have six chickens in our flock, two Buff Orpingtons, two Plymouth Barred Rocks, and two Black Australorps. If you do keep up on Instagram or saw my post on which chicken you should pick, these were my top three breeds for kid-friendly breeds, gentle temperaments, and large eggs. We aren't really pushing for them to lay eggs as much as possible. I know that a lot of people get chickens just for that reason. We live in such an amazing place where we can get organic, free range eggs for a dollar right down the street, so we aren't hurting for eggs. We already have three to four dozen in the fridge at all times. These girls are for my enjoyment, our family's enjoyment, for me to experience life through their eyes and take pretty photos of, to love on and watch Tad explore their world and take care of an animal that doesn't live inside of our house (my least favorite type of pets, honestly!!!). The eggs will be a special surprise and gift each time!
Our two Barred Rocks are about a week older than the other four chickens. It was actually kind of a hectic day when we picked them up. Originally, we had wanted to mail order the chickens. I have a friend that raises chickens who said I could tag along to her order so that I wouldn't have to worry about the minimum number. The local hatchery here only allows a 15 chicken minimum per order, which we just couldn't do since we live in town. As I looked into other hatcheries that allowed less chickens in an order, the shipment dates were already filled and most of the orders were straight runs. That means the sexes of the chickens are mixed and you wouldn't know which of your chicks will be hens or roosters until much later. I definitely wanted pullets, or female chicks. We're not allowed to have roosters in town! Then we decided that we wanted to have the chicks by Tad's birthday; it would just work better for our schedule that way.
We ended up taking a trip to the feed store in hopes they would have the breeds we wanted. When we arrived, all of the chicks they had were gone, save for a handful of chicks that were already about five weeks old! I was so disappointed! We ended up calling another feed store about 30 minutes away and they had day old chicks in the breeds I wanted. Phew! When we got there, I was so excited, I just started picking out chicks and putting them in our little cardboard box. When the feed store employee opened up the Barred Rock tub, I was like, "Oh, they're a little bigger than the others," and he told me they were almost seven days old already. Well, I didn't really have a choice! And I wanted those Barred Rocks. When it comes to raising chicks, you really shouldn't mix up ages because they each need different temperatures of heat depending on their age, the older ones need more room, and they might pick on the younger chicks. So, ours are about four days apart in age, and even though that doesn't sound like a long time, the two Barred Rocks (Muriel and Arlene) are already so much larger than the other four! They don't pick on them, though, and they don't seem to be needing any odd heating adjustments.
That was probably the most stressful part about bringing them home for me: making sure the temperature was just perfect. Chicks need to live in a 90-95 degree environment for their first week of life. The more I read up on temperature, it's all about watching how the chicks act - if they're running around happily, sleeping wherever, and eating without a worry than they're warm enough. Ours have been peeping and running for the week, and I haven't been monitoring the temperature too dramatically anymore. They are living in a brooder inside of our home, which is anywhere between 65-70 degrees, so they're perfectly happy. I'm realizing the heat lamp is extremely important if you're planning to brood them outdoors where there are drafts and colder temperatures at night!
Our girls are hilarious. The largest chick, our Barred Rock, Muriel, is just like her namesake. We named all of our girls after women in our family tree. Muriel was my great grandmother who lived her entire life here in Kalona. I never had the chance to meet her, but I've heard so many stories since moving to this area. She was very fashionable, always had to have everything matching, tall and lanky, and never stopped moving for a second. She was always on the alert, which is how our little chicken Muriel is. If I ever peek my head into the room where our brooder is located, Muriel is the first one to lift her little head and scan the area with her black eyes. If I open up the brooder to have a chat, there's Muriel, flapping her wings, jumping around the box, and sticking her head up to look me in the eye as if to say, "You listen here, Missy - I am the boss!" She's also learned that she can jump/fly to the edge of our rubbermaid bin... so that's always frightening when I lift the window screen off to replace their food or water.
I can't tell who exactly the head hen is yet in the pecking order. I want to read more scientific studies on chicken pecking order, but am still in need of doing that. I have read that it starts as early as their days in the brooder, and so far I can kind of tell who's at the top and who's at the bottom. I would say Muriel is the head hen, she's the most assertive, but I'm still not sure. Little Frankie is definitely near the bottom, the tiniest chick, a little golden Buff Orpington. She's always by herself and the last one to get to eat anything, or at least she's the last one to be interested in checking out what the others are doing. She seems to always be doing her own thing, discovering little things on her own, like a hidden mealworm beneath their bedding. When we let them out to wander, Frankie somehow finds herself in the opposite direction of the other girls, and I think I relate to her the most! I've always been the person to wander off and become the lone wolf.
There's also Dorothy and Thelma, the two Australorps, who are the easiest to hold. They're super relaxed and actually enjoy having their little heads stroked. I had the hardest time telling them apart, but so far I've noticed that Thelma has these little white patches around her eyes (not sure if those will stick around) and that Dorothy is constantly sleeping. Every time I walk into the brooder, she's sleeping or falling asleep. I know she's not lethargic because she eats and drinks and participates in treat time quite energetically, but other than that, she'd prefer to be napping. Same, Dorothy, same. Then there's Arlene, the other Barred Rock, who just follows everything that Muriel does, and there's Olive, too, the larger and fatter Buff Orpington. A few days ago, while handling Olive, I noticed that she has a very raspy voice, almost like it's stuck in her throat. I quickly messaged all of my chicken friends and owners, hoping that she wasn't sick. My friend, Melissa, emailed me back and said, "I think that might just be the way she is." I loved that. So, keeping an eye on Olive, but I think she's just a quiet gal. I am still getting to know these ladies - they are somewhere in the middle of the pecking order and their personalities aren't sticking out as much to me yet.
Is this too much in depth chicken talk? Because I am loving it! It's like a little soap opera, or more like a really good movie with an all woman cast, like Steel Magnolias or How to Make an American Quilt. I can't wait to see how their little personalities play out in the next years of our time together. I know that they will become part of the family, they already have. There is so much to learn and experience!
I love my little flock. I hope that I can become an honorary member someday. More chicken talk to come!