Sunday, April 15, 2012

The First of Our Flock

The chickens are here! The chickens are here! Well, some of them are anyway. As of Friday afternoon, the population of the urban farm increased by three. And the cuteness factor of the farm just skyrocketed. Because each of our new additions looks like this:

This is a Plymouth Barred Rock chick, just a few days after hatching. As you can see, she's pretty tiny, only a few inches tall. And she feels like she weighs hardly anything at all. At this age, a lot of that size is fluffy down. Chickens grow incredibly quickly though, and in a few weeks she'll start to look very different.

Even though our chicks are just a few days old, that doesn't mean we had to hatch the eggs ourselves. We purchased ours from a local feed store, which in turn bought day-old chicks from a hatchery 75 miles north of Des Moines. We wanted specific breeds, so we put in an order weeks ago, but at many feed stores you can simply walk in and buy baby chicks.

Of course, you can't just buy chicks if you don't have somewhere to put them. They aren't terribly high maintenance, but there are a few things they require. The basics are food, water and heat. Chicks eat pellets made from a blend of grains and protein, which we picked up at the feed store as well. This and the water are dispensed via gravity with some cheap containers also available at feed or farm stores. We put these in a large cardboard box with a half inch of soft pine shavings in the bottom.

Heat is provided by an infrared heat lamp. We adjusted the height of the lamp to achieve a temperature in the box of about 95 degrees. We'll change the height weekly to gradually lower the temperature as they get older, about 5 degrees per week. By the time they're okay with room temperature, we'll probably be ready to move them outside.

When we first brought these fuzzballs home, it seemed like they couldn't do much but peep. They were a bit wobbly even standing on their feet and seemed pretty scared. They needed a little help from us to find the water dish, and it took a little while before they felt like eating. In a few short days, though, they have really progressed! They're eating, drinking, sleeping and pooping, all the things a baby chick should do. And they've started to scamper around the box, giving their little legs a test drive. They've really come out of their shells, so to speak (har har), and seem really curious about their new world.

We led off by saying that some of the chickens have arrived. These three, cute as they are, make up less than half of the flock we intend to have. The feed store is getting in different breeds at different times, so it won't be until Wednesday that we have all our babies. It'll be hard to imagine having ten of these little peepers running around, but it sounds like a lot of fun, too. It's gonna be hard to wait!

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