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Raising Chicks

Hatchery Chicks or Breeder Chicks for Your Backyard

3 February 2016
Six hens raised from hatchery stock.

Here are our six hens. All raised from hatchery stock.

Adding chicks to your backyard flock is no easy task. First you need to decide on the breeds you want. Then you need to decide whether to get hatchery chicks or breeder chicks for your backyard.

Seven years ago, I bought six hatchery chicks from a farm supply store. All looked healthy but all but one developed “egg-making” problems during the first five years of life. The Silver-laced Wyandotte (SLW) and the Golden-laced Wyandotte (GLW) both laid eggs with thin shells. They also had “personality problems” and were problem chicks. The Buff Orpington (BO) had a problem with eggs breaking inside her. The Rhode Island Red (RIR) just plain old laid down and died at 1 1/2 years. The Easter Egger (EE) had egg peritonitis.

The two I got as replacements came from a local farm and have been much healthier. no egg-laying problems at all. I’d like to get my three new pullets also farm raised or from a breeder but I’ll have to wait until they have the breeds I want. I am determined to not get hatchery chicks. I don’t need hens to lay huge eggs every day of the week. It means more to me that they are healthy and and live longer. Perhaps breeder chicks are best for your backyard flock.

Perusing “Backyard Chickens forum” I found this advice and I’d like to pass it on to you:

Answer from Speckled Hen (moderator):

“Take it from someone who has had 10 or 11 hatchery hens, plus one daughter of a hatchery hen, die of EYP and/or internal laying: Get better stock. None of my good quality breeder stock has died from this malfunction, not one, at least so far. That tells you something. And I mean quality stock, not just someone who bought hatchery stock and is propagating it and calling themselves a breeder.
Hatcheries do not breed for longevity. I mean, why would they? Add that to the fact that chicken hens are the only animal on the planet that suffer from spontaneous ovarian tumors just like human women and it’s a wonder any live past the age of two.

None of my BBS Ameraucanas have died from it. The oldest is going on 5 now. None of my Delawares have died from it. They are over 3 now. None of my breeder Orps have died from it, only one hatchery Buff Orp hen did. In fact, none of my breeder type Orps, both BBS and Buff, have had any egg issues whatsoever. These all came from really good breeders. It’s not the actual breed, but the quality of the stock, from my experience.

The further you get from the first generation hatchery stock, the better, IMO. Even mixed breed chickens may be better than “purebred” hatchery hens. I haven’t had any trouble out of my crosses except one, though I’m watching one right now who may have an issue.  No hen is immune, of course, but your chances are better away from the common hatchery stock.”

This make sense to me. I’m going to start looking for a breeder here on the Central Coast. Not just one who raises hatchery chicks and then sells them at a later age but one who actually hatches them. Know of one on the Central Coast? Let me know by leaving a comment. I will be grateful and so will others.

Hatchery hens on roost.

Six good breeds going to roost in the evening. These beautiful hens were raised from hatchery stock.








Healthy Chicken Treats

27 November 2012

I’ve been wanting to put together a blog of what you can feed chickens as treats. At last! I found lots of information on the internet and wish I could take full credit for all the information below. But there are people out there with much more experience than I have so I’ve borrowed what I needed.

Most of the food in this chart, I have given to my hens at one time or another and they have been most enthusiastic! I usually give a small bowl of treats to them in the afternoon when I know they have eaten their fill of their enriched food. If you give them too many treats they’ll cut back on their feed and their health my be affected. So be reasonable with quantity  and watch them enjoy!

Apples Raw apples and applesauce Apple seeds contain cyanide. Hens love apples but feed their seed in moderation.
Asparagus Raw or cooked Not a favorite.
Bananas Feed hens bananas without the peel High in potassium, a good treat.
Beans Well-cooked only, never dry Also, greenbeans.
Beets Red beet root and greens Full of vitamins.
Berries All kinds A real treat for hens
Breads All kinds – stale bread okay. Feed bread in moderation.
Broccoli and Cauliflower Vitamin and calcium rich. Raw. Put in a suet cage let them pick away.
Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts Whole head or parts Hang a whole cabbage from coop ceiling. Gives them greens and exercise!.
Carrots Raw and cooked My hens love carrot tops too.
Cereal Cheerios, etc. Avoid highly sugared cereal.
Cheese Hens love cottage cheese and small chunks of hard cheese. Good source of protein and calcium. Feed in moderation.
Cooked Chicken Throw in bones of raw chicken too. They pick at it until nothing is left. Good source of meat protein.
Corn On cob, canned, raw or cooked Hand feed to tame hens.
Crickets (alive) Can be bought at bait or pet-supply stores. Great treat – provides protein and entertainment.
Cucumbers Something to pick at. Let mature for seeds and flesh.
Eggs Hardcooked scrambled are a good source of protein. Feed cooked eggs. Feeding raw eggs encourages eating own eggs.
Fish / Seafood Cooked. Small amount of uncooked okay.
Flowers Must be pesticide-free. Marigolds, nasturtiums, pansies, etc.
Fruit Pears, peaches, cherries, apples Served whole, chickens will pick away.
Grains Bulgar, flax, niger, wheatberries,etc. Raw or cooked.
Grapes Seedless only. For chicks, cut them up. Hens will play keep-away.
Grits Cooked
Lettuce / Kale Any leafy greens, spinach collards, mustard greens. A big treat, especially in winter.
Mealworms and compost worms Available at pet supply stores or on the internet. Make your own compost worm box and raise them. A favorite treat. Good for chicks in moderation.
Meat scraps. Not fatty or too spicy. In moderation. A good source of protein
Melon Cantaloupe, honeydew, etc. Seeds and flesh are good chicken treats.
Oatmeal Raw or cooked Cooked is better.
Pasta / Macaroni Cooked spaghetti, etc. Not very nutritional but they love it.
Peas Peas and pea tendrils and flowers Hens like leaves of plants too.
Peppers (bell) Chopped or whole
Pomegranates Raw Seeds are a big treat.
Popcorn Popped, no butter, no salt.
Potatoes / Sweet Potatoes/Yams Cooked only. Green peels are toxic. Starchy, not much nutrition
Pumpkins / Winter Squash Raw or cooked. Both seeds and flesh are a nutritious treat.
Raisins In moderation.
Rice Cooked only. Pilaf mixes are okay. Plain white rice has little nutrition.
Scratch Scratch is cracked corn with grains such as wheat, oats and rye. Scratch is a treat, not a complete feed. Toss it on the ground and let them scratch for it for something to do.
Sprouts Wheat and oat sprouts are great! Good for greens in mid-winter.
Summer Squash Yellow squash and zucchini Some hens love it, some not so much.
Sunflower Seeds Sunflower seeds with the shell still on are fine, as well as with the shells off (unsalted). A good treat. Helps hens grow feathers after moulting.
Tomatoes Raw and cooked.
Turnips Cooked. Not a favorite but okay to feed.
Watermelon Served cold in hot weather to keep hens cool. Seeds and flesh are both okay to feed.
Yogurt Plain (no sugar) Chicks and adults love it and it’s good for digestive systems.


A Brooder for Chicks

16 February 2010
Comments Off on A Brooder for Chicks

Chicks have what they need.

When chicks are newly hatched, they have some basic requirements, one of them being a brooder. If chicks are not being raised by a hen, “the humans” will have to provide them with all the things a hen would give them. When we brought our “less than three-day-old chicks” home from the farm supply store, they were tiny fluff balls with no hovering hen to watch out for them. They needed to be kept warm, help in finding food and water, and protection from predators. Humans were in charge of all that.

Chicks, whether being raised by a hen or humans, have five basic needs:

  • heat
  • food and water
  • adequate space
  • freedom from drafts
  • safety from predators

To provide all of these for your baby chicks, a little preparation is recommended. A brooder can be expensive or cheap but is something you will need for the first few weeks of your chicks lives. For the complete article on making a brooder, see “Chicks Need a Brooder” at on this site. Hopefully it will get you started on making a brooder that will meet the needs of your tiny flock.

Keeping Chicks at the Right Temperature

4 February 2010

Cozy and Warm

Before we brought our six chicks home last spring, we readied a box for them. This was to be their brooder for the next few weeks. It was equipped with a feeder, waterer, and a heat lamp to keep them warm. It was set up in our living room where the chicks could be handled daily and I could monitor their well-being.

I had been reading nightmare stories posted on the forum about mishaps in the early days of the lives of chickens. People were devastated by the chick morality rate and I was determined to give my chicks a good start. Most chicks are shipped through the postal service to either private residences or to farm supply stores where they are put in large brooders or in stacked cages called battery brooders. A reputable hatchery does not ship less than 25 chicks in a box. Chicks bodies, huddling together in the shipping box, is their only source of heat. Much of the loss of life of young chicks occurs in the shipping process where the day-olds are shipped in a cold environment or in some cases, a heat wave occurs in route and they die of heat prostration. If your chicks are being shipped through the mail, ask the local post office to notify you by phone as soon as they arrive so that you can immediately pick up your shipment.

If you are getting a small number of chicks, keeping them warm in your brooder can be quite simple. You can heat your brooder with a goose-necked lamp equipped with light bulb. Set this up ahead of time and experiment with a thermometer. The inside of the brooder should be 95° under the lamp where the chicks will huddle when they a chilled. I was never able to get the temperature up to the 95 degrees required for young chicks with a 100-150 watt bulb so we purchased a heat lamp with a metal hood and porcelain socket. These are the safest. Do not hang it over the brooder by its cord, rather hang it from above by a chain. Our heat lamp came with a clamp and we attached it to a pole lamp where we could raise and lower it as needed. We used a red version of the heat lamp as it throws less light and supposedly is less stimulating. Over-stimulated chicks sometimes get into the disgusting habit of picking the feathers off one another.

Chicks should be kept at around 95° for the first week of life. At the end of that week, you will notice feathers beginning to grow at the the edges of their wings. By the second week, you can reduce the temperature in the brooder to 90° and another 5° every week until you reach 70°. At this time the chicks are usually fully feathered and ready to to be put in an outdoor environment with only supplemental heat as necessary.

Chicks will often indicate when they are uncomfortable in the environment. Huddling together often means they are trying to stay warm. Staying away from the heat source, often means it has become too warm. Planning and preparation is the key to success here. Get chicks when you are ready for them and you’ll lessen the possibility of disappointed.