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Chicken Talk: Why and how you and your children should start your mini-farm this year!
Author: Andrea Horst
Spring is almost here!!! With the beautiful flowers and obnoxious allergies comes new projects and animals. Whether you are an experienced farmer or new to the idea of owning any animals, raising chicks is impeccable for your child’s development! You may be asking, "Are chickens worth the investment?” "Where do I even begin?” "How does one care for such fragile birds?” After raising hundreds of chicks as a young girl, I have gathered a few tips for you today!
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The Benefits of Letting Your Child Raise Animals
- It teaches them responsibility. In Tracy Traunter's article, The benefits of chores for your child, she says, "Weekly chores teach children life skills like responsibility and setting priorities that will be important for the future. Similar to other habits, the earlier kids learn to help with daily duties, the more likely they will continue as they get older. In other words, start early.” Having to feed my 100 baby chicks taught me great responsibility and time management, both of which I have carried into my adult life!
- They learn how to care for others. Handling and caring for such young fragile animals and essentially acting as their mother taught me to care for those around me who cannot care for themselves.
- Raising animals can even teach them finances and business! My parents often included me in the financial side of raising chicks. As I grew and started buying and selling other farm animals, they taught me how to calculate my profit and losses. I had to start tracking everything I spent on my animals, add it up, and then subtract it from all the money I made. These basic principles became essential for me as I grew up!
What You Need to Have Before the Chicks Arrive
- They will need a warm environment. Chicks typically stick close to their mother after hatching. Her presence keeps them safe and warm! Since they do not have a mother hen, you will need to prepare a warm area for them.
- A secure coop. You can purchase a chicken coop from Mountain Barn Builders for less than $1000*** (4x4 chicken coop, only available for pickup at our Clarkrange lot. Limited supply)***. These coops will last years! Cleaning an MBB Coop is simple, and maintaining is easy. To house one hundred chicks, we needed something more spacious than a 6x8 coop. So, we converted a portion of our Dutch Barn storage shed into a decent-sized chicken coop (see how to do that here!)
- Heat Lamp. You should be able to find a heat lamp at any local supply store for $10 to $20 bucks. Be sure to keep the heat lamp 18 to 20 inches from the chicks. The heat will replace the body heat of their mother.
- Bedding Belton Feed states on their website that "Chicks need a safe surface to walk on. Many different types of bedding are suitable, including pine chips, clean sand, paper towel, shredded newspaper, and burlap. Avoid cedar chips or other aromatic wood chips, as they can be toxic to chicks. Also, do not use whole sheets of newspaper, as they are not absorbent and can cause leg and foot deformities in growing chicks. Sheets of newspaper can be placed on the bottom of the brooder, however, if there are 1-2 inches of bedding layered on top of the paper.”
- As obvious as it sounds, they will also need feed and water. Here are some items to help you get started!
- Feeders. I have used several different chick feeders throughout the years, but I have found that this simple tray from Tractor Supply tends to work the best. For water, I have used the 5-Gallon feeder from Tractor Supply for around ten years. They also offer smaller versions of this product such as this jar and lid.
- Feed??? Baby chicks should be eating Starter Grower Chick Feed. You can find this feed at any local supply store. Tractor Supply has a great break down of each growth stage in their article "How to Feed Chickens”
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What You Need to Know About Handling the Young Birds
- Be gentle. Just like any small animal, baby chicks are very fragile. You will need to handle them with great care. Make sure your child does not try to squeeze the chicks or make them fly. They will still be babies and will not develop wings for flying until later.
- They love company! Chickens are social animals and will get depressed if they are alone. If I ever had to separate a chick from its siblings for doctoring, I always put a mirror in the box with it. This little trick immensely improved the mood of the lonely chick.
- Space to roam as they grow. Nobody likes to be cramped forever. As your birds grow, they will need more space to roam around. Typically ten sq ft of outdoor space per chicken should suffice. If you have sufficient outdoor space, consider allowing your chickens to roam free! Ensure all of your chickens are shut in their coop at night to prevent predators from attacking them.
Now that you have the basics of raising chickens, you can get a head start and order a coop today! Some chicken coops can take up to 8 weeks to be built and delivered. Keep this in mind when preparing for your new babies. Once you get two chicks, you will soon grow your farm, and before you know it, 12-20 chickens will be roaming around! You will no longer have to buy eggs in the store and, you will probably have to start selling some. Be sure to keep the future in mind when preparing for your mini-farm. A 6x8 coop will easily roost 25 birds, while a 4x4 will only fit roughly eight birds.