Our chicks are now eight weeks old and officially pullets. They’ve moved from having to be obsessively checked on in a box under the heat lamp, to living outside in their mostly completed coop and run. We even left them for two days with no problems.
So far, I think having chickens has been a great addition to our home. The girls love them, they’re fun to watch, and they’ve been really a learning experience for me.
As a veterinarian, I thought raising baby chicks would be a walk in the park. No problem. Turns out, I was as stressed about them as I was with my first bottle feeder kitten litter. I had a hard time getting the heat lamp hot enough at night, but not too hot during the day. The weather this time of year is pretty hot during the day, but still in the 60’s at night. It’s nice for us, but hard to regulate temperature in a garage. I was constantly messing around with the size of the box and the height of the heat lamp, and every time I figured it out, it seemed another week had passed and their temperature requirements had changed.
At the end of the first week, the day of Samantha’s 6th birthday party, I went out in the morning to find one chick had died overnight. Nugget, our Easter egger, died with no real warning. In retrospect, the day before one of the chicks had been picking on her a little, but nothing that alarmed me. I questioned what I had been doing, if the temperature wasn’t right, if I was feeding them wrong, and to top it off, I had a lot of tears to deal with, on a birthday party day.
We had a little funeral and buried her under a sunflower in the garden. (Note: Do not tell 4 year olds that the chicken will turn into dirt. They will want to dig it up and check.)
Things were going along swimmingly for a few weeks. The chicks were growing, the other three seemed healthy and thriving. I even had started putting them out in an enclosed area of the yard, away from the dog, under a big tree, with long grass for them to munch on, and their cage to go in for food and water or when they were scared. It was going along so well, I decided to let them stay out of the cage while we left for about an hour to grab some lunch. When we came home, there were two chicks and a bunch of black feathers on the ground.
Something had grabbed our Australorp, Buttercup, right out of the cage while we were gone. They were five weeks old at the time, so not tiny. Since there was no other bits laying around, I assume it was a bird of some kind. We have some hawks in the area, although noon time hunting is rare, but maybe a young, hungry bird. Or someone suggested a crow, which I suppose is a possibility.
There were less tears this time, but still sadness and I vowed to not lose any more chicks. I shut the other two down like Fort Knox. No free range time when no one was outside. They could get at the grass through the grid on the bottom of their cage, but otherwise, they weren’t going to be lost to predation.
During this time we got their coop and run ready. I was able to put them in their run during the day. It’s bigger than their cage, but still enclosed and predator proof.
Last week, we finally finished the inside of the coop enough for them to move in. (And by we, I mean Sean with me nagging him.) They seem happy. I’ve been venturing to let them free range while we’re home. They’re sticking pretty close to the run right now and run in when a plane goes overhead, but that’s okay. I’m sure as they get bigger, they’ll start to venture out more.
We’re working with the dogs right now not chasing them. Missy’s pretty good and backs off when I call her. Paisley likes to chase and she’s pretty fast for a three-legged dog. Fortunately, she seems to ignore them unless I’m near the coop doing something.
I’m enjoying them a lot. In fact, I’ve decided that two chickens is just sad. I ordered four more chicks. They’ll arrive in September. I figure I’ll wind up with anywhere between four and six chickens, which will be perfect for our yard.