Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Yes, we’ve got some baby chicks now. We're excited to have our first real farm animals.

About a year ago I started reading a chicken book called “The Small-Scale Poultry Flock” by Harvey Ussery. I’m not sure where I first heard about this book, but it seemed like anytime I read anything about chickens, this book was quoted. So for weeks, I plodded through the book, trying to absorb chicken facts that were very foreign to me. He has a unique philosophy which I think even seasoned chicken farmers would find helpful. My approach is based mostly on this book.

Since I am going to be looking at the chickens every day, I chose a chicken breed that I thought looked pretty. I chose Black Australorps which have a hint of green and purple. This breed is both good for eggs and meat. Then I found a hatchery with a good reputation and offered heritage breeds. I chose Murray McMurray, a hatchery in Iowa that offers mail order. I placed my order online for the minimum of 15 chicks (straight run) for this time of year and they gave me a rare breed chick for free. I chose a week for delivery that I felt would give us enough time to prepare.

Then I started looking for the perfect coop for my chickens. I found a great one that had all the elements I wanted, but it was too expensive (it’s the shipping charges that get you). So I found a smaller less expensive version which I think will suit our needs for a few years. It arrived in two boxes and Son put it together for me. We won’t need it for several more weeks.

A few weeks before our delivery date, Son also built me a round brooder for the chicks out of old cardboard boxes. We calculated one square foot per chick. The day they arrived, we set it up in the garage and filled it with 4-5” of wood shavings to provide deep litter. We suspended a heat lamp about 18” above the litter and tied it to the garage door opener. I had the feeders and waterers filled and ready.

I got a phone call from the Post Office that my chicks had arrived and I went to pick them up not knowing exactly what to expect. They all survived the journey and were huddled up inside a box the size of a shoe box. Apparently when chicks hatch out they have enough nutrients to survive for a couple of days without food or water and this is when they are shipped.

When I got them home I gave them all a drink of water - an electrolyte mixture - and introduced them to their new home. For the first day I covered the litter with newspaper so they wouldn’t try to eat the wood shavings.

They are little over a week old now and have almost doubled in size. Particularly noticeable is the appearance of wing and tail feathers. We still have 16 chicks but it’s still too early to tell whether males or females. I'm hopeful that we will have 5 or 6 nice hens out of the bunch.

They're so cute, it's hard to choose which pictures to share. Also, I'm happy to report that the deep litter approach is working and we don't have any nasty smell. Yeah.

This is a must-read if you want to have chickens.

The cardboard brooder with newspaper covering the deep litter.

This bag of wood shavings cost about $6 at our local farm store.

We hung the heat lamp about 18 inches from the litter.

The electrolyte mixture: 1/4 C honey, 2T cider vinegar, 1 tsp garlic in a 1/2 gallon water.

My chicks arrived in this small box.

In addition to a small heat pack under the straw, the chicks huddled together for warmth.

The chicks had to be introduced to the feeders.

The chicks will just stop anywhere and anytime for a little nap.

This chick is only a couple of days old.

Our rare breed is yellow with a mask around its face. It already had a few feathers.

You can tell they are warm enough because they don't huddle directly under the light.

They scurry around so fast it's hard to get a clear photo of them.

Another one taking a quick nap.

Several napping as far away from the light as possible.

I set the waterers up on a board to reduce the mess.

We still don't know what the breed is of our rare chick. I've been calling it "Bandit."

This size coop can house 6-8 chickens.

The coop has a couple of doors and a window for ventilation.

The coop has six nesting boxes and three roosts.


  1. Black Australorps are one of my favorite breeds. My chicks from McMurray arrived on Saturday. I love that company; I have ordered several times from them.
    Your son did a great job on the brooder. (I use a hard plastic baby pool for the first week, then add the cardboard 'walls'. The pool really helps contain the shavings.)

    I look forward to watching your chicks grow.

  2. Thanks LaWanda. I'm learning as I go. My book has been a great resource and so far hasn't steered me wrong. When we're done with the brooder I'm hoping to put the fortified wood shavings into my compost bin.