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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Baby Chicks are Growing Up!

It was a big day for our baby Rhode Island Red chicks. At six weeks old they are fully feathered and no longer need the heat light. They are now outside from morning to evening in their little coop. For the past two weeks they were only out on nice days and brought back inside under the heat light till morning. But now that it is almost June and the weather has finally settled down to nighttime temperatures in the 50's, it is no longer necessary to bring them back inside under the heat.

Below are pictures of their weekly development. It is amazing how fast they grow.

2 day old arrival of chicks, April 19th

They were housed in a dog crate that I had enclosed in chicken wire using cable ties. At this age they would've slipped right through the bars. We also have cats so this kept naughty paws from reaching in and hurting any of the chicks. The floor of the cage is lined with paper towels on top of newspaper. The paper towels keep their little legs from slipping. At this age I only changed the paper once a day. I did make sure there was always food and clean water available for them.

chicks at 1 week

By two weeks the paper towels are no longer necessary. I put a small storage tub in the crate to give them something to perch on and play a bit as they learn to jump and flap their little wings.

chicks at 2 weeks

At three weeks things are getting a bit messy. The paper definitely gets changed morning and evening. Even if the water bottle has water it needs to be dumped and fresh added.

chicks at 3 weeks
By four weeks, the chicks are ready to spread out and get out of the crate a few hours on nice days. We have a smaller coop inside of the larger coop (our original structure which I now use as a nursery). The first day they were scared of all the new sights and sounds around them, so stayed inside the large cat carrier I used to transport them back and forth from the house to the barn.

chicks at 4 weeks
Five weeks and we and the chicks are very ready to get them out of the basement. The cage is crowded and a mess within an hour of freshening up. The chicks make a mess with their scratching and most of the food is kicked around rather than staying inside the dish. But to be in the crate just for sleeping overnight, they settle down quickly.

chicks at 5 weeks
Six weeks and out they go! The crate is moved out into the barn (our inside coop is a stable).  At their present size now, it is time to split them up into two crates. To avoid overcrowding there are only six in each crate. My second crate was once used for a guinea pig, so we utilize what is already around. Inside their outdoor coop I have an old dog box which comes in very handy on rainy days, as well as for shade.
So during the day they are transported from my dog crate(s) to the outdoor pen (which is inside the main outdoor chicken pen), and at night they come inside the barn back into the dog crates. It is much easier to catch chickens if you wait till it is dark. They cannot see very well in the dark and it puts a lot less stress on them to be handled.

It is fun to watch how the chicks enjoy the freedom of being outside and how the older chickens nosey around their pen. Very cute is their fluttering around and the instinctual scratching and cleaning themselves in a dirt bath.

chicks at 6 weeks
From the picture of our outside fenced area, you can see that the older chickens are right there with the babies, but cannot have actual contact yet. By the time the chicks are around eight to ten weeks, everyone is used to each other, and I open the nursery coop door and let the young ones access to the larger pen. I want the babies to learn to come into the barn with the older chickens at night, which will put an end to the hassle of my getting them in every night.

Be available to observe this first interaction between the adult chickens and the young ones. There will be a scuffling as they meet and greet and establish the new pecking order. Be sure to have somewhere safe for the young ones to retreat to if they want. If you have any doubts as to the young ones' safety with aggressive older birds, then wait till they are older and of more equal size before mixing them. Some people say that the ideal way to blend the birds is to wait till dark and place the young chickens on the roost with the older birds. Then in the morning they will see each other in the light and being all is calm as usual,  the older chickens will just assume they belong.  A good post about adding new chickens to a flock is from The BackYard Chickens

By summer's end those cute little fuzzball chicks will be around 5 pounds and fully grown. By September they will be 18 weeks and we should begin to see the start of their laying eggs. It begins with little pullet eggs but soon they will be laying the beautiful large brown eggs expected with Rhode Island Reds. With the end of the season and its cooling temperatures and shorter daylight hours, the real egg laying won't start until the following spring. By then, these birds are mature, strong and offering their full potential. Between egg laying and manure for the garden, having your own chickens is worth all the initial work. For a much more detailed post about raising your own chickens, click here

Enclosed chicken pen, Chick nursery coop is on the left