Well, you know spring is in the air, even if it is 10 degrees outside, when the hatchery catalog arrives. We order our layers and meat birds as day old chicks from Hoover's Hatchery in Iowa. They are mailed to us the day that they are hatched and arrive a couple of days later. There is nothing like getting the phone call from the post office at around 6:30 in the morning asking you to come pick up your peeping box.
Chicks are hatched with reserve nutrition stores so they don't have any problem surviving for a day or two without food. The first thing though is to get them a drink of water after their trip. I do this by dipping each chicks beak into the water when I am putting them into the brooder from their travel box. We get the brooder ready the week before they are due to arrive. The brooder is a simulation of what the momma chicken would do for the chicks. The biggest part being keeping them warm. Chicks need a very warm environment for the first few weeks. We accomplish this with a closed box and heat lamps. The new babies actually like it 90-95 degrees for their first week. You can lower the temperature at the floor by 5 degrees each week until is is around 75 degrees. This is accomplished by raising the light farther from the chicks.
We do provide the chicks with a starter food that is medicated. This is the only time we give any medicated food to our chickens. We have chosen to do this due to the stress of travel and the fact that we want to keep all disease off our homestead if at all possible. It also helps to start the chicks out with a little boost. After that we feed nothing medicated.
After the chicks develop their regular feathers they are put down on the floor of the barn. For about a week or so we still provide them with the heat lamp if they feel they want to get warm they will gather under the light.
The arrival time of the chicks is based on a couple of things. Since we have our baby layers and broilers arrive together part of the timing is when we want to butcher. Since we have started raising the Red Rangers it takes 10-12 weeks until they are ready for butchering so that is taken into consideration. We like to have them in the freezer before summer is done. Layers also take 20-24 weeks before they start laying. This will mean that they will have a couple of months before the cold starts to set in to get the laying routine down. You need to plan all this also since it takes around 21 days for chicks to hatch so that you give enough lead time to the hatchery to be able to have chicks hatched when you want them.
This year I have ordered two breeds of laying hens that I haven't ever had before, the Golden Lace Wyandotte and the Silver Laced Wyandotte. Both are supposed to be very cold hardy and that is important where we live. I'll have pictures for you when they arrive in early May.
Raising chickens is fun and very rewarding in both eggs and meat. We like to know what we are eating and when we are able to know what our birds are eating and how they are processed it makes all the difference in the world. It is not too difficult to get started and so worth it.