...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


selecting baby chicks

Now that the ducks have moved on to greener pastures, 
we're thinking about getting a few new baby chicks this spring.
Our flock of 7 dropped to 5 this past year...

It's one of the sad realities of loving creatures and being their guardians.
If a predator doesn't get them, disease or something else will, eventually.
Dommy had an inherent weakness in her lungs,
but at least she enjoyed her life for as long as she could.
And Buffy, our star layer,
had an impacted oviduct (i.e. eggbound syndrome)...
had we known sooner,
we may have been able to save her, but being eggbound is often fatal.

While I sincerely hope that our 5 gals live long into their golden years...
the problem is that geriatric hens don't lay that many eggs.
This might be their last year of good, steady egg production,
or it may even really drop off this year.
We'll have to wait and see how they do. 
(They're turning 3 in May!)

Basically, if you want to have a continuously productive flock,
you have to keep adding new young hens. 

We've been in a bit of a conundrum about the best way to go about this.
I've thought it all out and I'll list what I see as the pros/cons here:


Method 1:
Acquire some fertile chicken eggs and place them under a broody hen.

- Low maintenance.  The broody hen does all the work!
- Integration into the flock is handled by the mother hen.  She'll protect them from older hens until they're able to fend for themselves and possibly even after...  
-The chicks will see the hen as their mother... and in our experience, 
the chicks will be less likely to bond with us people / human caretakers. 
- There's no way to 'sex' an egg so you could end up with a bunch of cockerels (i.e. baby roosters).
- If you care about getting a variety of breeds, you generally would have to go through a lot of different sources to get a clutch.  And most places will sell no less than half a dozen eggs.  This gets time consuming and expensive and you'll end up with way more eggs than you need.

Method 2:
Acquire some day-old chicks from a reputable place.

- They'll totally bond to you!  You'll get to lay the foundation for a sweet, trusting relationship with your soon-to-be hens
- Did I mention how totally adorable they are?  

- Takes time, obviously, and some work.
- Integration into the flock is trickier.  Some sources say you shouldn't integrate them into the flock until they are of laying age (5-6 months) and can adequately protect themselves.  Others say to introduce them to the coop at night and it goes more smoothly...  we have a back-up coop we found on Craigslist for all of these scenarios. 

Method 3:
- Acquire hens of prime laying age
No waiting for eggs...
- the possibility of bringing mites or something contagious into the flock...
- lack of bonding
- tricky flock integration
- no cute baby phase!


Soooooooooooo we decided to get baby chicks.

I've only found two sources where a small backyard flock owner can get only a few baby chicks (as few as 3!).  Other places require a minimum order of 15-25, so unless you really want that many or unless you're going in on an order with some other folks.  And you can get only one of each variety.  So you can totally tell your hens apart. 
(as opposed to getting them from a local farm/garden store 
where you have to get at least 6 of a variety...)

Check out these links:

We decided to go with My Pet Chicken this time around because they had more of the varieties we were looking for available on the dates that we'd like.

Some other things to think about:

Don't succumb to temptation to get chicks earlier in the spring -- or you'll need to keep them indoors longer or maintain a very reliable heat source when you transition them outside.
Your baby chicks will be indoors in a brooder for about 4-5 weeks. 
For our area, an optimal time to get chicks is really May through June. 
As the chicks start to feather out, you can gradually expose them to the outdoors until they're fully ready to transition and can tolerate the fluctuations of mother nature's thermostat. 

Select breeds that are appropriate for your climate, space, and interest.  Chickens for Backyards has very helpful tables to take into consideration a bunch of factors like:  broodiness, cold / heat tolerance,  temperament, egg production, etc.

Some people don't care about egg production and opt for very ornamental birds, or even the cutie cutie little bantams...  I'd love to have them sometime, but they might not survive in our flock - bantams are really tiny!  

As a general rule, we look for hens that are:
- cold hardy
- docile and friendly
- good to excellent egg producers (4-6 eggs per week), or who have an interesting color variation for the egg basket
- not super broody (broodiness causes a big drop in egg production, and is a major nutritional stress on the hen, and since we have no roosters, there's absolutely no point to getting broody around here!

All of our hens are happy to forage and do what chickens do, but are not SO active that they can't  tolerate confinement for some periods of time without pecking each other and going coop-crazy.  It also helps that we don't have a large flock.  The larger the flock, the more likely there are to be "issues."

So without further ado, this spring, we've chosen: 

Silver Laced Wyandotte
Ain't she purty?!
Gentle, beautiful girls who are faithful layers...
and able to withstand the winter weather,
what more could you ask for in a chickie?
Americauna / 'Easter Egger'
We already have Specky, also an Americauna,
but they're often in very different colors and patterns
so we should still be able to tell them apart
and hopefully our new girl will also lay a blue or green egg.

Silver Cuckoo Marans
These girls lay an egg as dark and chocolatey looking as a Cadbury!
Barred Plymouth Rock

 - often touted as one of the very friendliest
and very smartest of hennies...

They look a lot like Dominiques, but their comb is different.

These little gals will be heading our way in mid-May.
Stay tuned for a blog-umentary of their arrival and development.

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