The Road Home

The Road Home
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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Baby Chicken Wrap Up

Hello, Frank here.

Hope everybody is doing well. We're going to do a little chicken review here and try to put it together into one little package. If you're planning on starting baby chickens this year, I encourage you to go back and read the other chicken posts. I got in touch with a hatchery a few days ago and ordered 25 straight run black Australorps. Now, what this means is, on or about March 10th I'm going to have 25 baby birds delivered to my local post office. Here is where the review starts.

I'm new to this region of the country and when we moved here we started off with the type of chickens that had worked well for us about 150 miles north. I don't know why, but the Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks just didn't work out for us. Yes, it's a little bit hotter here, it's a whole lot more humid and the winters are about the same. But the birds that I had used for years, just didn't perform well. And the birds I have now are not performing well either, the Araucanas - Easter Egg Chicken. 

Asking around to many people, relatives, fellow workers, the most popular chicken around here is the black Australorp. I've never cared for an all black chicken, but at my age, it's performance, not looks. So, like I said earlier, about March 10th, 25 straight run baby chicks will be at my local post office. March 10th, by the way, is a Monday. The last time I ordered baby chickens, the post office that sends mail to my local post office called on a Sunday morning and asked me if I wanted to come and pick up the chicks there. And they were only going to be open 30 more minutes and it is 25 miles. The good news is, most of our local police officers sleep in or attend church on Sunday morning. But, we were ready. The brooder box was ready, all the equipment had been tested, so it was just a matter of bringing the little guys home, giving them that first critical drink and we are in the chicken business. Now at that time I had adult birds in my chicken house, so these were my new replacement birds for the adult flock. I wasn't able to hatch any of my own chickens last year because the rooster flogged Fern one day and I put him to rest, which meant I did not have any fertile eggs to hatch. 

So. Straight run means I take whatever I get, be it male or female. I have always found straight run to be 50/50 male/female. Now some mathematical whiz is going to say, "You ordered 25 birds, that is impossible." But you get the idea.

I mentioned that first drink. It is critical to your baby chicks survival. To give them that first drink, you're going to have to have a little chicken waterer. I
would highly recommend a vitamin/electrolyte supplement for their first few days of drinking. That means they're also going to be inside of a box, a brooder, because these guys are about two, three, maybe four days old. They cannot produce their own heat, therefore, you have to supply it. That temperature has to be around 95 degrees. Like that first drink of water, this is critical. So that means you have
to have your brooder ready. Your heat source has to be tested, and it has to be tested overnight, because night time temperatures normally drop. And I know you have baby chicken food ready, whether medicated or not is your call. I use medicated. I feel it just helps to get the birds started on the right chicken foot. But again, on the feed, that's your call. All of the baby birds that I have coming will also be vaccinated. This is my call, and while I still live in a free country, it is my choice.

Okay. So. We have a brooder, and you put something on the floor that won't be slippery. If this is new to you, I really encourage you to read the previous chicken posts, because flooring is important, as are all the other items mentioned before. If you let your birds get too hot or too cold, it will kill them. And don't forget about the problem of a crusted vent, or poopy butt. If the birds get too hot, they dehydrate and where they poop from will crust over. This happens around three to four days old, to maybe two weeks. But if it does happen it is not a major problem if you deal with it. It's no big deal. You just soak the crusted vent area with a wet paper towel and it will come right off. Do not pull the crusted, dried poop off of the chicken's butt. You could seriously damage and kill the baby bird. So soak it first. You are aware that cats and dogs like baby chickens too. And your little kids will like baby chickens also. They will just love them. And they can, if not supervised, love them to death.

Okay. You need a big enough brooder area for your birds to grow and they will grow quickly. Plan on expanding. Drop the temperature about 5 degrees per week. You can tell if the birds huddle under the heat source, that means they are cold. If they avoid the heat source, they are too hot. And don't forget that when you turn the temperature down at night time, unless you have a fairly sophisticated system, your birds might get cold. Avoid drafts, I don't mean move to Canada, just make sure there is no unnecessary air movement, especially when they are very young. Always provide fresh clean water and access to feed. And go back and read the other chicken posts where these items are covered in more detail.

Okay. Let's say you have chickens at this time and you want to hatch some of your eggs with your styrofoam incubator so they will be the same age as the birds that you're about to receive from the hatchery. It takes 21 days for a fertile egg to hatch. I'm not speaking down to anyone here, but there have been more than a few people try to hatch eggs that have never been exposed to a rooster. Think about Biology 101. It takes a male and a female. Okay?

So, you have your incubator, if you choose to use an automatic turner, that's fine. If not, then you know how to turn your own eggs manually. And you also know how to save those eggs before you ever put them into the incubator. A few years back, I bought baby birds from a hatchery and I wanted to hatch some of my own eggs at the same time. So I called the hatchery and told them I had their birds coming, and I'm going to use this date, March 10th, and asked them when were those birds hatched. They told me March 7th. So that's when I want my baby birds to hatch also, March 7th. It takes 21 days to hatch a chicken egg, so let's count backwards 21 days. One, two, three.......... twenty-one. Wa-la! I'm going to start my eggs in the incubator February 15th, so between now, today, January 15th and February 15th, I am not going to kill my rooster. Word to the wise. Okay, so much for humor. February 15th. That is the day I will officially start my incubator so my birds
will hatch March 7th. But before I start my incubator, I'm going to have cleaned it, put water in the troughs, put in the automatic turner and run the incubator for a couple of days. This tells me that everything works. Because when I put the eggs in there that Saturday morning, I do not want to find out that my heating element is broken, my automatic turner doesn't turn or one of my troughs leaks. So, I plan a few days ahead. I have also been saving eggs properly until I have about 50 eggs. The reason for 50 eggs is I like to have a few extra so I can pick the freshest and best looking eggs. Remember that you have to turn these eggs while you're saving them to put in the
incubator. You can put them in an egg carton and lift up one end. Don't forget to date the eggs with a pencil, only, no pens or markers. The pointed end of the egg goes down and you do not wash or refrigerate the eggs, room temperature only. The fresher the eggs the better. So you have some extra eggs? Cook them and feed them to your dogs and cats. If you choose to use an automatic turner, take your automatic turner out of the incubator. Okay, let me explain this. Test your incubator, a number of days, with the turner in it, no eggs,
to make sure everything works. When you start saving eggs, take the top off of the incubator that you have tested. Leave the turner in the bottom half of the incubator and start saving your eggs. Let the automatic turner do the turning, but do not heat the eggs, let them be room temperature. Start saving eggs however many days you need to, to get the number you need on February 15th. The eggs need to be not over five or six days old. Saturday morning, the beginning of the incubation process, make sure your water troughs are full, put the incubator top on the bottom half, plug it in and you should be good to go. It will take these eggs a couple of hours to get to a steady temperature. But since you have tested the incubator already and you have the temperature preset, then you should not have a problem. But still keep a very close eye on the temperature. This is why you start this process in the morning. Then you can watch the temperature all day and make sure it is stable. If you overheat the eggs, you will kill them. That's why you do all of the testing and preparatory work ahead of time.

I will start my eggs Saturday, February 15th. With proper maintenance along the way, 21 days later, we will have baby chickens. I have hatched hundreds and hundreds of eggs, and to this day it is still a miracle to me how you can get a baby chicken out of an egg. In this case, that hatch date will be March 7th, Friday, the same day my industrial grade chickens were also hatched. These baby chickens will get a free plane ride and land at a post office near me. My phone number will be on the outside of that chicken box and the people at the post office will be happy to call me to come and get my baby chickens. Make sure you open the top of the box to show the post office people your baby chickens. Everybody loves baby chickens. And then go home and introduce your industrial chickens to their country cousins. Now wasn't that fun? 

No joke, I am fascinated by birth. You might have a few set backs here and there, not everything works out as planned when you're dealing with live animals. But, overall, it is a wonderful experience and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Please go back and read the other chicken posts and don't be afraid, this process has been going on since God made the egg, or the chicken, whichever. I don't have to know which came first, because someday I will ask Him.

We'll cluck more later, Frank.


  1. Ralph loves Black Australorpes, he had great success with them and when he had them he lived in North Carolina, HOT and HUMID! Here is a great link for breed information, it also has a good number of comments by people who have actually had the breed they describe. I don't know if you have seen it but it may help someone with their chicken choices.

    1. Hi Fiona,

      Thank you for including another resource for everyone. We hope the Australorps perform well here.


  2. I hope you share some photos of them when they arrive! Baby chicks are sooo adorable

    1. We will, Amanda. One of the posts will be about those that arrive and those that hatch. Stay tuned.


  3. I use a cochin bantam as an incubator. If your mostly leghorns for eggs, small and frugal on feed. Quails are one of my next projects.

    1. A number of years back, I had relatives that used Bantams to raise baby chicks. We've thought a lot about what we will use if there is no electricity for the incubator, because now days a lot of chickens won't sit. Maybe I should look into some Bantams. I need to go on a diet anyway.

      Thanks for the comment.