We Stress Bought Baby Chicks
We stared at shelves labeled with egg price tags but no eggs. Eggs are an essential food for many people, and now there weren't any available since the COVID-19 social-distancing advice began. The day before the shelter-in-place became a requirement, my husband and I ordered six chicks. My thinking? “If we're stuck at home for weeks or even months, we should work on growing a potential food source."
The last owners of our home left an empty chicken coop behind, so we didn't need to buy or build one. But we still had many questions: Which breeds will be gentle and friendly with our four-year-old son? Which breeds produce the most eggs? How do I choose chickens that produce different colored eggs? What do we need to purchase to raise them, and how do I make sure they stay healthy? Who can I turn to when I need help or have questions?
Calling the Hatchery
After talking to my friend Jackie, who teaches chicken classes at a local supply store, I decided we needed four dark-colored birds, as these would be less visible to the many hawks in my area. So I called a popular hatchery, determined to find dark and friendly breeds.
Crystal, the salesperson at the hatchery, told me, “The golden retriever of chickens is the Buff Orpington. It's the friendliest breed of chickens that produces the most eggs." “Great!" I replied. "Give me two of those." She countered, “Our minimum order of any breed is three chicks, ma'am." So, I ordered three Buff Orpingtons. My husband had always wanted another golden retriever, and now he was getting three more!
I thought it would be fun to have chickens that produce blue eggs. Crystal assured me that the only breed they had that would meet my criteria of moderate blue egg production and dark feathers was the more expensive Blue Ameraucana. I hadn't really budgeted for my chicken purchase, so I replied, “I'll take three of those too, and your starting brooder kit."
The Chicks Arrive
Two weeks later, our supplies arrived from the hatchery, KHPet.com, and Chewy.com. Three weeks later, I arrived at the post office decked out in my face mask and gloves to pick up our peeping box of chicks. Once home, my family opened the box together. To our surprise, there were not four, not six, but eight healthy peeping chicks!
We set up our brooder with a Thermo-Poultry Brooder, Thermo-Peep Heated Pad, and Poultry Waterer with Chick Saver and food. (We researched what we needed online.) After making sure the surface temperature was between 95°F and 100°F, we quickly transferred the chicks into their enclosure, where they now reside just five days later.
(In case you're wondering, my son named the yellow ones "Squishy" and the black ones "Ben Solo," after the character in the Star Wars movies we've been "marathoning" since the beginning of the shelter-in-place order. To our surprise, our Squishies are not Buff Orpingtons, but New Hampshire Reds! So now we have a new breed to learn about.)
What Are We Doing?
My husband and I now ask ourselves questions like: “How often do we clean the brooder and change out the pine shavings?" “How do we avoid pasty butt?" “How many square feet of run does each chicken need?" We found good answers online in Facebook groups and backyard chicken forums. We were also lucky enough to be an early member of a newly formed local chicken Facebook Group. It turns out—even in my community—everyone stress bought baby chicks.
So because of the egg shortage, we now have eight downy chicks that do double duty as future egg layers and food providers. Are we in way over our heads? I just learned what a vent is, so, yes! Are we thrilled to learn how to be good chicken parents and potentially have a new food source in five to six months? Absolutely! As Han Solo so famously said, “Never tell me the odds." So our journey as chicken owners begins.