Every year or two we order chicks. Generally we order from McMurray Hatchery. They’re a bit more expensive than some places but they offer a wide selection of heritage breeds. We have hatched our own both in a brooder I built and by hens setting but have not used either method for replacing our flock in the spring. In the fall we tend to cull down hard so as not to over winter too many birds. This means virtually all the roosters go to the pot as well as many hens.
This year we got Ancona, Araucana, Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red, Speckled Sussex and White Pekin Ducks. These will be ready to start laying eggs in about four to five months, joining the hens we wintered over.
Hope Checking Chicks
The purpose of having so many chickens is they eat insects, break apart manure patties and smooth out the soil. This is the same function they serve out on the plains with wild livestock. We have a marsh down below us in the floor of the valley that sends us mosquitoes. Without the chickens we would have lots in the air. With the chickens we get almost none. Same for the flies that grow on the manure patties out in the fields. The chickens are an organic pest control and they also break up parasite life cycles, all naturally.
As a side benefit we get a lot of eggs during the warm seasons and some during the cold seasons. Eggs make an excellent source of food for the piglets, weaners and sometimes growers as well as for the dogs. If you cook the eggs it doubles the available protein. Two-for-one! We’ve found that the piglets, and dogs, can eat the shells without problem so we don’t shell the boiled eggs. Actually, I can eat the shells too – gritty but no harm done. Sometimes when I’ve been really hungry, e.g., short on food, I’ve eaten chicken bones so there’s another myth to put to rest.
In addition to the chickens we also get ducks. The ducks are great for stirring up the various pig ponds, eating algae and mosquito larva in the water which further helps with pest control. Ducks also eat slugs.
Chicks in Brooder
Following my sketch Will built a great brooder in a third of a stall out in the south field shed. This is by far the best brooder setup we’ve ever had, for one simple reason, it’s not in the kitchen! It’s great for other reasons too but not having chicks in the kitchen is really, really nice. They are amazingly noisy at times. In fact, almost all the time to some degree. With our move from the old farm house three years ago to our new tiny cottage one of the objectives was not to have livestock in the kitchen. We’ve mostly succeeded in that.
Sketch of the Brooder
The brooder is about 8′ long by 4′ wide which gives the chicks plenty of room to expand. There are 100 chicks in there plus the baker’s dozen of ducklings. With the heat lamps it stays nice and toasty in there even when it is -13°F outdoors. It is important to ventilate it a bit every day to keep the humidity from getting too high. Otherwise we have chicks with spikey punk hairdos.
Ducklings and Chicks in Brooder
Outdoors: 36°F/2°F Sunny
Tiny Cottage: 64°F/59°F
Daily Spark: “I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat — but farm it properly.” –George Monbiot, former vegan proponent