What could be cuter than 50 day-old chicks? I can’t think of anything. Every couple of years, we need to replace the chickens we lose to attrition and old age. The previous batch were hatched right here on the farm from our own flock of Black Australorps in October 2008. Although that was fun, hatching chicks ourselves has a variety of pros and cons which I will post about separately. This year, we ordered a new set from Mt Healthy hatchery in Ohio. They arrived in really good shape and are healthy and happy so far.
We like to stick with endangered, heritage breed chickens because they have more of the old-fashioned behaviors that allow them to thrive on pasture, and also because we like to support genetic diversity among livestock. This year’s chicks are half New Hampshire Reds (the yellow ones) and half Speckled Sussex (the brown striped). Both breeds are supposed to be good cold-weather layers, and have pleasant personalities.
For the first couple of weeks, they will live in the brooder, a large enclosed cage that keeps them warm and protects them from harm. They have to be kept at 95 degrees at first, which always seems really hot to me and surprising that they can be comfortable at that temperature. We give them food, water, and a big clump of dirt and grass every day, so they can start developing their immune system. In several weeks, we’ll move them into the ‘good neighbors’ pen, where they can see but not be attacked by the older hens. When they are full-grown and can defend themselves, we will integrate them with the flock.