(Don’t) Buy ALL the Chicks!

You’ll never hear me discourage the addition of an animal in your life. I’m pretty much an advocate of adding animals to your house or homestead at any time – and often do so myself, sometimes not entirely rationally. Lately I’ve been heard muttering, “Buy ALL the goats” and “Buy ALL the lambs” fueled by the exploding farm cuteness on blogs I follow, and perhaps the pregnancy hormones. And then there’s “Buy ALL the chickens”…that one has been a mantra for a while. I’m a craigslist farm animal troll and often find myself at 1am poking W in his sleep and whispering, “I’ve found a 1500lb pregnant dairy cow…how do you think we’d moooove her?” So it seemed a rather simple notion that we’d certainly buy some chicks this year, feeling fully indoctrinated into chickendom and looking to stagger our flock with youguns’ (we have several older rescue chickens who provide entertainment for a living, but no eggs). However, upon a trip to our local hardware store (their marquee had a “CHICKS – FEB 28th” up for a looong time, enticing me) I had second thoughts, and WV and walked out with the same level of cute we walked in with (high, let me tell you, but not fluffy).

So it goes like this. Chicks, when purchased, are often between 1-3 days old. Maybe a week. They must be kept at between 95-102 degrees F for the first week, ramping down the temp 5 degrees each week until it’s warm enough to put them out (we do have a heat lamp, but if not, you’d have to purchase one). That’s right, they’d be in the house. Problem #1: It’s quite a commitment, keeping your chicks at the proper temp, 24/7, with all the other household tasks to do, not to mention being a mom, wife, and incubating a baby. And also, erhm, we do have indoor animals that I’m sure would be apoplectic with the scent of baby chicken emanating from the bathroom (isn’t that where everyone quarantines their new chicks?). Problem #2: Our indoor dogs and cat eat and drink in the bathroom. This would take some rearranging.

20140220_121838(0) A third thing that concerned me was the health of my family – there were notices aplenty taped up at the hardware store warning about salmonella. Now, I admit, I’m a pregnant germaphobe, but it seemed risky to up and add this possibility to ourselves and our flock at this point in time. We practically snuggle our chickens everyday – WV is a chicken-hugger, and the idea of decontaminating after chick-checks exhausted me. Also, the possibility of introducing pathogens from new chicks to our extremely healthy current flock doesn’t jazz me. So, Problem #3: Risk of disease.

Another factor that influenced me to leave chick-less, was the cost. Chicks run about $3.50 a piece, and I’ve gotten pullets for free or for a few dollars more through word-of-mouth, or from Craigslist and Freecycle. Problem/Reason #4: Cost-benefit is certainly skewed towards buying slightly older fowl.

#5-6: Don’t forget, chicks aren’t the hardiest little beings, AND you have no guarantee that you won’t be raising an artificial nest of all roosters (sexing chicks is an actual profession…upon researching it I realized it would not be something I could accomplish at the hardware store with a wiggly child). Then all the work is pretty much for naught…I suppose you could make a lot of rooster stew, but it would definitely be disappointing.

Finally, as I was mulling this all over in my head, my thoughts wandered to one of our hens, Colleen, who was decidedly broody last year. #7: The vast difference in human effort between raising chicks I purchase at a day old and having Colleen (or whomever might go broody this year) do the work for us is enticing. W and I decided that if one of our hens decides to set, we’ll let her and see how it goes. That will be fun to watch and require minimal effort!

I have uncharacteristically decided against the CUTENESS and am voting for letting our hens take care of the chick business this year (perhaps next year we’ll buy chicks). I think W’s practicality may just be rubbing off. Quick, before I get too rational (and W gets home) I’m going to hop on Craigslist to see if I can find a free goat. You know, balance things off a bit *wink*!

So, to those of you who have raised chicks you purchased tell me where I’m wrong! I want to know what ya’ll think…should I go back?

This post has been shared at Montana Homesteader’s Hop, Oak Hill Homestead’s Hop, The 104 Homestead’s Hop, New Life on a Homestead’s Hop, Back to the Basics Hop, and The Backyard Farming Connection’s Hop.

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15 thoughts on “(Don’t) Buy ALL the Chicks!

  1. The risk of disease and biosecurity is somewhat inflated and relies on good flock management to overcome. The solution is simple. Have healthy birds. Most adult humans and wild animals can handle salmonella (and many, many other things!) in their system if they are otherwise healthy. So having chickens with a good and appropriately clean environment is paramount. Step two is understanding that culling is how wild animals stay healthy. Predators eat sick animals before they can spread disease to the whole species. So if a chicken is lacking in the health department immediately pull the bird and hold them in quarentine for a few days. If they pick back up with a little TLC they can go back to the flock. If they don’t, you are a human on top of the food chain. It is your place as flock manager to make that bird your dinner (or otherwise remove it). This is how many people operate their biosecurity and it works. Their flocks are always healthy. Aside from basic flock management (which applies if your birds picks up something from a wild bird on a daily basis or if you bring in new birds) the concern is not so great as all that. Remember that wild birds carry as many diseases as domesticated anew and they can probably poop right into your coop every day.

    • Very good points – contact with wild birds as a source of diseases is very possible, and basically unavoidable – our chickens free range in nice weather. I’ve never gone to buy chicks, so the fliers warning of salmonella were worrisome, and I was more worried about chick-human contamination than chick-chicken contamination, since they would have been kept separate for several weeks. Side question; would you eat a sick chicken? I’ve had two in our time keeping chickens – one died from choking, so timing precluded eating, but another had a longer illness, was quarantined and I wouldn’t’ have eaten her. I think she was just stressed, but you never know. Thanks for your input!!!

      • In that case I suggest a bottle of not alcohol free hand sanitizer and a designated hoodie zip up sweater to only wear around the chicks for the first 30 days. This will keep the germs off of your top half with the sweater and after you take that off the hand sanitizer will kill just about anything. But still, most birds will be no more harmful than the chickens you already have. As for the sick bird, the FDA suggestions for cooking temps for chicken will kill all the zoonotic diseases I know of. For instance, a chicken sick with coccidia cooked to temperature will have no live coccidia in it. The same with salmonella, tapeworm, gapeworm, ringworm, e.coli, mites, sour crop, etc. Even very serious viruses such as HIV and HPV in monkeys are killed this way if cooked to the full temperature listed for cooking chicken. The only exception is meat that is old or rotting. Any meat that has decay of any sort will not give you an illness per say but your stomach wont be able to handle the decayed meat and you will puke up and possibly get very sick. However any meat that is not decayed should be fine. Considering that half-dead battery hens go into things like Campbell’s soup, I cant imagine something killed and cooked right on the homestead would be worse. If you are especially concerned, pressure cook it. That even kills botulism.

  2. But they are so FREAKIN’ cute! Who is this rational Lila girl? I could’ve walked out of our hardware store with a dozen last week, but we were fairly certain it was against HOA rules. Darn city livin’! 🙂 xoxo

    • They are pretty stinkin’ cute. I just…I’m tired, lol! So must rationalize somehow! Why do goats seem like less work than chicks? How about if Colleen does her duty and hatches some, I ship ’em down to TX? 😉 Dang HOA…they’ll never know!

  3. I have decided somewhat similar to you, but for different reasons. I am not ready for chicks right now, and with a move impending, I don’t need another thing to deal with. I have actually ordered started pullets from a local farm friend of mine. So end of May, I will pick up a dozen started ISA brown pullets that will be much closer to laying. They only downside I can come up with for my plan is that they won’t be hand raised as the farm I am getting them from hatched out something like 600 of them. Still the best solution for my situation and then I think like you, I hope to let the hens do the hatching in the future if they are agreeable.

    • I think your reasoning is prudent – moving with chicks would be quite the hassle, let alone taking care of them while you prepare to move! Pullets are still super impressionable, and even if they weren’t started by hand I think they will be able to become super friendly and fun. We rescued some full grown chickens who had been debeaked, clearly from a farm that overcrowded and didn’t care…and now they are the loveliest, fairly friendly ladies! Good luck!

  4. We have left the farm store without chickens for a few years now. Took a break. This year we will be bringing some home. We will be buying meat chickens in the late Spring (if it ever warms up) and looking to buy hens that are actually laying 🙂
    Great post!
    Stopping by from the HomeAcre Hop!

    • Glad to know I’m not alone! Maybe next year when things aren’t as hectic around here (wishful thinking, ha!) we’ll try it. I also would like my son to remember the fun of it, and he’s not quite two right now.

      Good luck buying laying hens – we made the mistake of buying some older ladies who were “laying”…but extremely intermittently. Now we know to ask how old they are! Craigslist (you can find ’em almost free) and Freecycle are the best – sometimes people are moving or downsizing and would rather interview you and find someone who jives with them than sell them for a profit!

  5. I order my chicks online every year (makes that $3.50 look REALLY cheap) so I can get exactly the breed I want in the beginning of June when I can put the brooder box in the garage. I also intensely watched my hen that hatched a chick a few years ago and learned that the whole 100° temperature thing seems overblown. She had that chick out in the 70° morning air every day after it was a few days old! Mine now spend their days in an outside brooder and come in for the night. I limit myself to three chicks every year. This year it’s Olive Eggers to add to the rainbow of egg colors!

    • Ordering 3 definitely seems easier than what I had originally intended (10..20? See, I’m not usually so rational!). State law here dictates buying at least 6. I imagine with three you would be able to really baby them and it might be easier than the mass quantities I was envisioning. Have you ever had any chick deaths while they were young? Where do you order from? 🙂 Ooo, don’t you just love the variety of colors that chickens lay!? It never ceases to amaze me!

  6. I agree with quarteacrehome, she makes very logical valid points! That said, I have ordered day olds, and also let my hens brood chicks, and have had success with both. It is certainly easier when the hen is mama, and her chicks have more chicken sense than any I raise. I have found that heritage breeds brood better, unlike some crosses that have given up in the third week! A good fertile rooster, and you are all set. So really it depends on what kind of hens you have, and what kind you want!

  7. Loved your very-valid reasons. My five hens range in age from 4-8 years old, they don’t go broody, and really and truly I do need some younger hens, but I’d prefer not to have to raise chicks. Pullets and hens can be quite expensive though, since someone else has done the hard work. So, I’m still thinking… Thank you for sharing this at the HomeAcre Hop; I hope you’ll join us again this Thursday.
    Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead

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