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Backyard Chickens: My Journey from Chicks to Chickens

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For the past year my husband, Nick, and I have talked about getting chickens. Neither of us have ever owned chickens, or for that matter even known someone else who has had chickens, but the idea was appealing. I love the idea of having a new pet, and a pet that lays fresh eggs. Backyard chickens is definitely on the rise on my area, and I was ready to jump on the bandwagon

After one of my friends bought three hens I began thinking about it more seriously. After perusing Craigslist and finding a couple of chick sellers, my husband said, “well why don’t you just go buy some today?” That was all I needed, next think I knew I was in the car driving towards adorable, 1 week old, baby chicks.

At the first stop I bought a Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red, and Sex Link chicks. After bringing home my three babies I decided to go out yet again and buy a Barred Rock chick, because I loved the black and white striped pattern they get as adults. I was assured by both sellers that all chicks would grow up into egg laying hens, and I was feeling pretty good about my decision.

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Our babies were set up in a very large, blue plastic storage bin bought at Lowe’s. I put pine shavings in the bottom (apparently you need to stay away from cedar based shavings), and until I got to a chicken store I bought a bird feeder and waterer, which worked very well temporarily.  I also made a small roosting pole using flat pieces of molding and 1/2″ dowels. I spray painted the pieces, drilled holes into the molding, and attached the dowels. It was a very simple process and my babies loved their mini perch. I was able to get a bag of Tucker chick starter feed from one of my chick sellers, and I was set up and ready to raise my babies.

The chicks slept A LOT at first, however each day they seemed to get a little more chiper and active, except one. Our little Rhode Island Red, Gretchen, never seemed to grow or develop like the rest, and she began sleeping more and more, rather then less like the others. Unfortunately we woke up one morning in the first week to find Gretchen hadn’t made it, which was truly heartbreaking…. but I was glad to see our other chicks were still thriving.

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I loved seeing all of their personalities come through. Richard Parker (Sex Link) was the calmest, and happily allowed us to hold him and snuggle him, Zachary Binks (Barred Rock) had attitude, didn’t like to be held, and was a little tough guy, Amy (Buff Orpington) seemed like mama hen, and was growing the fastest, I think she is a week older than the other two.

I did have some issues with pasty butt with Amy and Richard Parker (where their poop sticks to the feathers around their butt, which can cause backup, and even death). I had to clean them up everyday for the first couple of weeks. Zachary Binks never had a problem, probably because I bought him with a bare butt. I believe his original owner pulled the feathers around his chick’s butts to prevent this from happening. Although it was nice to not have to worry about him I must say I was relieved when his feathers finally began sprouting down there. I was convinced I was going to end up with a bare butt hen.

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Although it was tough losing Gretchen, I think I will always raise my chickens from chicks. It’s fun to watch them grow, and they get used to you. We made it a point to handle each one of them daily to make them used to us, although Zachary still doesn’t like it.  Each day I would go in and visit with my babies, and each day it seemed like they grew a little bigger or sprouted a new feather.

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After the first week the babies and I took our very first field trip to the backyard. We live in the city of Atlanta, which has a notorious city hawk problem. I was terrified of every squawk and flapping I heard, and continuously hovered over my precious babies. It was amazing to see them teetering around in the grass, exploring the great outdoors, and seemingly pecking and tasting everything. After a successful first outing I made sure to get them outside every day for a little fresh air, with serious supervision of course.

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Amy (Buff Orpington) was the first to sprout her big girl feathers, and they started coming in at full force around the middle of the third week. As her feathers pushed through it looked like she was growing red dreadlocks on her head and around her neck. I was surprised to see the chick that I assumed would be light tan, or a buff color, hence the name, growing red feathers.

Soon after Amy’s feathers began coming in Richard and Zachary started losing their baby feather on their wings, I was thrilled to see Zachary’s striped pattern coming through.

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I was becoming mama hen to my chick-a-dees and I loved it! I would drag their enormous bin outside daily, and release them in our backyard to explore. As soon as I would sit near them they would hustle over and fight for a perch spot on my legs. It was so sweet, until one of them would leave a very smelly surprise behind. The one downside I have discovered from owning chickens is the smell, their droppings aren’t like a hamster’s, a small annoyance, a chicken’s surprise is a VERY smelly one. We kept our chickens inside until they were around two months old, and by the end I was changing their shavings out every other day because the smell was so bad. Needless to say I was relieved when they moved outside.

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I love their little dinosaur feet! It’s crazy to see their scaly legs against their soft feathers! Zachary always seemed to have sores on his feet. I read that sometimes the other chicks will mistake toes for worms, or other food, and will peck each other. As they grew up and moved outside it became less of a problem.

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Their awkward teens was a constant source of entertainment. Their feathers grew in as soft looking spikes until they eventually spread into wide feathers. The combination of their spikes and baby down was ridiculous looking. It was crazy to think just a month prior I was able to hold all three in one hand, and now It took two hand to pick them up.

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If you are a regular reader, by now you know I have a Beagle mix, Jacob and Husky-German Shepard mix, Kody Bear. I was very nervous about introducing the dogs to the chickens, and at first they were both very intense and wanted nothing more than a little chicken taste. However, over time, by slowly bringing them out (on leashes) and eventually letting them off leash, watching with a close eye, they seemed to get along. Jacob will sniff them for a minute, and then mind his own business. I can trust Jacob enough to turn my back on him, and work in the garden, however Kody Bear will never get to that point. I think he has too much killer instinct in him, and he never gets enough of sniffing our chickens. I don’t think Kody and the chickens’ relationship will ever go beyond a very controlled environment.

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After a little over two months the chickens made their transition outside! I was very excited to move them out, the smell was overwhelming in the house. I will post about the coop building process soon! It’s still a work in progress, but we are closing in on the end!

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Sometime in week 11 a dread began creeping in my belly. I began noticing differences between Richard Parker and the other two. “Her” comb and wattle was twice as large as her sisters and was quickly turning bright red. I tried to push the worry aside, after all sex link chicks are breed specifically to easily tell them apart. “She” couldn’t be a rooster, she was definitely a hen.

However, in week 12 I discovered, to my horror, a lovely, shiny, green feather sprouting from her tail. I could no longer deny it, my Sex Link hen was turning into a rooster, and what I assume is a Rhode Island Red. I immediately began my research and discovered that in the city of Atlanta I can have a rooster, and if you grab fertilized eggs within the first few days of them being laid they are just like any other egg. For now Richard is staying with us, his crow will begin in months 5 or 6. The main issue is my attachement to him. From the beginning he has been my favorite, and still lets me hold him with no protest. He is the first to run over and say hello, and I can’t give that up yet. We still haven’t broken the news to our neighbors…

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After discovering we had 2 hens and a rooster we decided to add a new hen to our flock. We did some research and found someone selling 4 month old Americaunas. It was the perfect fit. She was close in age to the others, and I was dying to see what these blue and green eggs would look like.

Introducing a new chicken to a already existing flock can be tricky. The pecking order has to be reestablished, and the newcomers are often outcasts for awhile. I was concerned with possible bloody fights, and was very nervous about putting Wendell through that (lovingly named by Nick). We kept her inside the first night, and put her in an enclosed space outside the next day. We did the “seeing but no touching” approach and planned to sneak her into the coop that night.

Apparently by placing them in with the rest while the others are sleeping makes the acceptance process easier. Somehow by waking up together the other chickens assume the newbie has been there the whole time. We were set and ready to go to sneak Wendell in after dark… at least that was the plan…

Later in the evening I went out to check on Wendell and I couldn’t find her in her enclosed space! I had a minor heart attack until I peeked in the coop and saw her already in with the rest. I immediately went inside and blamed Nick for putting her in too early… but he had no idea what I was talking about! Some how Wendell got out of her space and into the coop completely on her own. I guess she was ready to introduce herself to the others before we were.

The following days were tough on Wendell and me. The others pecked her any time she approached, and she mostly hung out by herself. I felt so bad taking her from her family, to a strange place, only to be bullied. But with each passing day the foursome began spending more and more time together, and now two weeks later they are inseparable.

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Our hens should start laying around 5 months old and I can’t wait! If you are thinking about chickens, but can’t decide, just do it. They are adorable, have ridiculous personalities, and are so much fun to watch. At this point I think I will have chickens forever. We will just have to find a way to move our 3 ton coop to our next house!

Thanks for visiting my blog and reading about my chickens! Look for my coop how to post in the near future! Help me spread the word about my blog by liking, tweeting, sharing, and commenting! Thanks for stopping by.


 

Posted by on June 14, 2013

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