Its that time of year again when your local feed stores often have those cute little chicks on display and of course for sale. Theyre so soft and cuddly and they seem to just peck away at your little heart strings. If you have children it can be almost impossible to tear them away when its time to leave the store.
If you decide to give in to your emotions and take a couple chicks home, its important to keep a few basic things in mind. First of all, if you live within the city limits youll want to check on any city ordinances on keeping chickens on your property. Many cities prohibit them altogether while others limit the number of chickens you can keep.
Next, youll want to properly protect your feathered friends by keeping them in a pen with a wire overhead to keep predators out. Chickens are very vulnerable to coyotes, birds of prey like hawks and eagles and small animals such as raccoons, skunks and foxes. Its fine to let your chickens roam around your property during the day but be sure to pen them up in the evening when these predators are on the hunt for dinner. Its also a good idea to keep your chickens away from other peoples birds as they are very territorial.
The quality of food you feed your chickens is just as important as it is for dogs and cats. Corn scratch alone is not enough. Make sure they are getting a nutritious feed made especially for chickens and laying hens, if youre raising them for egg production. Laying hens will also benefit from supplemental oyster shell for improved egg shell quality.
On the subject of egg production, laying hens should go into molting for 60 days at least once per year. This process of temporarily stopping the egg production increases the quality and quantity of eggs when they are producing and increases the chickens overall longevity. Molting can be done naturally or with a little persuasion and happens easiest when natural daylight is at a minimum, usually from December to February. You can limit feed quality and quantity during this time to hasten the molting process. While molting, the birds stop laying and rest their body until daylight starts to increase.
When buying baby chicks at a feed store, be wary of a viral disease called Mareks disease. The birds will look perfectly healthy and be fine until about 4-6 months old when they get sick and eventually die. The disease is preventable with an inexpensive vaccination but it must be given when the chicks are just a few days old at the hatchery. If the store hasnt bought the chicks from a commercial poultry operation, chances are they havent been vaccinated. Just be sure to ask if the chicks have been vaccinated and if they havent, dont buy them.
Chickens are also prone to picking up harmful parasites by pecking at the ground, eating earthworms and using contaminated feeders and waterers. Therefore its a good idea to have your veterinarian treat them for internal parasites two to three times per year. Keeping the birds in a clean environment can also help prevent parasites.
Chickens can make great pets just like dogs and cats. And who doesnt like fresh eggs? Just be sure to give them the same proper attention they deserve and theyll be sure to thrive. Quality food, a protected and clean environment, vaccinations and regular veterinary care can ensure a healthy and happy brood for all to enjoy!