Here’s a book that I’ve been meaning to tell you about for months ~ Homegrown & Handmade by Deborah Niemann. This is a smart book for today’s modern homesteader. Deborah Niemann more than delivers on practical guidance for a more sustainable and inspirational lifestyle. From growing and using your own food crops, to starting and managing the home dairy, raising backyard poultry, to harvesting fiber from your own animals, Homegrown & Handmade is a book after my own heart!
Here’s what she says about purchasing chicks for the backyard flock:
“Buying chicks is as easy as turning on your computer. There are hatcheries across the country, and they ship chicks through the mail. The buyer’s phone number is on the shipping label, and postal officials are supposed to call the buyer when the chicks arrive. Unfortunately, it does not always work like this. It is a good idea to talk to your mail carrier and call the post office to let them know you will be receiving an order of chicks. This is especially important in cities where the post offices don’t see a lot of live animals coming through. Give them your phone number and tell them to call you so that you can pick them up immediately and get them home and into the brooder.
Depending upon the weather where you live, there are definitely better and worse times to order chicks. When my daughters decided to start showing chickens in 4-H, they had to order them in January or February so that the chickens would be fully grown in time for the fair in July, and unfortunately many chicks cannot stay warm enough to survive the trip into Illinois during that time of year. I prefer to order birds between April and September, but if you live in a milder climate, you might be able to safely order them year round.
The minimum order can be a challenge with mail-order chicks for people who only want five or six in their backyard flock. Most hatcheries require a minimum order of fifteen to twenty-five chicks because they are shipped in a box and have only each other to stay warm. If you only want a few layers, there are options. First, you can find another chicken keeper or two and split an order with them so that you reach the minimum order. However, you have to make sure that the other people either want the same breeds you do or want breeds where the chicks are easy to tell apart.
There are chick pictures of most breeds on some hatcheries’ websites, so you can get an idea of what they will look like. Keep in mind that young chicks look nothing like their adult counterparts. Color is one of the few distinguishing features on young chicks other than feathered feet and muffs, and there are only five basic colors for young chicks, although a few also have markings. Bantams are easy to distinguish from standard chicks at hatching because they are considerably smaller, but some hatcheries hatch and ship them on different days than standard chickens.
You can also check different hatcheries because policies vary, and some reduce the minimum order during the summer, realizing that environmental temperatures are more chick friendly. There are a couple of hatcheries that have started shipping small orders with the inclusion of a heat pack to keep chicks warm, but shipping is usually much more expensive than if you ordered enough chicks so that a heat pack was not necessary for warmth. A few hatcheries also sell four-month-old pullets, but again, this is a more expensive option than buying day-old chicks. Also, since the chicks were started in a large group, they are not as friendly as they would be if you had raised them from the beginning. These birds are also more likely to be debeaked and vaccinated.
You will have to decide whether to have the hatchery debeak and vaccinate your chicks before shipping. Not all hatcheries offer these services, but if they offer it, they may imply that both procedures are necessary. Unfortunately, the procedures became necessary when poultry were moved indoors to live in crowded, filthy conditions. I have heard it claimed that people should not force their ideals on chickens, that there is nothing wrong with putting chickens in small cages because, as flock animals, they like to be close to each other. But in nine years of chicken keeping, I have never seen two chickens walking around wing-to-wing, much less a whole flock. And I have never seen two hens get into a fight. Like all animals, a chicken likes to have its space, although they roost next to each other to sleep at night. When given the choice, chickens run around with at least a few feet separating themselves from each other.
By-the-By ~ Leave a comment below about why you love your backyard chickens or why you’d like to raise some & we’ll draw a name and pop this book in the mail to ya!
Like most agricultural vaccines, poultry vaccines were made to solve problems that are caused by confinement. When chickens are not crowded, they tend to be the healthiest animals on a homestead. A free-range situation is ideal, but if you live in a subdivision, it is not difficult to give your chickens enough space in a chicken tractor or an urban backyard, if you realize your space limitation and don’t get more chickens than your yard or chicken coop can comfortably hold.”
Deborah Niemann is a homesteader, writer, and self-sufficiency expert. In 2002, she relocated her family from the suburbs of Chicago to a 32 acre parcel on a creek “in the middle of nowhere”. Together, they built their own home and began growing the majority of their own food. Sheep, pigs, cattle, goats, chickens, and turkeys supply meat, eggs and dairy products, while an organic garden and orchard provides fruit and vegetables. A highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader, Deborah presents extensively on topics including soapmaking, breadbaking, cheesemaking, composting and homeschooling. You can visit her online at www.homegrownandhandmadethebook.com.