Starting in the early spring, you can find baby chicks at your local feed store (See resources for lists of feed stores.) They are usually just a few days old when they first arrive. The feed store suppliers are usually able to sex the chicks and provide mainly hens for laying eggs. They do this by examining the shape of the egg. This process is about 95% accurate. Most shops will let you bring the roosters back. (I don’t ask what they do with them). The mortality rate is high in baby chicks as they are fragile. Be prepared to lose one to unknown causes. Chances are you can buy one more than you need. (Please don’t send me your extras!) Sexing Bantams is more difficult and you may end up with roosters. Ask your feed store if they are sexed before hatching. They will have a better idea of what your chances are of getting hens or roosters.
You can purchase chicks online and have them delivered by mail. I haven’t known anyone who has done this. They say it is safe and the chicks don’t mind tumbling around for a day or so. I hate the thought of it though.
What kind of chickens do you want?
also want some that lay different colors of eggs. Most lay brown or shades of brown. There are a few that lay blue-green and even red. There is a difference between layers and fryers, so be sure to tell them you want chickens for laying eggs. Bantams or bantys are small chickens that are good if your space is limited. They also lay small eggs. The best method is to go to the feed store and pick out the ones that call to you. Reaching in and just grabbing is my preferred method of purchasing chicks. You can always get more if you want to try different kinds.
Find out what your local feed store has to start with. Your choices may be limited by what is available. You can spend a lot of time doing research about what kind to get. There are some websites listed in the resources section at the end. If you are planning on showing them, that is one thing. If you just want some chickens in the backyard, find what colors you like the best. You may
Feeding/Watering- Chicks need starter feed which is usually more protein. Most starter feeds have antibiotics in them. I am not sure if a small backyard flock really needs this but that is all they had at the feed store. It is because chicks are prone to diseases such as coccidosis.
You can also put a little bit of sugar in their water (approx. 1-tablespoon) when they are just a few days old to give them more energy.
Some little ones may need to learn to drink water. Just dip their beaks into the water to encourage drinking. The water often has to be changed often (daily) in this stage, as they tend to push the shavings around and into the water. It is a good idea to lift the water and food containers off the ground level to reduce the amount of shavings or bedding and debris that get in the water.
Buy a big metal garbage can with a lid that is secure (or make it secure with a bungee cord over the top) to store the food in and keep out critters. (Mice can chew through the plastic garbage cans.)
Housing - They need a warm, contained area like a big box or crate. The temperature needs to be kept at 90 degrees for the first week and can be reduced by 5 degrees every week until they are about 4-6 weeks old. You can use a heat lamp hung over the box. At that time their true feathers have grown to keep them warm. You can discontinue using the heat lamps if it has gotten warm outside (if you purchased your chicks in the middle of the summer). If it is cooler at night they will still need the heat lamps. If the chicks still huddle under the lamps it is a good indication that they still need them. They need enough space to be able to get away from the lamps if they get to hot. (Yes, they will cook if it gets too hot and they can’t cool down).
The bottom of the box should be lined with wood shavings or crushed dried leaves. If the bottom of the container is slippery, they may have trouble standing.
You may need to line the bottom with wire or folded newspaper. If you use shredded newspaper, the paper tends to get caught on their feet. If you want to save money, use dried leaves. Either way, this stuff makes for great compost for the garden! If the shavings are too fine, they may not be able to distinguish between the shavings and their food. If that happens, try to separate the one out a little and remove the shavings and just put food down. Hopefully they will figure out the difference.
Care - Handling is not advised by the experts, as the chicks are fragile (so they say). I think the more they are handled the more they become more like pets. Remember, though they can’t really be trained as they are low on the intelligence factor. (They are chickens after all.)
Behaviors - The first week or so all they will do is peck around and learn to look for food. They will become more curious as they grow. They will scratch at the wood chips and push them around. They love it when the bedding is completely changed. They will be busy for hours going through the new material.
As they grow, you will notice that they will start to perch on things like the water and food container. You may want to start providing other things for them to perch on and keep them off of the food and water containers.
Their peeping noises remain the same. They grow really fast. You can almost see them grow as you watch them. You will be amazed!
Excessive peeping means that something is wrong. They are just like kids crying for something. They may be to hot or too cold, or out of food or water. Be sure to check on them often in the first few weeks. (Twice a day is often!)