I’m not a farmer, and I don’t pretend to know a whole lot about chickens. But when my husband and I decided to get some baby chicks late February 2022, I learned a lot in a very short period of time! If you’re thinking about getting your own backyard flock, here are 11 things you should know.
Chicken Math When You Weren’t Expecting It
1) You will buy more then you meant too even in that first batch. I know we’ve all heard about chicken math at this point but you think it won’t happen to you until after you get your first batch.
Not true. I was meant to buy 3 or 4 baby chicks but it turns out Tractor Supply had a minimum purchase of 4, ok no problem that makes my decision for me. Except they didn’t have the breeds I wanted.
So I went to Rural King who I’d heard did have the breeds I wanted (thanks to the FIL!), but apparently RK had a 6 chick minimum purchase. Not a huge amount more but definitely more than my husband was planning on me bringing home. I decided to get one chick of 6 breeds. The problem was there was only 2 sapphire gem chicks left and I picked one, which would’ve left one all by herself. Which I of course couldn’t do. Other people might think there was something wrong with her.
So I left the house thinking 3 or 4 birds would come home with me and instead I walked in with 7. Big J wasn’t impressed but that’s ok I knew he would love them soon enough (and that’s already true!).
Prepare a Comprehensive First Aid Kit for Your Baby Chicks
2) They will get hurt or sick, be prepared for both scenarios before you bring them home. I was so proud of myself on this front and then I realized I was woefully underprepared. I also learned that if you suspect something is off with one of your precious baby chicks not to ‘wait and see what happens’. I didn’t start with a good first aid kit and not to scare people here but I do blame myself for the death of one of my birds (RIP Mayday).
I would recommend having four items on hand for your chicken first aid kit. It’ll grow over time but start with these items first.
- Vetericyn Plus Poultry Care
- wound care, spritz this on daily to help the healing processing along.
- After applying the Vetericyn, use the Blue-Kote. I think of it as a liquid Band-Aid but it’s also blue in color in order to hide the red of the wound. Chickens are little bit like bulls when they see red. They will continue to peck at another birds wound if they see that red.
- Relief and prevention of colds, roup, scaly legs and eye worm. This one you can add some drops to their water each day to help fight an illness. You won’t want to use this frequently as you don’t want to bring on a bit of a super bug. Used sparingly this is a key item in your first aid kit.
- Terramycin Antibiotic Ophthalmic
- This Ointment is used to treat infections such as conjunctivitis, inflamed cornea, pink eye, corneal ulcers and inflammation of the eyelids. The ointment works kind of like an eye wash, it helps protect against harmful bacteria.
I only had Blue-Kote on hand, when one evening Big J told me the chicks were picking on one of the smaller ones and that he’d seen a wound on her. I leapt into action with my Blue-Kote, read the directions to make sure I applied it correctly and that’s when I realized that Blue-Kote applied directly to the wound could sting. That it’s recommended to first apply a treatment like Vetericyn Plus first.
So then I of course panic and can’t find a local store with Vetericyn Plus in stock so I had to order it from Amazon and wait. Thankfully, in this case, it turns out she didn’t have a wound and was fine but I still ordered the VP so I’d truly be ready.
Around the 9 or 10 week mark one of my chicks started closing on of their eyes and keeping it closed. Every time I came over to check her out she’d open it again though, so I thought I’d ‘wait and see what happens tomorrow’. Well the next day both her eyes were doing that plus she wasn’t running around and playing like normal.
Instead she stayed away from the other girls and stood still with her eyes closed. Thankfully, my local Tractor Supply had Terramycin in stock but no one had VetRx. So I made a panicked run over to TSC and placed an Amazon order.
Unfortunately, I never got a chance to give her the Terramycin. I’m still not sure what happened exactly whether she passed away on her own and the other birds decided to start ripping out her feathers then or if they sensed that she’d become a threat with her cold and took her out. Especially considering at the time I was 99.8% sure one of the hens was a rooster.
Chickens Grow Faster Than You Think
3) They grow… fast. We got our baby chicks when they were a 3-7 days old, and they were already pretty big! Just by the end of the first week to week and a half they’d all doubled in size and by 4 weeks old they were too big for their brooder but it was still to cold outside to move them out there yet. Which leads to my next point.
4) They need a lot of space. Chickens are not happy being cooped up in a small space, so you’ll need to make sure that their enclosure is large enough for them to move around in. We quickly learned that our original enclosure was far too small, and had to build them a new one that was three or four times the size.
We ended up having to take our roll of wire fence and using that to construct a new home for them for another month or so. We didn’t want to cut the fencing though so we used carabiners to latch the end of the fence to the roll.
It was kind of a cluster and a real pain to get in and out of, let alone trying to keep it clean too. Honestly, try to get one of those huge cardboard containers that they put watermelons in at the grocery store. They sell nice reusable ones online at Amazon and Tractor Supply too (I haven’t tried this kind before).
Have a Plan for If You Accidently Get a Rooster
5) Have some rooster knowledge and have a game plan for a rooster, even if you aren’t planning on getting one. It doesn’t matter if they come sexed at the store and the store clerk sexes them again. When they are that young there is always a chance you’ll accidently get a rooster.
We knew starting off the first year we didn’t want a rooster, that depending on how things went with predator’s we’d consider it later. Especially, since you can usually get free roosters in local facebook groups.
As I mentioned above, we ended up with a rooster unexpectedly. We had no rooster knowledge and no game plan on how to proceed now that we have one.
I was pretty surprised when our little family was at a local farm stand and Big J asked if the woman wanted a rooster. Ya’ll he was trying to give away my girl before we were even sure she was a he! So make a game plan before you end up with one so you don’t get a few surprises! Especially if you live in an area that doesn’t allow roosters, there’s nothing worse then knowing you CAN’T have a roosters and finding out you have one.
Cleanliness & Chickens
6) They’re messy. Baby chicks are notoriously messy creatures, and their enclosure will need to be cleaned out frequently. We quickly learned that it’s best to just accept the fact that wherever your brooder is located is going to be a bit of a mess for a while.
Seriously, there is a lot more dust involved then I ever expected! Like tons, thank goodness we have the heated sunroom. We kept them out there, away from little J. I’m still slowly, very slowly, cleaning it up. It’s hard to get unexpected chores done when you have so many others to do with an almost 2 year old.
Chickens & Nature
7) They’re loud. Chickens are not known for being quiet animals, and ours were no exception. They would make all sorts of noises, from the soft cooing that they made when they were content, to the loud screeching that they would do when they were scared or angry.
When we first brought them home they were pretty scared so they were very loud. The first night our original plan was to put them in the garage but then thought that was to cold, hence moving them to the sunroom.
Well after moving them Big J watched Little J and I caught up on eating dinner while watching some videos about baby chicks. My husband heard the video from across the house on a different floor and thought we’d left a chick in the garage by mistake. That’s the level of loud a baby chick can be that the loud volume on my phone can easily be mistaken for a chick.
Now, at 4 months old, I’ve got one girl that just sounds angry all the time no matter what and I’ve got another girl that rarely ever makes a peep. Plus that rooster is fairly talkative too but thankfully he’s not a super mouthy guy.
8) They’re curious but also brutal. Chickens are very curious creatures, and ours were always exploring their enclosure and pecking at anything that caught their eye. This curiosity can be hilarious or annoying.
When I crouch down in the chicken run to hang up some apples for them one or two of them end up pecking at the rivets on my jeans and they all love my wedding rings. Anything shiny and they are totally into. So watch out for loose screws or other hardware related items that come lose over time!
They are also first and foremost animals right? The term pecking order is a thing for a reason
Roosting Habits of Chicks
9) They like to roost. I mean obviously but they really do like to sleep in high places, so you’ll need to provide them with a roosting spot. I had a small flimsy roost toy for them when they were itty bitty but soon only one could get on it at a time.
So they got in the habit of sleeping on the ground curled up together (which is totally cute) but when I moved them out to the coop they still slept on the ground together on a haybale that’s out there. It took almost a month to get them to start roosting.
I was pretty nervous during this time since they were sleeping at ground level every night instead of using the roost so I was worried that if a predator managed to get in they’d be sitting ‘chicken’s.
Food & Fresh Water
10) They need food and water. This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important to make sure that your baby chicks always have access to food and FRESH water. If they ran out of either, they’d let me know pretty quickly while they were still in the house. Those feeders would get knocked over so fast when they were empty!
I make sure I check each first thing in the morning when I go let them out of the hen house (still not using the automatic door yet) and again right before I bring them back in at night.
Make sure you are keeping the feeders off the floor as much as possible too since they will eventually poop in their food and/or water and that really will get them sick.
Egg Eating Chickens
11) If given the chance they WILL eat the eggs. Chickens lay eggs, and ours were no exception BUT what we didn’t know and quickly learned is that they will eat them. My first ever egg was the victim of some extra intense curiosity pecks, was cracked open and after that my chickens has a taste for eggs.
I had to check my hen house frequently for awhile there and get some fake eggs to try to prevent egg eating which thankfully we’ve been successful for.
12) They’re social creatures. Chickens are very social creatures, and ours loved to be around us (and each other). If we want them to be happy, we needed to spend some time with them every day. Which is not hard to do since they are hilarious to watch.
13) They’re fun! Despite all of the work that goes into taking care of baby chicks, we have had so much fun with them. Chicken TV is a real thing. I could watch them for hours just grazing back and forth, making their small noises, occasionally flapping around their run. It’s so entertaining; unfortunately, with everything else we have going on on the property and with a toddler we really don’t have the time to just sit and stare.
If you’re thinking about getting your own backyard flock, these are just a few of the things you should know. Chickens can be a lot of work, but they’re also a lot of fun. We hope you enjoy your experience as much as we have!
Do you have any other tips for those thinking about getting chickens? Share them in the comments below! And be sure to check out our other blog posts about backyard chicken care. Thanks for reading!