Friday, February 17, 2012

When to buy baby chicks

You know you want them. Coop planning is already underway. You keep looking out the back window all dreamy-eyed envisioning your own flock of hens waddling around the yard chasing down bugs.  But when is the right time to actually go to the feed store and make the commitment to buy your baby chicks?

Photo courtesy of KRO-Media
I actually called the feed store to ask this exact question last year as I was anticipating my very first baby chick purchase. The voice on the other end of the phone was that of a seasoned farmer and advised me to wait until the weather is warm, at least upper 60's during the day before I get my baby chicks. This translated as "go ahead and wait an eternity." I wanted baby chicks now, like a cry baby wants candy.

My local feed store and farm supply chain started "chick days" sometime in the beginning of March and had chicks available through the end of May. On April 1st I thought I would just go and see what was available at the feed store. With this much excitement pumping through my veins there was no way I could leave that place without buying my chicks. So against the farmers advice, I bought 13 baby chicks.

What I have learned about buying chicks in April instead of waiting until May like I should have:
  1. Baby chicks are cute until they trash the place.
    Chickens, even super fluffy butt cute ones make an inhumane amount of dust. Baby chicks need to be at about 90 degrees for the first week or two of their lives. Since you generally buy the chicks within days of being born, you must keep them under a heat lamp in a warm, dry environment for a minimum of 2 weeks. After that you can cut the temperature down to about 80 degrees, and then eventually 70 degrees. It's not until they're maybe 6 - 8 weeks old that they can handle 40-50 degree nights outside. They will trash whatever room you have them in by throwing shavings all over and creating some sort of super layer of dust. And that dust is partly poop. Just saying...
  2. Building a coop in the snow is hard.
    I live in Michigan, so April is a very unpredictable month. It could be sunny and 60 everyday, or it could be 20 degrees with a blizzard for the majority of the month. Planning a coop and actually building it can be tricky. If you don't already have your coop built or live in a warmer more predictable environment, you should wait until May to buy your chicks. It wasn't until the chicks were over 6 weeks old that I was finally able to move them out of my house and into their finished coop.
  3.  Chicks aren't as enjoyable in a cage in your house.
    I wanted to let my chicks free range, feel the earth beneath their little chicky feet and pick at the dirt until they find a little worm or special treat. Instead they were in a large dog cage wrapped in cardboard under artificial light making a mess out of my back bedroom, smelling sort of like sweat and socks. The commodity of having little baby birds in the house wore off after a week. It was really hard to hold them, clean their cage or let them run around the room for a few minutes to stretch their little legs. We once bought a dozen crickets for them to chase around the room, but I'm pretty sure a few of them escaped, headed south to the basement and started a new life of their own living in my dirty laundry. And the little chicken land mines left all over the floor when the chicks were done was not pleasant to mop up. 
My second batch of baby chicks I bought in mid July. This past July was very warm, and the week that I bought the chicks was in the 90's. Since it was so warm out I was able to keep the chicks safe right in our entrance way and they never had to come into the house. I only needed to turn their heat lamp on at night for the first week because it would get down to 70 degrees. Their coop was built and they were in their house by the first week in August.  The mess in entrance way was minimal, the chicks were able to get outside almost everyday and their coop was built in record time. We could have actually just put the brand new baby chicks right into the coop with a heat lamp if we had it finished before we bought them. With the weather so warm there is no need to keep baby chicks in the house at all, which is very ideal.

Something else to keep in mind when buying your chicks: The feed store and your local farm supply chain will carry chicks for a few months, but the selection seems to get more scarce right near the end and the shipments aren't always predictable. New chicks are brought in weekly and I noticed at our local Tractor Supply the variety was always different.

So hold tight, May will be here soon and you will be glad you waited.


Team HighTail said...

We just moved near a TSC. Are their prices on chicks pretty reasonable? Our store keeps telling me they won't know anything (price, breeds, which hatchery they come from) until the chicks start arriving.

Admin said...

They're prices are pretty low. Most chicks are about $2/ea depending on breed/quality no matter where you get them. I did find that TSC did know very little about what/when they would be getting anything, kind of a what you see is what you get. I ended up getting mine from the local feed store instead, they had a wider variety and a little more knowledge for pretty much the same price.

Patricia Potts said...

Oh I so want to buy the baby chicks but we're not ready for them. Thanks for letting me know what a bunch of dirty little dust/poop makers they really are. You've saved me from myself.

Bill Calkins said...

I paid under $1 for chicks late in the season, so there is another reason to wait. Wear a mask when cleaning that dust, like the author says, it has poop in it. I found organic / unmedicated layer feed at the feed store and after 1 yr and 12 chickens, I've never had a sick chicken. We worried about our dog, but if you hold the chickens while the dog watches, it knows they are friends. My "bird dog" lays in the grass while the chickens run over her. They are good friends. Buy a couple of ducks. They watch the chickens and love to hang with them, plus they give eggs everyday just like the chickens.

Admin said...

This is great info Bill, thanks for the comment. Maybe this year I will wait until a little later in the season and look for a deal. I would suspect the selection is a little more narrow though?

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Tania said...

So, I know, it's the middle of June, but do they have chicks anywhere in June?? Or is chick season over?

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