Nikoel Stevens is an urban farmer in Rainier Valley and the current Board Member at Seattle Farm Co-op. She hosts weekend warehouse hours once a month and coordinates the blog posts for this website! She raises Nigerian Dwarf goats and maintains a flock of chickens with her husband. She works at a national ISP and dreams of owning a small dairy farm somewhere in Western Washington.
Chicks! Chicks! Chicks!
Last year, my husband and I got our very first chicks! We originally ordered four, a gold-sex link, a Plymouth barred rock, a brown leghorn and an Americauna also known as Easter Egger (ours lays green eggs). We got to the Co-op around 10 in the morning on a Saturday and found the lot already buzzing with excited soon-to-be chick parents. There was a quick class on basic chick care and management taught by one of the Co-op founders, Charmaine Slaven. We learned about what all brooding entails, when to put the girls outside and deciding on an end-of-life plan.
The latter was a little hard to fathom when we hadn’t even met our new friends, but an extremely important thing to consider before it’s too late. We knew we wanted to at least learn how to humanely cull a chicken in case of severe illness or raccoon incident, just so we wouldn’t be caught without the knowledge in hand if there came a sudden need to put one of our gals out of their misery. As an animal lover, I couldn’t stand the thought of a suffering animal while also recognizing that these were outdoor livestock for us, not indoor pets like our dogs and cat are. Everyone I’ve met has varying ideas and feelings on this subject and there’s no one right or wrong way, but it’s something every responsible animal keeper needs to consider ahead of time.
Okay, now that the serious stuff is out of the way, we can head back to chick day! After Chicks 101, we headed over to the bedding barn (you members will know it as the barn where we keep the pine shavings) and Gretchen Siegrist (who is now my fellow board member) handed me a Born shoebox with my name and the type of birds we ordered written on them, then we got into the payment line. As an active Co-op volunteer, I’d already picked up everything I needed for the first several weeks of chick care. We already had 3 adult hens, so we had the pine shavings to line the giant 50 gallon plastic tote we’d picked up at the hardware store. We were going to keep the chicks downstairs in the storage area off the laundry room in the basement, but we really wanted to be able to check on them regularly so we set them up in our pantry off of the kitchen! It was kind of ridiculous considering just how dusty it got in there, but we really enjoyed checking in on our little gals several times daily. We had to do a little extra cleaning and it was totally worth it.
Aside from the tote and the shavings, we’d purchased a brooder light, a thermometer, a chick-sized waterer, feeder, chick grit and the chick starter feed made by Washington’s own organic livestock feed producer, Scratch N Peck. I’d picked that all up from the Co-op over multiple weeks of working at the warehouse, but you can also get everything except the feed in one of the brooder kits we sell and the best part is it’s partially refundable if brought back in clean condition! It’s not recommended that the tote we kit all the goods in be used to brood chicks beyond the first week, but it’s a great place to start. The only extra items I needed to get were four small bricks from the hardware store to put the water and feeder on because the chicks will kick the shavings into them on the regular. The last thing was a dowel we put in for them to roost on, but that wasn’t until they were around 3-4 weeks old. It’s pretty darn cute watching them practice on it!
So we got our four little puffballs home that afternoon, named them all after some of our favorite television characters (in the tradition we’d already named all of our other chickens, including the accidental roosters) when I got an email from Christy letting everyone know there were still a few chicks left! We technically had room for one more since we knew the little bantam roo who had adopted us the previous Thanksgiving would have to find a new home before we put the little ones outside. Husband and I looked at each other with excited eyes and I drove on back to the Co-op to get one of the little leftovers. I scooped up a little Rhode Island Red since our very first hen and also our favorite was a Rhodie. I got her home quickly and put her in with her new sisters. Five little different colored fluffy babies! So much peeping! We were in love.
As the weeks went by, they grew at an alarming rate and their personalities began to emerge. Two of them were far braver than the others. They’d let us carry them around the kitchen and even sit on our shoulders. Sometimes, we’d find one on the floor of the pantry peeping her little head off because she couldn’t figure out how to get back up into the brooder. Often we’d put the chick back in only to find her out again an hour later. So precocious!
As they days got warmer, the chicks had finally converted all of their downy softness for shiny, stiff big girl feathers and we knew it was time to start the outside transition. We found a home for Fawkes the tiny roo once he’d started crowing and harassing our three hens. We started out by putting the chicks into a medium wire dog kennel and placing it in the grass away from where the big girls go. They were less than pleased with it, to say the least. They huddled, they peeped, they ran from our hands, we took them back inside. Until tomorrow. It took about a week of days of us taking them out to the sunny grass, opening the door and letting them explore the contained yard fully supervised before they really started enjoying it.
After a few days of this, we finally took them out to the coop. We kicked the big girls out and locked the little girls inside, letting them explore, setting them up on the roosts and showing them the nesting boxes. That night we let the big girls back in by setting them on the upper roost where they were happy to stay. We helped some of the little girls onto the lower roost, but they didn’t all comply so we just let them sort it out. The next day, we let them all out and kept watch to make sure the little girls weren’t getting picked on too badly and had places to hide. They pretty much just ran out of the way of the big girls and everyone was just fine! I know this isn’t exactly the recommended way, but it worked for us. Next time we get chicks, I hope to have more sophisticated digs with separate areas or a nice tractor, but I think the real key was waiting until we had enough time to be able to properly supervise.
I wish we were getting more chicks this year so we could do it all over again, but we’ve already got 8 hens who are all laying, so we’ll have to wait until we rotate the older gals out. In the meantime, I’ll be working at our annual chick sale, running the register and will hold a chick or two before my shift starts, washing my hands after of course! I hope to meet some of you there!
On to the pic spam!