Parents often voice words encouragement to their children like, “It’s good to try new things.” Who knew that something so innocent could be turned around?
That’s exactly what happened to me… and it’s the reason why I found myself researching topics like “How to Care for Baby Chicks.” It’s the reason my mom and my sister-in-law found themselves fashioning refrigerator boxes into a makeshift chicken coop after they outgrew the stock tank, and the reason I’ve been revolving my work schedule around feeding our “babies” three times a day for the past 10+ days.
September 4 is the date I opened Enchanted Acres pumpkin patch for the season. It’s also the day I took delivery of 66 chicks, 60 that will become meat and 6 that will become laying hens. (SIDE BAR: I’ve been accused of being overly ambitious. Bringing home chicks the same day that my on-farm market opened may have been a bit ambitious, I admit. But there was a method to my madness. It takes about 8 weeks to raise broilers. Since my pumpkin patch season is 8-weeks long, I couldn’t afford to delay any longer!)
My 13-year-old daughter was trying to talk me into letting her get out of school early, so she could drive to Hoover’s Hatchery in Rudd where our chicks were hatched. Lucky for her, school was dismissed early that day due to extreme heat. That meant I had lots of helping hands that afternoon! My daughter, my son and one of their classmates were thrilled to help me spread wood shavings in the “coop” and get the chicks safely transferred from the box into the cattle tank. One little chick had an injured foot, and it was literally getting picked on.
My tenderhearted daughter noticed the situation right away, rescued the chick and placed it the closest available container – a flower pot planned for fall mum arrangement. (Part of farming is being resourceful, so I have to credit my girl for being that.) The next thing I know, my daughter and her “pot of chicken” are in my car. She tells me it’s imperative that she gets that chick home and under a heat lamp. So away we go!
It’s a quick 4-mile trip to our home where she promptly set the flower pot on her desk and placed her desk lamp off to the side with a baby blanket overtop (without touching the lamp, of course) to provide sauna-like conditions for her chick. And it worked! Four days later, with its leg healed, the chick was returned to the rest of the flock.
Also that day, we moved all the chicks from the cattle tank to the cardboard coop. We added a larger brooder to help them stay warm as the outside temperature dropped, and little chicks need lots of heat until their feathers develop. Experts recommend keeping the brooding area between 95°-100° for the first two weeks, then the temperature is reduced 5° each week until the chicks are one month old.
To determine whether the temperature is just right, you must monitor the chicks. If chicks are crowded directly together under the heat source, they’re too cold. If they’re crowded around the edges to avoid the direct heat, they’re too warm. The height of the heat lamps must be adjusted to regulate heat in the brooder.
Baby chicks require a lot of care and monitoring during the first 4 weeks. Again, the experts recommend checking on them 5 times per day! (As cute as they are, chicks are a commitment! Just keep that in mind if your daughter ever sweets talk you into ordering some.) Experts also recommend changing the bedding at least once a week.
We’ve been changing the bedding once week, as our chicks have been moved into larger quarters every 5 to 7 days. Later this week – definitely before Enchanted Acres’ grand season opening on Saturday, September 20 – we’ll be moving them again. This time they’ll move from a sectioned off area of our barn into a bona fide chicken coop outdoors.
As they develop more feathers and get a bit older, the chicks will be able to go outside in a fenced in area to pick at bugs and worms. Ideal outside temperatures for chicks at 3 weeks of age is 65° to 70°. Temperatures of 65° to 70° are also ideal for picking pumpkins.
Bring on those sunny, beautiful fall days… We’ve got lots of chickens and pumpkins to sell! If you’re interested in buying fresh and buying local, you’ll have a chance to meet local farmers at our Fresh on the Farm event in Franklin County to be held Sunday, September 28, from noon to 6 PM. Train Wreck Winery will be serving samples at Enchanted Acres that day, plus we’ll be serving up samples of farm-fresh produce including spaghetti squash and pumpkin butter.
P.S. Join me for weekly updates during the fall season. Each Tuesday I plan to post a new article on my “Fairytale Beginnings and Everyday Realities” blog. Let me know if there’s something in particular that you’d like me to write about!