Nothing says springtime like baby chicks! If you have decided that the time is right to add chickens to your life, this Chick Check List is for you. There is no doubt that a new batch of chicks ordered from your favourite feed store, through the post, or a local heritage breeder is adorable and entertaining. Amidst the fun, however, these fluffy littles do require some basic knowledge and proper equipment to grow into healthy adults. Let’s get started on the right foot!
A chick brooder is any structure that you use to contain your chicks, from basic to extra fancy, depending on your creativity, budget, number of chicks, and the overall space you are using to house them. We have researched and tested a number of different brooder set-ups. Some examples of containment units include:
Whatever your set-up, we suggest aiming for something that is:
1) Easy to clean : Baby chicks are messy and you will want to contain their bedding, dust, and waste, with a surface that you can wipe down. The least expensive option of a cardboard box provided above is the most troublesome in this regard. You might be surprised at how much dust and waste can be produced by a small number of chicks. You should be prepared to deal with mess, not only inside the brooder, but within whatever room you use to keep your unit. Having chicks inside your home is great from an accessibility and heat perspective, but it is, no doubt, a dirty job to keep the space clean.
2) Size appropriate : Chicks grow quickly! You will need to decide whether to start with a brooder that will accommodate your chicks as they grow or plan ahead to move your chicks once they outgrow their temporary home. Chicks should have room to roam for their physical development and overall health. Overcrowding can lead to unhappy chicks and disease. We will talk more about transitioning your chicks from a brooder to their permanent coop home in a later segment, but for the purposes of setting up your brooder, you should plan to house your chicks for up to twelve weeks, and perhaps longer, depending upon the type of coop you will transitioning to and whether you will be integrating with older birds.
3) Heatable : Heating your brooder appropriately can be both challenging and controversial. Baby chicks require a warm space to live and grow until they are fully feathered. The general rule of thumb is to maintain an appropriately sized place to congregate inside your brooder that is between 95-100 degrees for the first two weeks, and then reduced by five degrees each week thereafter. Traditional heat lamps remain a common method of providing warmth in the brooder. Heat lamps are sold at feed stores and clipped onto the side of the brooder to warm a section of the brooder to the appropriate degree. The use of heat lamps is, however, highly controversial in the hobby farming community because of both safety and health concerns. We will leave it to you to explore the research and commentary on the use of traditional heat lamps.
If you decide that a heat lamp is not for you, another option is an overhead heat plate, kept at a height that allows your chicks to crawl underneath and lean in. These types of heaters provide your chicks with radiant heat that is NOT hot to the touch. This style mimics the warmth that a chick would receive from its momma while underneath or pressed up again her. These products come in different sizes depending upon the number of chicks you are brooding, and can be raised up as your chicks grow. They are safe, low wattage, and chicks love them. We have had very good luck with this style of heater (the EcoGlow) by Brinsea. It is important to note that this type of heater is only effective when the ambient temperature of the room your chicks are in is 58 degrees or warmer. These heaters will not serve your chicks in the dead of winter, if they are otherwise in an unheated space.
4) Beddable : Your chicks will need bedding and there is a lot of choice. Many people like to use paper towel in their brooder for the first few days to be able to better keep an eye on the chicks’ stool. It is also easy to clean, as it can simply be discarded, with new towels provided as needed. After a few days, you will want to switch up your bedding to something more permanent. Cleaned and chopped straw and wood shavings also make excellent bedding, which is scoopable and easily replaceable, in particular if you line the bottom or your brooder with a tarp or other material that can be removed all at once, with the bedding discarded. Many discourage the use of cedar shavings because of the strong smell, which can be disruptive to chicks. Recycled paper or newsprint can also be problematic if the ink used is otherwise toxic for developing animals. Washed construction sand (not beach or playground sand, which is too fine) is an additional option (which we use in our big kid coop), as it dries quickly and is easily cleared of waste with a litter scoop.
Whatever you use, you will want to keep an eye on your bedding to ensure it is clean and dry. Wet bedding is to avoided, as it allows bacteria and fungus to multiply and impact your chicks’ gut and overall immune system. There is no such thing as litter that is too clean, so keep scooping and replacing! Daily observation of your chicks' behaviour and droppings is vital to maintaining health in the brooder. The time it takes to clean your chicks’ bedding is a great opportunity to check on the overall health of your babies. Loose stool is not something you want to see in the brooder (but, it happens!) and should prompt you to take further appropriate action.
5) Ventable : Your brooder should have good ventilation, both for ease of respiration and to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. As your chicks grow, and perhaps begin to roost, you will need to limit the risk of your chicks jumping or flying out of the brooder. Whatever method you use to contain your chicks (either by building up the height of your brooder or adding a ceiling), it is important to ensure that air continues to flow nicely through your set-up.
Baby chicks need a balanced ration to support and maintain their growth. When you first bring your chicks home, you will need what is commonly called a “Starter” ration. Much scientific research goes into the development of commercial rations and, if you take a moment to read the feed tags, you will see how the balancing of the components is different, depending upon the age of the chicks you are feeding. Starter rations, for example, contain more protein and less calcium than adult bird rations, on purpose, as they are designed to support rapid growth, while at the same time providing a suitable amount of mineral that their little organs can handle. Your chicks will stay on their starter ration for 6-8 weeks (you can check the recommendations of your feed supplier) and will then move to a “Grower” ration, which will get them through the adolescent period until they reach sexual maturity.
When choosing a starter and grower feed, look for a good quality, fresh supply (your local feed store can guide you). Store your feed in a cool, dry place, to keep it fresh and safe for your chicks.
Chicks eat all day long! When you add your feed into your brooder, try to choose a feeder that will stay clean. A feeder that can be tipped over or crawled inside of will contribute to waste and contamination, neither of which is good for your babies. Suspending your feeder at an appropriate height and allowing an opening that is only large enough for feeding, can be useful in keeping your chicks’ ration dry and poop free.
A note about mediated versus non-mediated feed : When you hear about starter rations that are “medicated”, it means that the feed contains something called Amprolium. Amprolium is not an antibiotic. It is a “coccidiostat”, which can help control the growth of a protozoa called coccidia that lives in the intestinal tract of many animals, including chickens. When there is too much of this protozoa in the gut, chickens, and in particular baby chicks, can become very ill, very quickly. One way to help avoid an overgrowth of this ever present parasite is with the limited use of a coccidiostat that helps to keep the numbers under control while your chicks develop. As with all aspects of chicken husbandry, there are varied opinions on the use of medicated feeds. We encourage you to do your own research here and make the decision that best suits your situation. Irrespective of your choice of feed, good hygiene practices are key to keeping all parasitic overgrowth and infection at bay. Changing your clothes and boots, washing your hands, and providing clean and dry bedding is crucial to good gut health for both you and your chicks. Later in this series, we will devote an entire section to our experience with coccidiosis, so please stayed tuned for that.
A word of caution on treats : Try to keep treats to a minimum with your babies. The more treats your chicks eat, the less they will eat of their balanced ration, which can impact their nutrition intake and overall development. We know that providing treats can be fun for us, but your chicks don’t need them. There are other ways to stimulate and bond with your chicks, without impacting their health.
Chicks need a constant supply of clean water. Again, we suggest being creative here with the goal being to keep your chicks hydrated while keeping them out of their own water dish (yes, they like to splash and make a mess). Water contaminated with poop is always bad and we can say from experience that it is difficult to avoid with most traditional waterers. Nipple waterers, by contrast, are excellent in this regard, as they allow chicks to get a drink without ever being able to access the water beyond tapping for a sip. Chicks are smart! Chicks as young as two days old can learn to drink from a nipple waterer. You can help them along by gently tapping their beak to the nipple. Once one chick realizes that fresh water comes from the nipple, others will join in, and they will all be drinking from a clean source in no time. One of our favourite waterers is by a company called Rent-A-Coop. It can be hung or mounted on the side of your brooder, and raised up as your chicks grow. It holds one litre of clean water and is very easy to use.
Chicks have a sleep cycle and it is important to their growth that you help them stick to it. Chicks should have proper lighting during daytime hours, and darkness at night (following the sun is a good benchmark here). Keeping a light on your chicks 24 hours a day can disrupt their sleep rhythm leading to problems with development. So, enjoy saying goodnight when it is time for lights out! Chances are, your chicks will already have put themselves to bed.
Chicks play and you should consider adding safe sources of entertainment to your brooder as your chicks grow. Roosts of varying heights (starting at ground level in the form of a simple clean branch) can be a great way to promote exercise and mental stimulation. Safe mirrors and other shiny objects can also go a long way in entertaining your chicks. Old shoe boxes can make great forts and tunnels for your chicks, provided you discard them when they get too dirty. Toys with moving parts, loose components, or any item that can be ingested by your chicks should be avoided.
A note about handling your chicks : There is much commentary on when you should or should not handle your chicks, and we encourage you to do your research here. In our experience, chicks are very social and, as long as contact with humans is not stressful for them (which you can observe in the form of mouth gaping, overly frantic movements or loud distressed sounds), and you are maintaining good hygiene both before and after handling, you can provide a positive experience for all in handling chicks from a young age. We like to start by allowing chicks to come to us. Chicks are naturally very curious and, before you know it, they might just be climbing all over you. Well socialized chicks can make for lovely adults, and will allow you to get enjoyment out of your flock while you put in the work to raise them up well!
We hope that you found our Chick Check List helpful. A quick internet search of brooder set-ups can help get ideas flowing if you are stuck on putting yours together. Once you have a plan, we encourage you to refer back to our list to see if your set-up captures each of the elements outlined here. We have changed our own set-up with each group of chicks and have learned from issues that come up. No two brooders are alike and no brooder is perfect, so please just have fun and learn as you go. Of course, we would love if you would share your brooder photos with us to promote our discussion and provide inspiration for others. We're ready for some shout-outs! In the meantime, congratulations and happy chickening, friends!
Large scale chicken operations for both meat and eggs remain a central part of the economics of farming in Ontario, and around the world. You might have noticed, however, that chickens are “trending” in a different way these days. Backyard chickens? Urban chickens? Chickens with their own Instagram account? Yes, our domestic chickens, including fancy companion breeds, have entered the animal husbandry scene in a new way, with many now considered an integral part of hobby farms and even stand alone pets.
If you are new to chickening and not sure where to start or have hit some snags in managing your flock, this little series is for you! We don’t have all of the answers, but we surely do enjoy the dialogue and hope you do too. Follow along as we explore some highs and lows, mistakes, regrets, and quality lessons learned from our own experience in adding chickens to the farm. Chickens are, fundamentally, social, joyous creatures, with big personalities! But, chicken challenges can hit hard and we hope that you can benefit from our experiences and experimentation.
We aren’t veterinarians, so please take our thoughts for what they are: opinions and advice from one hobby farmer to another grounded in a love of birds and a desire to give them happy, healthy lives. If you are a nerd like me, you will appreciate that there is no such thing as too much research and we hope that our little pieces can help form part of your collection of tools as you move forward with your flock. On that note, here’s what you can expect to chat with us about over the next little bit:
The Chicks Are Coming! Now what? : Have you ordered chicks for the first time from your local feed store and are wondering what comes next? We have a prepared a “Chick Check List” for you and some tips for preparing your set up for the big day.
So Many Choices! : With over 500 breeds of chickens worldwide, finding the breeds that work for you is a big part of the journey. We have a list of considerations here to help you on your way.
Managing Coccidia: Ewww, sounds gross. Yes, friends, it is. But, it’s also inevitable and can be addressed in most cases with a few key steps.
Eggs please!: Looking forward to the first egg is a big part of the fun! Setting your girls up to succeed is easy and your basket will be overflowing in no time.
Men Folk: Roosters add a dynamic to your flock that can take you to a whole other level of chickening, but they aren’t for everyone. We will discuss our take on the pros and cons of keeping boys.
Chicken Ambulance?: Chickens are resilient creatures, but their health can decline quickly. Obtaining veterinary care for your backyard flock members can be a challenge. We will tell you about our experience and provide some helpful contacts.
Broody Times : There’s not much that compares to a snapshot of a momma hen and her babens. Hatching new flock members is an exciting and rewarding experience, and a chance to see nature at it’s best. We will tell you about our trial and error here and share some of our little successes.
New Additions : Chickening can be addictive and we are anticipating that you will want to grow your flock. We will break down our experiences with adding new flock members and offer some tips to integrate safely and without too much chicken drama!
At all times during this series, we welcome your questions, feedback and photography! Hanging out behind the lens with my chickens is one of my favourite ways to unwind and perhaps it is yours too. We want to see! The more interactive we can be, the more we all learn. Some of the best tips for raising a healthy flock will come from your chickening peers. So, let’s share!
Stay tuned for Coop Edition: Chapter 1 over the coming week…
Meet Frasier! Frasier is an eight year old German Shorthaired Pointer, a dual Canadian and American conformation champion, and a runner by trade. Two years ago, Frasier was overcome by joint disease. He was immobile and in significant pain. With the assistance of our friends at the University of Guelph Veterinary College, Frasier was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Arthritis. His issues stem from a serious injury he sustained as a puppy during an encounter with a deer in the bush. Frasier’s spinal column is inflamed and, without management, leads to swelling that impinges his nerves and makes for a level of pain that would break your heart. Thankfully, we have been able to get Frasier back on his feet and are happy to share a little of what has helped him in his recovery.
Green lipped mussels are a superfood! When GLM are harvested at their peak, the powdered extract contains high concentrations of omega-3’s, and a powerful combination of additional fatty acids that, working together with naturally occurring glucosamine and chondroitin, provide a level of joint and cartilage support. Reduction in inflammation and swelling and the natural rebuilding of joint components leads to less pain and increased mobility in pets suffering from degenerative joint disease. It works!
BioJoint provides an additional source of both glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as a series of ingredients that promote the absorption of nutrients to assist in building a natural anti-inflammatory response in the body. When inflammation is reduced, your pet’s body can begin to rebuild healthy cartilage and connective tissue.
Combined with good fats like high quality fish oil, these two products have delivered for Frasier! With meaningful rest between activities, Frasier still runs like a boss and is a joy to watch in the field. We would love to hear about your joint support regimen. Let’s keep our pets active and living the lifestyle they love.
What do we know of January?
It’s damp. Sometimes bitter. It’s saying goodbye to Christmas decorations that always seem to take much longer to put away than to bring out. It’s financial stretching, perhaps at home and certainly in most small businesses. It’s true winter, with all of the darkness that season can bring up for those of us who thrive in warmth and sunshine. To compensate, it’s hot tea and holiday pjs and wood fires and knitted socks. If we’re lucky, maybe it’s vacation, a chance to fool ourselves for a week or so, returning to hide our flip flops away for another few months.
It's also renewal. It’s a natural and literal turning of the page in our cosmos. I always feel some pressure here. Let’s do something, try something, say something, something new that will get me and others excited in the drudgery of the dark month. I feel that all over, and certainly in my thoughts about our little shop. What can we do to bring people in when they would rather be hibernating at home? Which new items can we add to get people shopping with us even when they might be feeling shopped out? I know I’m not the only one. Health goals, self improvement plans, bucket lists, newly crafted schedules and routines - you hear me. Fighting against ourselves to keep up with the markers we set and then disappointing ourselves when reality comes calling and we realize … oh yes, I really don’t have time for that, I don’t actually even enjoy that, and, also, that green drink tastes quite awful. Then, in the face of that letting go of the resolution, January kicks in, twice as dark as before, because now we feel like we have failed and, oh wait, the year has just begun. Sigh, right?
I have hatched chicks under a broody hen twice now. Both times, I have been a bad hobby farmer, candling the eggs well past the recommended “lock down” period, poking at the eggs checking for pips, picking up the eggs listening for peeping and generally just being a nuisance to the broody and the poor developing chick working to just grow. Not only is my interference no doubt annoying, it is also likely entirely counterproductive, creating danger and complication where there need not be any, introducing resistance that, were it not for my meddling, could have been avoided. And, the result, is the same. Chicks. Hatched. Despite my urge to know and control.
Eggs have been on my mind lately. They have been coming up here and there, not only in the coop or basket on my counter. Eggs are timing. And, timing, such that I don’t direct it, is difficult for me. I want to force the things. The mantra, “all in good time”, is just not my speed. So, I practice. Am practicing. Am recognizing and learning.
This one helps: “The egg is the trust that what is ours can never be taken from us, so there’s no need to answer the ego’s push to rush the process, to impress others, or to complete something on someone else’s timeline. The egg is faith that our process is sacred. That even in the midst of what looks like chaos, or delay, or even death, there a tendril of new life that needs only our trust to eventually take form. And the egg is the knowing that life begins again, after death, from within.”
Does this mean you can think about an egg instead of going to the gym three days a week at 6 a.m. like you promised yourself this January? Nice try, no. We all need resolve. We all need to look forward to something new. We all need discipline. And, January is as good a time as any to focus ourselves on how these things reasonably fit into our lives. But, truly, newness for the sake of, speeding up the process to get to the goal, pushing ourselves and others beyond boundaries to cheat the natural and necessary unfolding of time, is not going to get you the result you are due. Practice with me. Bundle up and let January happen.
*Our helpful excerpt above is from a lovely little discussion by author and meditation teacher, Meggan Watterson.
No matter how old you are, if you celebrate Christmas, you woke up this morning and felt it. It’s Christmas Day! Maybe it’s excited children, meals to prepare, gifts to open, all there. For some, maybe its memories, good and not so lovely, trying to reach family or just missing them, at a distance or lost. It’s all the things, bundled up in one day, wonderful and overwhelming at the same time, a race to the big moment and then a quiet melting away, while you do the dishes, tidy up the wrapping, reflect on what did and didn’t show up for you this year. Christmas, we love you and we celebrate, but we also struggle, perhaps looking inward, thinking about what the new year holds.
We at HDM don’t have the answers, but we can offer that we are just like you. We have our own families, with all of the magnificent complications families bring. We have our own issues - health, finances, relationships. All of it. We are real people, feeling all of the real things that Christmas stirs up, both looking forward to and anxious about where 2019 is taking us in our efforts to be happy in our small corner of the world.
It was quite a year for us, as it was for you. The stories we all wrote this year continue, the good and the not so much, propelling us forward into 2019 whether we like it or not! We understand. Those things you are feeling today, we feel them too, the thrills and the daunting bits, they are there for us as they are for you, even today.
But, hello, Christmas! We hear you telling us to bring it back, just for today, to the pause. Listen. In that private mini time-out in the middle of it, maybe while you are reading this very thing, the spirit of today is telling you to thank yourself for your good work, as a parent, as an employee, as a beautiful friend and caring person in the world, doing your best. Try. As you would for a friend, give yourself that gift. Then, at your own speed, go about your day with your thanks in your pocket, and smile to yourself, big or small. Didn’t we keep saying you got this?
That is our wish for you and all of your people this season. Pause. Take that in. And, with that, Happy Christmas, from us to you and onward. 💫
I like gifting. All of its aspects. I like finding something that I know will be enjoyed. I like the surprise. I like the wrapping, with all those edges and corners and adornments. When these elements come together to make a perfect collection of gifts under the tree, it's magical for littles and grown-ups alike.
But, indeed, the shopping. At this time of year, in particular, the act of shopping can be stressful. Patience only goes so far when attempting to navigate the traffic, crowds and line-ups in the city or fussing with online orders that might or might not arrive in time for your festivities. This year, we have prescribed a no stress shopping experience for all and have done our best to hold our own shop to that standard. We have created a Christmas Countdown Look Book with our suggestions for checking off that shopping list. The full photo gallery is available on both our Facebook and Instagram to click from home. If you see something you like, send us a note or give us a call and we will set it aside for you. We know you've got this!
Because real life doesn't stop during the holidays, we will be out and about in the van on Monday to help you with last minute free delivery in the Lucan area. We don't want anyone worrying about running out of pet and livestock feed or supplies over the holidays, so we are putting our reindeer antlers on and making the rounds. It's no secret that competing with big box stores on price is a struggle for small businesses, but we can always do better than the big guys on customer service. We consistently ask ourselves what would we want as a customer, and then we do it! Free last minute deliveries are our way of taking some of the sting out of the holiday rush and we truly hope you keep us moving all day long in our HDM delivery mobile!
Happy shopping, friends! Be merry in your retail travels!
Sometimes in life, there's space and time to tread casually. The choice to open a small business does not live there. Running your own shop can lift you high and it can cut you deep (often, in the same day). It's grippy. It's hold on you doesn't sleep and, many nights, nor do you.
You want to please. You want to succeed. But, these loaded concepts get confused, muddled, distorted, sometimes beyond definition, and almost always at the expense of the other parts of your life. At the end of the day, there are only so many hours you can stretch to get to where you want to be and limited postures you can assume to accomplish your goal of running things "well". The victories can feel like a dandelion in the wind and the failures, mountainous.
I grew up in a small town and have only affection for this way of living, especially today. But, oh the double-edged sword of it all! Our town doesn't keep secrets and, when things go sideways, it's obvious and public. Enter, social media. These tools allow for remarkable reach and growth, but the spotlight on your mistakes as a small business owner is unforgiving. Going off grid is not an option. The need to navigate this soup of reaction made up of "likes" and un-filtered feedback with grace is the way of it and you best learn quickly. One star, five stars. There's not much in between that matters when it's your creation on the line.
Do I still get excited when one of us sells a new product, something we believe in and are trying out or perhaps something we just really want you to love as much as we do? Yes, ma'am, I do, and so does the rest of the staff. I see it and it makes me smile every single time. That enthusiasm is my preferred definition of success when I am looking to measure. Not the profit margin, not the volume. Just that one item carefully selected by us and taken with trust from our shelves into your home. That's big.
Offerings of services vibrate at an even higher current. When our groomers work on your dog, they do so with their hands and heart. They are passing on to you their professional skills, their fundamental love for dogs, and their sense of where that meets in the art of giving expression to what you want for your pet. Every groom, on every given day, is created from these principles. It is why our reputation sits where it does and is to be enjoyed. But, when your heart is on your sleeve, it is also the place where ill-considered criticism, lack of respect from clients, and sharp practise by your competitors leaves an ache.
Nobody goes into small business thinking they have a mediocre idea that they are going to come at off-handedly. We all think we have the best concepts, the best designs, the best products, and the most solid plan of execution to bring ourselves to the next level, whatever that might look like. But, like any wave, there's ebb and there's flow, and real life intervenes. When your business plan takes on air and is populated by real people, with real strengths and weakness, and very real self-interest and agendas, what then? When the last ninety-nine people who left your shop did so with a smile, but the hundredth is unhappy, was it a good day? Taking it macro, when more money, more locations, more clients, more "follows" don't equal "success", where does that leave you? Two and half years in, looking back, I sit with more questions than conclusions. More noise than quiet. More service than sleep. Momma never said this would be easy. Thankfully, we're made of stronger stuff than the curve balls we endure.
As for tomorrow? Take your lessons with humility and a spoonful of organic sugar. Take your people into your circle and give them your best self so that they can be empowered to offer their own. Thank every customer who appreciates your efforts and, with dignity, continue to try to coax a little love out of those who don't. Work hard. Work smart. Work some more. Breathe.
We're still here. More resolve than defeat. #houndlife2019