4-H Poultry Chain – First Time Chicken Owners
For the longest time I have wanted chickens for eggs. In my mind I thought they were super hard to prepare for, so I never took any steps to actually getting some. This year when 4-H Poultry Chain came about, I forced myself to sign up. There is no greater motivation to prepare/finish something than a looming deadline and chickens were expect the end of Spring!
What is 4-H Poultry Chain?
The 4-H Poultry Chain is a great way to teach children responsibility and how to care for a family flock. Basically, 4-H gives each participant a certain number of day old chicks that members must raise and take care of. When the county fair rolls around, members must take their 3 best chicks for a Show and Sell where they are judged and then auctioned off. The winner gets prize money, but ribbons are awarded as well. The money earned from the auctions is divided amongst the 4-H program and I think the participating members if their chicks sell, though I could be wrong on that last part. I do know that part of the money is used to buy the chicks for the next year.
We were told to expect anywhere from 15-30 chicks for each child signed up. There was no way I wanted more than that, so I only signed up Kaia. This year, 4-H gave everybody 18 baby chicks. We had the option to purchase roosters, so I purchased 3. Silly me thought that in order for the chickens to lay eggs that a rooster must be present. Boy, do I have a lot to learn! We ended up with a total of 23 baby chicks (somebody miscounted ours along the way and we got 2 extra).
We picked them up on the 11th of May.
Brooding Day Old Chicks
The kids fell in the love with them. Every chance they got, they were watching, holding, and carrying them around with them. I had seen brooders set up many different ways, but chose to use an old watering trough for mine with sand as the bedding. The thought process behind choosing this was that it was wide enough to give them plenty of space, and tall enough where they couldn’t hop out of it as easily as a swimming pool. I seriously overestimated how big of a space 23 baby chicks needed. There was plenty of room in the brooder, but the chicks mostly stayed together. I chose the sand after a lot of research because it was supposed to be the least smelly, easiest to keep clean and also the least expensive in the long run.
Aybra’s favorite chicks were the roosters. She named one Duck and even had a photo shoot with it. I’m not sure that she could actually tell them apart, but she insisted that she could and always chose “Duck” when holding a chick.
In the brooder, I used a 60-100 watt bulb in a clip on fixture for heat. The temperate in my house was set around 73-78* varying on the day’s weather. The chicks seemed to stay plenty warm, but would also huddle together in a cute little cuddle puddle under the lamp as they slept. Another thing I learned was that heating lamps have a lot more watts (250!) than regular bulbs and give off a lot more heat. I think I chose the best option for me since my container was more enclosed than some other options (like a kiddie swimming pool).
The chicks had 1 long red feeder as seen in the above picture, and 2 quart size waterers. I had to change the water multiple times a day because the chicks got it dirty, and also drank it! I underestimated how much they would eat and drink. I probably should have had two of the feeders and a larger watering system. In the future, I will try to find a way to slightly elevate the water in order to avoid them getting it dirty so fast. I’m not sure how shavings differ in terms of water cleanliness, but I imagine shavings would be a slightly cleaner option.
As far as keeping them alive, that was the easy part. I was under the impression that a few of our chicks would die from various reasons and that it was hard to keep 4-H poultry chain chicks alive. That was not my experience. We didn’t experience any loss inside.
I planned on keeping the 4-H poultry chain chicks inside for 3-4 weeks depending on when they started hopping out of their enclosure. I knew that once they were big enough to get out of their enclosure that I wanted them outside. I did NOT want chickens wandering around my house. Another factor was the smell. At first, the chickens didn’t smell. In fact, people were surprised when they came to visit and I would tell them we had chickens inside. They were in my living room, so they weren’t hidden away, but they were very quiet. They only started smelling the last week they were inside. 23 chicks make a whole lot of chicken poop!
As they got older, I found some limbs to put inside their enclosure. We called it the Chicken Playground. They enjoyed playing on them, and it wasn’t uncommon to see 6-7 chicks lined up on a log sleeping. It was so much fun watching them growing every day. I’m not even kidding, they grow up so fast! Once they started getting their feathers they looked a little awkward, but still cute.
We got them on the 11th of May. I was banking on having a couple weeks to prepare their outside coop while they were busy growing inside. During the last few days inside I moved them from the trough into some rubbermaid totes. The trough was getting harder to clean and I was having to clean it much more often. The only problem with that was the chicks could get out of the totes. I thought about putting a wire over the top to keep them inside, but feared one may get stuck and hang itself. The chicks liked to get on top and hop back and forth between the two totes. I didn’t have one large enough for them all, so I split them up into two.
On the 29th of May, we had our first chicken escape. It was cute and comical, but also made me realize that I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. Long story short, I was hoping to build or buy a coop, but the funds I was going to use, ended up falling through. I made do with what I had which happened to be a dog house that came with the house when I moved in.
The dog house has a concrete foundation, two rooms, and multiple windows/entrances. I kept one entrance open (pictured) and wired the others closed. The open entrance leads to the porch/run. I wrapped rectangular wire around the porch/run and realized the wire I used wasn’t small enough, so I went back and added poultry wire around it. I used zip ties to attach the two wires together and I used some cup hooks attached to the side of the house to close and secure the wire against the house. This is how I enter the run. I simply unhook it. There are multiple hooks for extra protection. The downside to this is that the entrance is very tiny and I have to work really hard to squeeze my butt in there. It’s very doable though.
On the 30th of May, they moved outside. Despite the double wire, chickens could escape! One even got stuck in between the wires, and had to be rescued. Unfortunately another got stuck overnight and died. It was our first loss and quite upsetting since I feel it could have been avoided had I known better.
I ended up adding another layer of wire just along the bottom and then stacking bricks two high inside and outside the run. Looking back, I should have just used the tiny wire in the first place. Chickens cannot escape the tiny hardware cloth wire and cannot get stuck in it.
The first couple weeks they were outside I kept them inside their coop full time. There were a few reasons for this, but mostly for their safety. 23 chickens is a lot to keep up with! At the end of June I gave 9 away. I never intended on keeping all of them in the first place. While I couldn’t find any laws specific to my town, laws around my area state that you can have 6 hens but no rooster in city limits. I live in the middle of the city!
After giving away the 9, I had 13 left. 10 hens and 3 roosters. We plan on eventually eating the roosters, taking 3 to the fair, and then having the others for eggs. If all goes as planned this will leave me with 7 egg layers. It’s slightly over the assumed limit, but gives me a little room in case we lose another one. I think we have been very lucky in that department. Some people started out with double what we had and now have less than what we do.
The beginning of July I was finally able to let our 4-H poultry chain chicks out of their coop. The first few days they stayed right around their coop and along the fence line near their coop, but have now progressed to roaming the entire backyard.
Our 4-H Poultry Chain chicks are doing really well and will hopefully eat all the yucky fleas and ticks in my yard (another reason for wanting chickens). I let them roam the yard during the day and lock them up at night. Our main threats are opossums and raccoons. We have snakes, but nothing too big that come into our yard. I’m crossing my fingers that their coop is secure enough to protect from predators.
I worried about the chickens hopping the fence and either getting run over by a train or killed by my neighbors dog, but so far they have not gotten on the fence and the neighbor’s dog hasn’t jumped the fence either. As the chickens learn to fly/jump higher we will clip their wings to discourage them hopping the fence.
It will be a few more months before they begin laying eggs which gives me plenty of time to prepare a coop that allows easier access to collecting eggs. I am looking into a portable coop so the chickens can stay secure while still “roaming” the yard.
Overall this has been a great experience thus far for me and the kids. We are all learning how to take care of them and already know some things we will do differently next time. If you are thinking about getting some chickens for a backyard flock I definitely recommend it!