We’ve taken the plunge!
I’m sure you’ve all done it. You’ve walked by the water troughs underneath heat lamps in your local farm store. You’ve heard the beckoning “Peep Peep Peep” from the unseen shadows inside. “What was that?” you wondered, “I’ll just take a peak.” And low and behold inside was a small hoard of the cutest, most vulnerable balls of fluffy ducks and chicks.
If you have children with you (or you listen to the child inside you) it’s easy to make a rash decision. You’ll tell yourself that you need the cutest one (and by one I mean at least two)! This is how we ended up with chickens last spring and why we now have baby ducks.
Some Things to Consider
Before getting a sales associate to put your newest family members in a box it’s important to have a few things at home or at least in your cart. I speak from experience here, DO NOT buy your animals before you buy the things they’ll need to survive.
They’ll need a secure place to go when you take them out of the box at home.
We used the biggest storage tub we could find at our local home improvement store. For bedding, we used wood chips or straw bedding and some chicken wire to make a top. If you want to get fancy, make a rectangle out of 1″x2″ cedar that fits just outside of tour tub and staple hardware cloth to that. You cannot use the lid that came with the tub, they need air circulation and natural light in addition to the heat lamp we’ll talk about next.
They need to stay warmer than you keep your house.
In the store, they were likely under heat lamps. Look at those and get something similar, ask if you don’t see them and get a spare bulb. If you only have one it will go out just as you’re getting ready for bed on the coldest night so far and it won’t be good. You’ll want a cheap thermometer for inside the tub. They’ll need to stay around 90F for the first week or so. After that, you’ll want to adjust the light so the temperature drops about 3 – 5 degrees per week. The goal is they’ll be at room temp by the time they’re getting adult feathers at 4 to 6 weeks depending on what type of fowl you came home with.
Also, beware that heat lamps are a fire hazard. Spend the money on a light fixture with a reflector and a porcelain socket. This is not the time to use the old light hanging in the garage. Attach it to something secure and away from curtains and small children. Do not plug it into a power strip, plug it directly into the wall or use a heavy extension cord.
I’ve been looking for an alternative to heat lamps and have seen others use these Chick Heating Plates. I bought this by Cozy Products to put in the coop to help keep the chickens warm and help keep the water from freezing as fast, it could also be used in a brooder.
Food and Water
They need to eat and drink.
There are lots of options here. But keep a few things in mind. Balls of fluff are not waterproof and can drown in large bowls of water, yes even ducks. Also if they are constantly getting wet they run the risk of hypothermia. And if it’s an open bowl they will poop in it. Buy a small plastic chicken water dispenser. Feeders are another good investment. I actually prefer the type that hangs but it can be difficult to work that out in a plastic tub.
It is best as they grow to get both feed and water up off the floor. This will reduce the amount of debris they can scratch into them.
The farm store you buy your fowl in will have a variety of “Chick Starter” formulas. Be sure to get one that is formulated for the type of bird you have and that matches your requirements concerning GMOs or organic status.
Do not buy the small bag unless you really like going back to the store.
Caution: Returning to the farm store could result in Chick Multiplication.
Outdoor Play Time
After several weeks of feeding, watering and replacing bedding your babies will be ready to venture outside on warm sunny days. We use a big 2×4 framed box covered in chicken wire but anything that keeps them contained and safe while allowing them access to fresh grass will suffice. If you don’t have a warm dry place for them outside you’ll have to bring them back in at night until they are fully feathered.
While they are still little and living happily in their tub you’ll need to be considering permanent housing options for them. There are several styles of prefab kits available for your selected fowl. Or you can build a small frame or pole barn type house with an attached wire fence run.
You’ll need 2 to 3 square feet of housing space for each bird and 10 or more square feet each in the outside run. Chicken wire will keep them in but it won’t keep any predators out. Ducks will need a kiddy pool or small pond. Be sure they have easy entry and exit around the entire perimeter.
We also selectively Free Range our flock by letting them out on days we are going to be home and outside often. They are usually ready to go back in their pen anytime I carry out the feed bucket. Be sure to wait until they’ve become accustomed to sleeping in their permanent house before letting them out for the day. Once their house has become home to them they will return to it on their own.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it.
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Have a great day!
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