Something to Brood About

Buff Orpington chicks
Buff Orpington chicks

As some of you may know, the passing of Chairman Mao (one of our beautiful hens) at the end of January reduced our flock to one stoic chicken (the mysterious Black Magic Woman).  While her health and happiness are still a top concern, our focus turns to the future of our backyard chicken demonstration.  With spring looming, our efforts to extend our chicken run and renovate the coop (to create a more suitable space for a fresh flock) become priorities.

Today Kate and Dov walked through the doors of Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply with goals of purchasing two or three different breeds of laying hens.  We had checked ahead of time to see when they were getting their next chick delivery because we wanted to purchase our chicks early enough to make sure we could get the breeds we wanted.  In city limits, backyard chicken flocks are limited to six hens, and our intent was to purchase 10 chicks to allow for inevitable early mortalities.

Chicken breeds have different laying characteristics, temperaments, and hardiness in various climates.  Ideally, our chickens will be strong layers, friendly and docile, and hardy in cold winters.  Our 10-bird lineup ended up including four New Hampshire Reds, three Buff Orpingtons, and three Black Cochins.

Black Cochin chicks
Black Cochin chicks

Clark Fork Organics owner Kim Murchison has been kind enough to help us in brooding our chicks.  Brooding chicks requires the appropriate setup, and as she was already brooding her own chicks this March she offered to house our little flock as well.  While brooding your own flock can definitely be accomplished in an urban setting, our schedules as students, teacher’s assistants, naturalists, artists, musicians, burrito rollers, cyclists and ultrarunners limited our confidence in brooding our chicks with the kind of care we felt was necessary. We’re very appreciative of Kim’s contribution to our new, feathered FLATmates.

Smaller brooding setup
Smaller brooding setup

If you want to brood your own small backyard flock, one of the cheapest methods is to use a large 110-quart plastic storage container as their first home.  Suspend a 65-100 watt bulb directly on top of a screen enclosing the top of the tub to keep them warm.  Information regarding specific watering and feeding methods are readily available. At the FLAT, Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry has been a reliable and comprehensive resource to those of us that are new to chicken caretaking.

Our decision to purchase day old chicks means that we won’t be receiving eggs for another 20 to 24 weeks.  Though it means we’re giving up current egg production, it was very important to us to take a long term and intentional approach to this new flock. Purchasing our own flock as day-old chicks allows us to know their age and specific breed, and gives us the opportunity along with the initial help from Kim to experience the growing stages of our flock and encourage their friendly temperaments.

We’re excited to have some fresh faces around later this spring, and hopefully you can stop by for one of our events to meet our new flock of Gallus gallus domesticus’!

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