Chicks are Here!

[SW Colorado | March 2020 | By Mary Menz]

Erin Stadelman’s Big Red nosing the new, baby chickens. Image, Erin Stadelman.

Few things inspire a smile like baby animals—wild or domesticated—and the fluffy chicks at Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply are guaranteed not to disappoint. The arrival of baby chicks are the first signal that spring has arrived, but before taking a little flock home with you, consider the following questions.

Is poultry allowed in your neighborhood? Many municipalities have guidelines for residential chicken- or turkey-keeping. Montrose, for example, limits chickens to five hens and bans roosters entirely. (All that early morning crowing is not always welcome!) Some residential developments also have other rules to abide by.

Do you want egg-laying or meat birds? If you plan to keep chickens for eggs, be sure to buy chicks of a “laying” breed. A chicken will lay regularly for 3 to 5 years after producing its first egg at about six months old.

Can you provide a predator-proof shelter for your flock? Skunks, foxes, raccoons, hawks, and even family pets can find a gap in a hen house and dampen all hopes for future eggs. A protected shelter is required, especially at night. Consider a moveable or permanent structure, safe areas for free-range chickens to spend their days pecking for insects, and an electric fence if necessary.

Chicks at Murdochs, Clifton CO. Image, Karen Prather.

What will you feed your chickens? If you want omega-rich organic eggs, you’ll need to feed your birds organic chick starter feed and, later, an organic scratch and layer feed to supplement any organic table scraps you provide for them. Chickens will eat leftover meat (they are not vegetarians!), fruit and vegetable scraps, and more. Avoid citrus, raw potato peels, garlic, onion, and uncooked legumes or rice. Some chicken owners draw the line at feeding leftover eggs and chicken to their flock; others are not as sensitive to that thought. Chickens also require fresh, clean water daily.

Where to get your chicks? Chicks are available via mail order hatcheries or from reliable local ranch supply stores. “Baby chicks have the same needs as any other baby,” said Melanie Hannafious, store manager for Murdoch’s in Montrose. “They need food, water, and a warm environment. Constant peeping means they need one of those things.”

Hannafious cautioned that “chicks need to be kept at 95° to 100° with a place to escape to if they get too warm.” As the chicks age and grow pin feathers to cover the soft down they are born with, they outgrow the need for extra heat and will move away from the heat lamp entirely.

Keep in mind the timing of your purchase. The price of chickens increases as the weeks pass. This is a reflection of the feed and care provided until they are purchased by new owners, lovingly referred to as “chicken tenders”!