The vision my husband and I had for chickens has become a reality and here we are six weeks later with our final four ladies. For reference if you decided not to read the above post, when we ordered our chickens we actually had to order multiples of each breed that we wanted in order to get a “live arrival guarantee” – meaning sometimes the chicks don’t survive the journey and so if you order multiple, you have higher odds of live chickens. Anyway, because of this rule we ordered three of each breed that we wanted and there were three breeds that we got. Meaning we ordered nine chickens. But the hatchery threw in extras so we actually got 12. But then one little chicky didn’t make it. So we officially started off with 11. And we slowly socialized the chicks, played with them every day and cuddled them in warm towels at night as we watched movies. This way it was easier for us to figure out which ones were going to bond with us and which ones were just kinda personality duds.
Over the last six weeks we have whittled down our flock, giving away chickens here and there to welcoming and loving homes who had farms to introduce them to safely and responsibly. And we now have our final four.
…did you catch that? Three breeds but we’re keeping four chickens? Yes, yes…we decided to keep two of one of the breeds. Purely because they just happened to be such beautiful birds!
For anyone else out there who might be considering keeping chickens (either urban or rural) or who might just recently have ordered some chicks and are looking for more insight on what you’re about to experience, I thought it would be helpful to go week by week and discuss our own experience. I’ll also include pictures of what they looked like each week!
The hatchery we ordered our chicks from told us the exact day the eggs were going to hatch and we were notified that the chicks would be mailed within 24 hours of hatching. That’s exactly what happened. They hatched on June 8th, on June 9th I got an e-mail that they had shipped and on June 10th I got to pick them up from the post office. They actually arrived at our post office on June 9th, but it was too late at night for deliveries so they spent the night at the post office and I picked them up pretty much the minute the post office opened the next day. If you’re wondering how they’re able to survive without food or water, here’s a crazy “nature is wonderful” tidbit: chicks consume the fluids around them in the egg and it provides them with enough nutrients to survive at least 72 hours without food or water! But I knew by the time I picked them up that it was time to get them some noms. So I brought them home and immediately introduced them to their brooder (check out the above blog post I linked for all the tips on setting up your DIY brooder before your chicks arrive). Now…basically anyone will tell you that chickens are about as dumb as a bag of hammers, God bless them. So you literally have to teach them to drink water. But it’s easier than it sounds. I introduced my chicks one-by-one into the brooder and dipped each of their beaks into the water dish and then led them over to their food dish to let them inspect it. The more, um, derpy birds that didn’t quite get the hang of it from that process eventually caught on by watching their sisters drink and eat.
As you can imagine, such teeny tiny birds making such a long and exhausting (and confusing) journey can get a little lethargic and can seem sickly. The best secret anyone can share with you about day old chicks is that apple cider vinegar will perk them RIGHT up! It’s almost like witnessing a miracle. I had a few sad-looking birds at first and so I mixed about a cap full of ACV into their water and after consuming it, they honestly changed almost instantly and were happily up and pecking around their box. I mixed ACV with their water for the first 4-5 days just to ensure lively spirits and give them some additional nutrients. But beyond that, you should also be adding supplements to their water consumption every 12ish hours. We give ours a mix of probiotics, acidifiers and electrolytes (we use the MannaPro brand).
In terms of playing with your little balls of floof, you need to be very careful during week one. Basically I just let ours be for the first day and a half. I wanted them to rest, get used to their brooder and also their new environment. I would, however, talk to them pretty routinely. I wanted them to get used to my voice and my appearance over their brooder. Reaching my hand in was pretty scary for them since instinctively everything coming from above signals predatory risk. So when I needed to grab their food/water dish I would lower my hand very slowly and keep it there for a little while so they could come explore what was going on and get used to an arm reaching in and out of their environment. When you/they are ready to get acquainted with one another and it’s time to play, you can carefully take them out of the brooder and gently hold them, making sure to not hold them at very high heights in the event they wiggle free and plunge to their deaths (but really…don’t let that happen). Chickies love to snuggle and cuddle. But also make sure you don’t have them out of their brooder for very long as they need to be under that heat lamp and can get pretty cold if you keep them out for long periods of time.
Other things to know: we found that we were cleaning out their brooder every third day or so (chickens poo a LOT), that we could fill their food and water dish but they were pretty good about self-regulating their own needs and wouldn’t stuff themselves silly if we left extra food, that they are very inquisitive, and perhaps the cutest thing of all…be assured you absolutely will start to see personalities develop in week one!
The chickens are still pretty floofy in week two of their lives. The only feathers coming in are tiny ones on their wings and a select few had itty bitty tail feathers. We noticed that ours had a lot of energy and were quite loud with the chirping after finding their pipes haha. During week two we would let them down onto the floor to walk around, peck everything in sight, explore and get used to how tall we are and how it felt being around us. We started introducing them to the great outdoors in week two, but only for short periods of time so we could get them back under their heat lamp.
During week two, we stuck to their diet of chick starter, chick grit and water (no ACV) with supplements. We did not introduce any treats or change anything about their routine other than taking them out to clean their brooder, which was still about every third day.
It was also week two that we started realizing which ones would come to be our favorites. Yep, they really do develop personalities this early on! There were just some birds who wound up being so much more friendly than others and when we would reach our hands into the box, they would come straight over for a little cuddle. It’s actually pretty adorable.
Other than that, week two was pretty humdrum. Just a lot of cheeping, digging around and the noise of 11 birds pecking at their box from the corner of our living room and the fun addition of getting to play with them and getting to know them a little bit!
By week three, there are some definite changes going on. Our chicks were noticeably larger and starting to grow more and more feathers. It was in week three that they each started developing tail feathers and more wing feathers, but everything else was still floof (or, more technically, down) which was pretty dang cute. And we started bonding with them a lot this week. Although their attention spans are that of a paper clip and they get distracted by literally everything, we found that calling their name and patting the ground would get their attention and they would walk/run/awkwardly flap their wings over to us!
In week three, our chickens started discovering how to use their wings. They kiiinda did this in week two by flapping around inside of their box, but by week three they were really testing out their abilities. Our friendlier chickens would fly onto our laps when we were sitting on the ground, they would fly into our hands when we reached into the box and – cutest of all – when I took them outside to explore (under very close supervision), I discovered that they followed me around like little shadows. Two of them more so than the rest. With these two I could run across the yard and they would run (FAST) or even fly over to me! I melt. It was the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, their love of using their wings also meant that they could now fly to the top of their brooder. So we made a much larger and taller brooder and sat it on the ground instead of on a table (after coming home and finding a chicken on the floor….we had to make the switch pronto). Honestly, the wing thing advances fast and they fly around a lot in week three. You’ll hear them flapping and flying around and just generally causing a big ruckus and that’s totally normal.
We got rid of four chickens during week three and narrowed our little flock down to seven. We were a little nervous that this might cause some anxiety in the brooder, but we never noticed a difference. Again, chickens are just a liiiittle bit stupid, so they didn’t really notice the absence of their sisters.
Naturally as our chickens grew bigger, so too did their poo. They pooped a lot more and this time it was STINKY. So we found ourselves cleaning out their brooder and changing their pine shavings every other day in week three.
By week four we had run out of chick starter and pine shavings so it was time for another trip to Tractor Supply for reinforcements. I was actually surprised how long we had lasted without needing to go back! Just goes to show that the cost to keep chickens is actually quite minimal. Plus chick starter and pine shavings are pretty cheap when you need to get more of it.
Week four was by far the funnest week in my opinion. Although our birds no longer looked liked little balls of floof anymore, they were just SO much fun! Each of them started getting a ton more wings and we started noticing different things about their appearances (oh this one has a speckled head! oh this one has a black mohawk! oh this one has a beak that is actually marbled yellow and black!) They were also very playful this week. In fact, they literally all started flying to the top of their brooder and since we’d exhausted our options of building anything larger and taller, we had to start putting a side of a dog crate on top of their brooder when we weren’t around or else they’d fly to the top, roost on the side of the box, poop off the side of it, fly onto our window seat, tables, bookshelves…fly into the kitchen. They’re honestly a disastrous mess, but they’re the most fun mess you could ever ask for. The gate on top of the brooder wound up working perfectly and helped to keep them in their box. But since we knew they really wanted to be out of there, we took them out A LOT during week four. They got to explore outside, run around with us and climb all over us when we took them out to play inside. We discovered that they really just love sitting/roosting on our shoulders and climbing onto our heads when we’re wearing baseball hats. In week four we bonded with our chickens so much. They are just inquisitive, curious, sweet, cuddly, completely entertaining brainless little birds and we love it. We even started wrapping them in towels and letting them cuddle on the couch with us while we watched movies. The towels being a necessity here because, again..chickens poop a lot.
I also started introducing some treats to them in the form of fresh blueberries! Oddly enough, although they all ate them, our Olive Egger chickens realllly loved the blueberries and would steal them from their sisters, hoard them, carry them around as trophies, etc.
Throughout week four, the chickens will just continue growing and it seems like every single day they had new feathers to show off and their feet had grown just a tad bit more than the day before. I feel like week four is one of the most astonishing weeks in terms of how fast they really grow and change!
To keep my sanity and not feel like I had to clean their brooder every single day, I started just using a garden trowel to shovel up the big problem spots in their shavings and replacing with new shavings. This way I was able to create a lot more time between cleanings since they can get to be pretty tedious. But doing this kind of maintenance cleaning keeps the smell minimal and keeps the birds cleaner and happier. Although, a note on the smell: it definitely is not smelly unless you’re bending over the brooder. We’ve had them in our living room and not once did we notice the smell unless we were over by their brooder and leaning over it doing something.
Week five was a little different for us because we were gone for all of their fifth week of life. We traveled to Napa Valley and had my best friend and her husband chicken-sit for us. However, before heading out of town we did give away another three chickens to a loving farm. So this whittled it down to our final four! But again..we didn’t spend time around them in week five. For this reason, I’ve decided to just combine weeks five and six together in one section. What I can tell you is that when we got back from our trip at the end of our chickens’ fifth week, they had more than doubled in size and they had ALL of their feathers. Like they no longer looked like any semblance of a chick, but instead were full blown chickens. Just not quite as big as a mature chicken. They were definitely teenagers though. After getting them back home, they didn’t seem as interested in cuddling and playing but would still hop onto our legs and arms, so no love lost.
Now for week six. I’m currently writing this blog post in the middle of week six. This is the last week I get to have my little ladies in the house in their brooder. I’ve officially turned off their red heat lamp since they are learning to regulate their own body heat now and no longer need a heat source. They eat more now and if the gate is not on top of their brooder they will 100% fly out of it! It really does seem like they get bigger every day. They are definitely much more independent and while they really do not have much of an interest in snuggles, they’re still very friendly and sweet.
My husband and I are building our own chicken coop and so we will begin the build at the end of this week and the chicks will move into their new home this weekend. At the completion of that project, I will provide another blog post on building our own coop for any interested parties in that process!
So far the only food they’ve had other than chick starter is blueberries, sunflower kernels and scrambled egg yolks (helps build strength if you notice hobbling!). Thanks to our monthly subscription to Henny & Roo we’re loaded down with treats and snacks for the girls when they make their way to the coop! I actually think I might do a complete blog post just on how much I’m loving Henny & Roo!
The other thing I’d say about week six is that they are definitely ready for the coop. In previous weeks when we’d take them outside, they would just kinda stand around, act very skeptic of grass, ignore most everything and just follow us around. This week they are much more independent and curious outside. Plus, they actually graze on things outside! While taking these photos, the ladies were snacking on bugs, pecking at rocks and grass and just acting very very comfortable with their surroundings. Oh my. They’re all grown up, aren’t they?
Meet our 6 week old ladies. Mayflower (top row), Pearl Grey (second row), the Emerald Duchess (third row), and Ophelia (bottom row).
Well, my friends, I hope this helped gain an insider’s perspective into the first six weeks of chicken keeping and what to expect when you keep chicks in a brooder in your house for six whole weeks! Please do let me know if you have any questions – feel free to leave a comment!