Raising Chicks

We’ve all heard of quarantine puppies, but what about quarantine chickens?

Mia and Amy are living the dream! If your dream is to raise newly hatched chicks and turn them into beloved family pets that will also provide fresh breakfast for you every morning. And thinking about it, that’s a pretty good dream…

But chicks hadn’t always been the initial plan. Dad wanted a dog. Mum wanted a cat. And so, naturally, the family agreed on chickens!

Having heard that they make great pets, without being too much work, the plan had been to get chickens for Amy and Mia’s birthday in the Spring, but due to COVID-19 the family worried their plans were going to have to be delayed, possibly as far as Spring 2021.

At the same time, on a city farm nearby, the team had hatched chicks for the Easter Half Term at Vauxhall City Farm. Chicks, which would now not be enjoyed by any visitors, as the farm had to take the tough decision to close its gates, to keep staff and the public safe.

But as they say, if one door closes, another one opens…

Mum told us that keeping chickens is a step into the unknown, a new adventure.

“I saw a photo of a girl holding a hen in her garden on a blog, and the joy and confidence in handling it, stayed with me. Never having had pets as adults, it’ll add a new dimension to our lives as a family. We both had pets as children and have lots of good memories, and so we wanted our girls to have that same experience.”

The lockdown really brought home not only the importance of having pets and how therapeutic they can be, but also the possibilities for learning, when raising and caring for animals.

Having the extra time to spend with the chicks has been a major upside of lockdown, especially in this early stage of their lives, where the chicks go through rapid development, seemingly changing from one day to the next.

This is not to say that everything has been easy or that there wasn’t a lot of work and learning involved in preparing for the chicks, all of which is part and parcel of the experience.

The first family activity was building a brooder for the chicks. A bonding experience that combines an experimental mind with practical crafting skills. In the end, two simple cardboard boxes were linked together and covered in netting to prevent the chicks from escaping. They were decorated lovingly by Mia and Amy, and drawings were added to the chicks’ new home, right up until the day they arrived.

With dad putting in the research into how to keep the chicks warm, the family decided on a heat table to put inside the brooder box, rather than a heat lamp perched above it. This decision was partially made due to the location of the brooder box in the family’s front room, and the need to be safety conscious, as a heat table has a much lower risk of causing anything to overheat and catch fire, while at the same time being highly energy efficient, which makes it a great choice for the environment and the wallet.

Further research went into the correct food, bedding, and ways to prevent the chicks from injuring themselves. Marbles were added to a water bowl, as dad’s online reading suggested the risk of drowning, if chicks fell asleep in the water. “Do they really have that little self-preservation instinct?” queried mum, and the answer is yes, they really do. At least in their first few weeks. Luckily, they smarten up, the older they get!

Keeping a pet is a constant source of joy, hard work, and education. Something the family discovered is especially the case with an animal that develops as rapidly as chickens do in their first 6 months of life.

The chick’s brooder box is always evolving, with Amy having added a stick going across the top of the brooder to teach the chicks how to roost correctly, and another stick acting as a ramp leading up to the roost, ensuring the chicks get their exercise as well as being able to exhibit natural behaviours.

After having struggled to get hold of the correct bedding due to supply delays in the current situation, with it arriving in the nick of time, the day before the chicks arrived at the house, the family has already put in an order for an outside coop, for when the chicks get too big to live in the brooder and need to be relocated. This will give plenty of time to agree on the perfect spot for it, set it all up, ensure it is fox proof, and of course decorate it with some of Amy & Mia’s best work, which is the high standards the chicks have come to expect!

The joy of using pets such as chickens for educational purpose, is that there is no need to sit everyone down for a daily 10am classroom-style lesson. Learning happens naturally through research, observation, and trial and error.

“Yesterday we learned about crops! A ‘goodie bag’ for keeping food in when the chickens aren’t hungry yet. Learning what to feed them and how often they need their water changed and being cleaned out, is all educational. Watching them grow, get new feathers, and start to fly is a great learning experience!”

And so far, not even the “dirty” jobs are too much for the keen youngsters. Amy has been cleaning out poo and changing water without needing to be asked, while the adults took charge of getting a dried up bit of poo unstuck from the fluffy down of a chick’s behind – also something that gets better, the older they get!

Due to not being tall enough to reach into the brooder box to help with the clean-up, Mia has the all-important job of watching over, and playing with the chicks whenever clean-up is happening, and of course supervising that the work is done to an excellent standard!

Not all the chicks have officially been named as of yet, as Amy’s chick of choice is a Poland breed, meaning it is so far unclear whether it is a boy or a girl. So ‘Leo’ and ‘Kylie’ are names currently being discussed, though this may all change by the time the sex of the bird becomes clear. Mia and mum have it easier, as they know their chicks are girls, so Mia has named her favourite ‘Chirrpy’, while mum is partial to the more classic ‘Geraldine’. Watch this space!

We would like to thank Mia, Amy, mum, and dad, for not only giving a home to our chicks but also for updating us on how they are settling in, and sharing their experience with us.

We are hoping to sporadically check in with the progress of the birds, find out the names when they get set in stone, see how their move to the great outdoors goes, and of course find out the family’s reaction to tasting their first home laid breakfast eggs!

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