Spring is here, and my own little chicks have been peeping at me for some real chicken-type chicks come Easter. And you know what? I could use the eggs.
Jennifer at Country Feed Store in Vista (760-724-7310) rattled off her inventory: “Americana, Speckled Sussex, Gold or Silver Wyandottes, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red, Black Beauty, Barred Rock, and Buff Orpington.” Colors range from yellow to black to red to white, plus a variety of speckles and stripes. Most of the birds, she said, would start laying eggs between six and eight months of age, and most of those eggs would be brown. But there were a few surprises.
“Americanas give blue, green, yellow, khaki, and pink eggs. The Sussex and Bard Rocks lay what’s called a tinted egg — too dark for white, not dark enough to be called brown.”
Country Feed Store prices its chicks by age. “For zero to six weeks, it’s $5. After that the prices increase $5 per six weeks. Most of the chicks we have right now are in the $5 range, except for the Black Beauties, which are $10 because they’re past six weeks old. The best time to get the chick is at five or six weeks because it’s still just $5, and we’ve done all the feeding and care up until then. We usually don’t have any chicks past twelve weeks — they sell out.”
About that feeding and care: “We keep our chicks in a brooder house for three, maybe four weeks, then bring them outside into raised pens for a couple of weeks before they go to ground. It depends on the weather, though. If it’s warm, we might rush them through a little faster.”
Warmth is key. “If you’re starting with day-old chicks, you want to keep them at 95 degrees for the first week. After that you can lower the temperature about five degrees for each week of age. Month-old chicks could be kept at 75 degrees. You can monitor the temperature with a thermometer in their setup. The best thing is to have a container under a heat lamp, with the food and water near the edge of the heated area. The box should be big enough for the chicks to go under the heat if they’re cold and out from the heat if they’re too warm. You can watch them to see if you’ve got it right. They should be cruising around. If they’re huddled under the light, the setup is too cold. If they’re out from under the light all the time, it’s too warm. And when we move them out to the raised pens, we keep the lights on them at night and for part of the day, just to make sure they stay warm enough.”
Jennifer recommends medicated feed for the first six weeks ($9.99 for a 25 lb. bag). “That’s a good amount for about six chicks. The medication helps prevent diseases when they’re young. Getting sick could kill them, or it could stunt their growth and interfere with egg production later in life.”
Speaking of disease, Jennifer mentions that the chicks “do carry germs because they walk in their poop and peck at it. So, kids can play with them, but you don’t want to put the chickens up to your face or kiss them. And make sure there’s a lot of hand-washing afterwards.”
As I said, I’m in it for the eggs — maybe one a day per chicken when everything is groovy. But I didn’t want a rooster running about and waking the neighbors.
“The ratio of pullets to roosters is 80/20,” says Jennifer. “At three to four weeks, the chickens start to find their voices, and that’s when it becomes really clear. We’ll take roosters back on a donation basis, depending on room and availability. Just call and check.”
Matt at Ranch Feed & Supply in Spring Valley (619-669-4720) tells me that he has Rhode Island Red and Buff Orpington chicks for $3.99 each.
“It’s a 95 percent female-to-male ratio,” he assures me. “We carry wood shavings for bedding [$8.99 for a 7.5 lb. bag]. Feeders are $5–$8 [chick-sized]or $17–$20 [chicken-sized]. Heat-lamp fixtures run $10.99; bulb prices vary by wattage and start at $5. Our medicated chick-starter feed is 99 cents a pound, $10 for 25 pounds, or $18.99 for 50 pounds.”
Other vendors in town include Dave’s Family Feed & Pet Supply in Lemon Grove (619-462-3434) and East County Feed & Supply in Santee (619-562-2208). Call to check availability and variety.