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…the food I make, the plants I grow, and the items I create.

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6 Things to Consider When Raising Healthy Chicks

We recently received our mail order chicks.

When I say that statement out loud I shake my head a little. “Chicks in the mail?” Really Emily? That does not sound like a good idea.

But at the time the excitement of raising my own meat birds and laying hens blinded me from what I knew. I am often re-taught the things I know, each time with a bit more depth and clarity.

Below are 6 important things I learned from raising chicks. In about a month, I will be doing this again but with birds from a local hatchery. I hope these lessons make me more successful as well as guide you through your experience.

Are there elements of animal husbandry you can share with the community? Please comment below.

6 Things to Consider When Raising Healthy Chicks 

1. Time of Year

When you order your birds, take into consideration the time of year you will be receiving them. At the age of 2 to 3 weeks the meat birds are ready to move outside. Once outside, you can more easily regulate their food intake. This forces them to forage, strengthening their legs and slowing their growth rate, reducing the risk of overall problems.

2. Space

The baby birds need enough space to thermoregulate. Their brood box needs to be large enough so they can either lay underneath the heat lamp if they are cold, or move elsewhere if they are warm. This reduces stress and lowers the chance of dehydration, a surprisingly swift killer.

When constructing your brood box air on the side that bigger is better – providing them with enough space to run around without running over one another.

Minimum space:

  • 0-4 weeks – 1/2 square foot per bird
  • 4 – 8 weeks – 1 square foot per bird

3. Temperature

Purchase a thermometer from your local farm store so that you ALWAYS know the temperature in your brood box. Place the thermometer  in the halo of the heat lamp. If you have a large enough space, you can have the temperature directly under the light be a bit warmer then recommended since the chicks have the ability to move into cooler areas if needed. They can always cool off, but if the box is cold, they cannot warm up.

When the babies are 0-1 week old start with a minimum temperature of 90F. Over the course of the next four weeks, lower the temperature about 5F every week until it is 70F. At this point the birds should no longer need additional heat.

If, however, you started them early or they are being kept in a place with little or no insulation you may need to continue providing additional heat in either the form of a space heater or red heat bulbs.

4. Check their Butts

Pasting up occurs when fecal matter sticks to their vents preventing them from eliminating waste. It occurs often, without any real notice, and can kill them. I pick up my girls once a day and check to make sure their rear ends are clear. If they have a little fecal matter stuck in their feathers I take a warm paper towel and gently clean them. If it is really bad, they get a little bath. Make sure you completely dry them before they go back into their brood box.

5. Diseases

There are diseases and parasites that can kill these little guys fast. Work with a preventative mindset and do what you can to establish healthy baby birds. Keep their brood box dry and clean by removing dirty litter frequently. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar to their water to help eliminate parasites and keep it clean of fecal matter.

6. Baby proof the brooder

These are babies. Day old, week old, babies. Similar to real babies they do silly things that can result in death. Avoid drowning by putting marbles in the tray of their water dish. For the first week use an old blanket or larger wood shavings to prevent them from eating something they shouldn’t. After the first week begin to give them grit so they can more easily digest their food. Make sure the walls are high enough that they cannot escape.

Raising your own laying hens can be fun and rewarding. Gardening while my older girls curiously dig beside or get chased around the yard by a butterfly is my favorite form of entertainment. I can’t wait to introduce them to their new sisters in a few short months.

Happy Gardening!


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5 Step Guide for Planting Garlic Bulbs in Raised Beds

Did you know that one garlic bulb can produce up to 10 individual garlic seed cloves?

Did you know that one garlic bulb can produce up to 10 individual garlic seed cloves?

If you have never cooked with farm fresh garlic, you need to plant some – and you need to plant it soon! I let the ground tell me if it is too late to plant garlic for the season. If you can still work the soil and the forecast calls for a few sunny days in the mid 40s you are probably still okay. If the ground is frozen where you live, there is still hope! Simply plant your garlic seed when the ground starts to thaw in the early spring.

Fun Fact: For bigger, juicer, more flavorful garlic bulbs plant your garlic in the fall, allow it to overwinter, and harvest it the following summer.

My planting guide is for 2ft wide beds raised beds. Using the spacing provided, you can adjust the pattern to accommodate your space.

Step 1: Picking out your garlic variety

It is no surprise that there are dozens of garlic varieties to chose from. Check out these three websites to learn more about the common varieties you may find at your local nursery. I went with the classic hard neck , which tend to be reliable growers and have more usable garlic cloves per bulb. I also bought a few elephant garlic just for fun. They are notorious for having ridiculously large pungent cloves.

Whole garlic clove

Whole garlic clove

Step 2: Split apart the bulb

Depending on the variety, each garlic bulb will give you a range of individual cloves. When you pull apart the clove, make sure you keep the papery outer skin intact. I prefer to use the nice fat outer cloves and save the smaller ones for cooking. Yes I cooked with my seed garlic! Once I knew how many cloves I had to plant, I was able to plan out my garden space. I had so many garlic cloves, I wound up planting them throughout my flower beds!

Plant nice fat garlic cloves like the one on the left and use smaller ones for cooking like the one on the right.

Plant nice fat garlic cloves like the one on the left and use smaller ones for cooking like the one on the right.

Step 3: Check the weather or soak your cloves

I planted my garlic right before a few fairly wet days. Garlic cloves form the root system for your garlic plant, so you want them to stay nice and moist.  You can do this by soaking them, watering them often, or planting them right before a good rain storm. This planting guide recommends soaking them in a quart jar for 2 hrs with a tablespoon of baking soda and a tablespoon of liquid seaweed.

Step 4: Plant

Due to my bed size, and my desire to squeeze in as many as I could, I planted my garlic following the pattern below.

garlic garden plan

Using this pattern, place the garlic flat side down and pointy side up into 3 inch deep holes. Cover the garlic with soil and water well even if the weather predicts rain. You do not want to take the chance!

Plant your garlic 3 inches deep.

Plant your garlic 3 inches deep.

Step 5: Mulch

Once you are finished planting, mulch your beds using either straw or chopped leaves. Chopped leaves can hide garden pests such as slugs. I would avoid using this any other time of the year, but since it is winter and if you promise to remove it first thing in the spring – why not use what you have on hand.

Add at least 6 inches of straw to your beds to protect the roots. Constant freezing and thawing can tear apart the root system.

Add at least 6 inches of straw to your beds to protect the roots. Constant freezing and thawing can tear apart the root system.

You should begin to see the sprouts in about 4-6 weeks. Check back in the spring and I will teach you how to clip the garlic scapes, share with you a yummy recipe for garlic scape pesto, and teach you how to harvest your home grown garlic cloves!

Happy garlic sprouts!

Happy garlic sprouts!