Cheep! Cheep! Is that Spring I hear?

Top 5 Ways to Raise Awesome Chicks

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Veronica – Barnevelder

Nothing says springtime like an incubator buzzing.  It’s always hard for me to wait and time my hatching just right.  It gets so cold here that I don’t like hatching before it warms up, but I need to balance that with being a rather inpatient gal.  I’m a lucky girl however, with a VERY good husband for he has allowed me to designate an entire room in my house to chickens.  I have a “chick room” designed simply for incubating, hatching and brooding chicks.  It’s fantastic in the early months of spring when it’s just a little too chilly to let those babies outside.  Who doesn’t love having chicks in the house anyway?

My Top 5 Ways to Raise Awesome Chicks:

1. Handle Your Chicks Regularly. 12797998_254433651570763_393543114_n(1)

This makes your chicken life SO much easier.  The babies that I’ve hand raised are so much easier to deal with as adults, than adult chickens I have purchased.  If you ever need to handle or doctor your chickens, you’ll want them as calm as possible around you. (Make sure your hands are washed, so that you aren’t introducing germs, parasites or any potential diseases to your new babes.  This is especially the case if you have a flock of chickens, or are handling any other birds.)

 

2. Feed Age/Stage Appropriate Feed. 

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Using bribery to increase handling by children – Especially important with young roosters.

If you are raising chicks for the first time this is essential and you need to do some research.  The growth stages of chicks is fast and you don’t have a lot of time to remedy mistakes.  Protein, vitamin and trace mineral level needs very at every age stage and the results of using accurate levels will make a huge difference to your chicks.  They will be larger, stronger, healthier and produce less waste.  Read a couple of non-biased studies and you’ll see the difference.  Quality feed is well worth the small additional cost.

 

3. Invest in a Good Brooder.  

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Marbles in the water dish prevent drowning

You can buy awesome kits or complete brooders for raising your chicks, or you can make one and get the same results – your choice.  We built ours and the kids still love adding new things to keep the chicks happy and entertained.  You can see some great ideas for brooders and coop ideas here. Your chicks need a warm, safe place to grow.  They need ample fresh water, food and a clean space to move and grow.  The temperature should be around 90F for the first week, and should be reduced by around 5 degrees each following week, until the chicks have their all of their feathers.  If your chicks are huddled up to or under your heat source it’s not warm enough, however, if they are all as far away from your heat source as possible it’s too warm.

Note: The chicks have moved the shavings away from the paper they are standing on, and you DO NOT want your chicks standing on plain newspaper – Bullet 4 will cover this.

chicken splint4. Keep them on a textured surface. 

This is a factor that most new chick owners are unaware of.  Chicks need to be kept off of anything slippery: newspaper, vinyl, linoleum, hardwood etc… Although handy and generally easy to clean those little feet have nothing to grip onto and some pretty serious developmental issues can follow.  Splayed leg for instance, where one or both of their legs slides to the side (looking similar to a break), makes the chick unable to walk.  Typically this results in the chick getting culled or you playing chicken doctor like me and finding a way to make the worlds smallest splint.  Let me tell you this was one of the most time consuming and frustrating jobs of my life.

I tend to have multiple surfaces in my brooder, typically shavings on one side and a folded towel on the other.  My brooder is large with a lot of room to exercise and we add stimuli to keep them thinking and prevent boredom.  I elevate the water, to prevent getting shavings inside.

5. Introduce to the Flock Early 

When, where and how you introduce chicks to the rest of your flock depends on several factors.  What is the season and temperature outside, for you need to make sure your chicks are fully feathered and old enough to withstand and temperature changes without a hen to keep them warm.  How large is your flock and how sensitive your flocks pecking order is also plays a huge role, as your chicks safety is your number one concern.  Also, it’s never a good idea to just throw your babies in the coop.  When I am introducing chicks I set up a metal crate inside the coop and the chicks live in the crate for several days but separated for their safety.  I find this gives them a good opportunity to watch and learn.  They see how the older chickens interact with each other, and they get a feel for the pecking order without having to be apart of it.  It also gives my hens an opportunity to watch the chicks and get comfortable with them.  When i’m ready to release, I do it at night with the lights out.  Typically, when the chickens wake up no one is the wiser, however, I do leave the crate in the coop with a small barrier door (chicks fit under but chickens don’t), so that if needed the chicks have a safe place to run and hide.  My goal is to have my chicks out and learning from the masters early.

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Sprout (the worlds kindest rooster) leading some girls out for a morning stroll.

 

What Makes a Mountain Child?

By a learn-as-you-go mountain mommy

So, what is a mountain child anyway? We live in the mountains, surely that’s enough.  I had to ask myself something similar a while back.  I thought about what it was I wanted my children to take away from our experience here.  Childhood is limited after all.  We don’t have nearly as much time as we think we do to secure those lessons, those understandings.  So what was it? What was the grand idea I wanted them to take away from all of this?  And I don’t mean the only thing I wanted them to learn, I mean the advantage I wanted them to have from living here.  I wanted to raise men that got their values, their foundation and their work ethics from living above the skyline.

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Frozen River Play

The first thing I wanted to teach them was survival.  My kids have long been adventurers, they’ve got “Survival Packs”, they hike, fish, hunt, and play like any wild children do.  But here’s the thing, the reality – we live in the bloody mountains! As amazing as that is, it comes with some danger and those risks need to be prepared for.  We live with cougars, bears, bobcats, Lynx, Coyotes and Wolves. This preparedness is not something you can learn in a book, its knowledge you gain through experience, time, and learning from other people’s mistakes. So to prepare them in a fun way, we play survival games: What do you do if? How do you build the best fort if you NEED to sleep in it? If you’re lost in the bush, and you’re seven years old… how DO you survive? How do you make a snow fort, that’s safe and effective? Stay Visible, Stay Loud!  I’m pretty confident in my boys outback skills.  I’m not saying they’d slay a mountain lion, but I think if they were lost they would have a strong foundation to fall back on.

Since moving up here, I have become surrounded by an amazing group of smart, nature savvy women who are as passionate about raising their kids and doing it in the mountains as I am.  We learn a lot from each other.  Last year, with a lot of guidance from a fellow mountain momma we started to forage for food and medicine.  The boys learned how to make poultices to stop bleeding, about plants that help bites and stings and we even made a huge batch of Natures Polysporin that we now use exclusively for both ourselves and our animals.  They don’t know a lot yet, but they’ve got a good arsenal and they can distinguish between some pretty similar look-alike plants.

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Physics experiments in the creek.

After survival, I wanted our boys to have an excellent grasp of the plants and animals that surrounded us.  We’ve spent countless hours learning about tracks, and scat and markings on trees.  At the beginning of this school year I decided to purchase the Exploring Nature with Children curriculum.  This curriculum gives us a theme within nature to study and follow each week, and in addition gives us an example of art and poetry that coincides with the week’s theme.  Both the children and I have enjoyed this curriculum immensely.  There are plenty of extension activities to expand it and it moves along nicely with The Handbook of Nature Study, by Anna Botsford Comstock. We write about and illustrate what we see and learn about in our Nature Journals: we document the weather changes, the leaves of different trees and how to differentiate them, the way that nature changes throughout the seasons and any little critter we come across.  It’s a way to blend science, art, writing and math all in one place – and the kids never know its “school”.

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Learning how to be self sustaining

The boys started hunting with their dad this year, and we spent a lot of time learning what ethical hunting looked like, what your responsibilities as a hunter are and also how to process what you’ve harvested.  We processed enough meat this year to feed our family and a friend’s family for a year.  The kids were involved every step of the way – after all, if you’re going to eat it, you’d better know where it came from and what goes into getting it to your plate.

So I guess when someone asks me why I’m raising my kids in the mountains, I have pretty good answers now.  They’re prepared, they’re outdoors and active, they’re aware of the nature that surrounds them and the responsibility we have to protect it.  They’re awesome kids that lead a phenomenal life.

 

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When in doubt, say “yes”.