Spring is the season of new life. Buds have begun popping out on bushes and trees, robins are returning and are busy building nests and laying eggs, and baby animals are being born.
If you were like me, you spent the months of March and April watching and patiently waiting for April the Giraffe to welcome her little bundle of joy. Well, here on the farmstead at Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village we have been eagerly watching over and caring for our new babies as well!
On Saturday March 11th, I went to Clyde’s Feed and Animal Center in Lockport to pick up our order of six chicks, three Barred Rock and three Easter Egger, which had just arrived. At the time of this writing, they are now eight weeks old, and it is amazing to see how big they have gotten in such a short period of time! How do we care for our baby chicks, and why did we choose these breeds?
Barred Rock Chickens are heritage chickens, and therefore perfect for our farmstead. They were first shown in Boston in 1849, but the modern breed is a cross between Black Java hens and a cock with barred plumage and a single comb. The result was our present day Barred Rock Chicken which sports a single comb with five points and un-feathered legs. This particular breed of chicken is a great egg laying chicken, and is docile and winter hardy.
Easter Eggers are a variety of chicken that does not conform to any specific breed standard. They sport a pea comb and un-feathered legs, and come in a variety of colors. Additionally, they lay eggs in a variety of shades ranging from blue to green. Also docile and winter hardy they make a wonderful addition to our farmstead and are a definite favorite amongst our young visitors.
Once I brought our chicks back to the farmstead, I needed to find a warm and safe environment for them to grow. They were placed in a large tub, with the floor covered in pine shavings, in our workshop and provided with clean water and chick starter feed. A red lamp was then hung directly over them which heated the tub to a toasty 92 degrees.
Two Weeks Later
After about two to three weeks, the chicks begin to grow their feathers which will help keep them warm. Therefore, we began reducing the heat by 5 degrees per week by raising the red lamp higher and higher. Once the chicks turned six weeks old, they were too big to stay in the tub so we moved them outside to the chicken coop. At this point we also started them on a grower feed instead of the starter feed. Once they begin laying eggs, around 17 to 20 weeks old, they will once again be switched to a layer feed which provides the calcium needed to produce strong and healthy eggs.
Predators are always a concern when it comes to raising chickens. Common predators include dogs, cats, birds of prey, and raccoons, just to name a few. As some of you may already know, this past year raccoons have been a major problem for our chickens. Therefore, we are taking every necessary precaution to keep our new chicks safe. We are adding extra pickets to the fence surrounding the coop in order to keep raccoons from reaching into the coop. A rock wall has been built around the coop to deter raccoons from digging underneath the coop in order to get inside. And an electric wire is being installed around the very top of the coop fence which will zap any climbing raccoons and hopefully prevent them from entering the coop. Until these safety measures are complete, the chicks remain inside the coop. Worry not! We are almost finished putting these measures in place and by the time you are reading this they will most likely be out running around in their yard. Make sure you stop by on one of our Farmstead Thursdays to say hello to BNHV’s newest members!
 “Plymouth Rock Chicken”; The Livestock Conservancy.
 Carol Ekarius; Storey’s Illustrated Guide to Poultry Breeds; (North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2007).
Contributed by Farmstead Assistant Sara Miller.