As springtime begins to unfold with warmer temperatures ahead, we start to see the wonderful animals the winter has brought us. Baby chicks, turkeys, ducks and geese start to fill the feed stores.

Sierra Cain

While many of us are interested in starting or growing our home flocks, there are important needs and necessities to learn before investing.

When preparing to purchase baby chicks, remember they grow into adults and will need a large enough space to be safe. Be sure to check in with your local laws and regulations on at home flocks.

While small flocks are becoming more popular, not all areas accept chickens, ducks or geese on your property. Marcy Ward, the New Mexico Extension livestock specialist, recommends your research begin on the internet, or with a visit to your community’s planning department or codes enforcement office. Permits are generally required to keep livestock within city limits where ordinances exist.

Once you have cleared the regulations portion for your chicks, you can now plan on how many chicks you want to purchase. There are many reasons to start an at home flock. Whether it is a hobby, teaching children to learn responsibility or to harvest your own eggs, knowing how many chickens you need to support a family is important. A general rule of thumb is three laying hens for one egg per day for each family member.

After deciding on the number of chicks that works best for your situation, obtaining the proper materials to keep your chicks healthy and warm are best when purchased and set up before you bring your chicks home. Baby chicks will need a brooder house set up to keep them warm, this area should range from 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

In general, lower the temperature every week by five degrees Fahrenheit. A small, contained space is recommended to house your chicks, with bedding on the bottom and a set up that allows your heat source to be in the middle of the area. Your heat lamp should be placed 20 inches above the bedding. Chicks need space to move away from the heat source if they get too hot, chicks should have at a minimum of one square foot per chick.

Bedding can be made up of four to six inches of straw or shavings and needs to be stirred around and cleaned regularly. Avoid strong smelling wood shavings as it can be harmful to flock health.

Chicks will need fresh water and feed. Chicken waterers need to be placed away from the heat source to keep the water room temperature. Water should be available at all times and containers should be cleaned daily.

Chicks need to be on a commercial chick starter placed in proper chick feeders. Have enough feeders and space so all chicks can feed at once to avoid overcrowding. Remember to always wash your hands after handling or cleaning up after your chicks and chickens. They can spread diseases to you and your family members.

Chicks will grow quickly. Be sure, to adjust your space as needed to give them proper room and to help regulate the temperature. If chicks are close to the edge of the space and wings are spread and panting, they are too hot. If chicks are evenly distributed around the area, the temperature and space is comfortable. If chicks are crowded under the heat source, they are too cold.

Chicks will stay on a starter ration until they are about 8 weeks old. They can then transition to growing mash or crumbles. Purchase a balanced complete feed and follow instructions on the label.

As your pullets start to grow and approach being laying hens, around 20 to 24 weeks old, you will need a proper chicken coop with roosting areas. Hens require three square feet of floor space and six inches of roosting space.

Laying hens will also need to be switched to a complete laying ration as they will need higher amounts of calcium for strong egg shells. Always purchase the proper feed for your chicken’s growth stage. Turkey, ducks and geese will also have different rations, so it is important to purchase the correct feed for your birds.

Overall, having the proper supplies to keep your chicks warm, watered and fed is essential in keeping them healthy. Be sure to transition their surroundings and feed as they age to accommodate their growth and nutritional needs.

Chickens can be a great addition to our lives, but do take a fair amount of planning and responsibility. Please reach out to the Valencia County Extension Office if you need further information on taking care of a small at home flock.

Program announcements

To register for an upcoming program, call the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service at 505-565-3002. For more information, visit valenciaextension.nmsu.edu.

• Ready, Set, Grow! Free gardening classes are being offered virtually; visit the link for more information: aces.nmsu.edu/desertblooms/ready-set-grow.html or contact Lynda Garvin at lgarvin@nmsu.edu.

If you are an individual with a disability who requires auxiliary aid or service to participate in a program, contact the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service Office at 565-3002 two weeks in advance of the event.

(Sierra Cain is the Valencia County 4-H/Youth Development agent for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service.)

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Sierra Cain, guest columnist

Sierra Cain is the Valencia County 4-H/Youth Development agent for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service.