SHERIDAN — Whether you consider backyard chickens your pets, want to eat their eggs or both, spring is the time to raise chicks in Wyoming. Shipton’s Big R Manager Sam Depew said his store sells between 3,500-4,000 birds a year from late January to May. Shipton’s also sell ducks and all the supplies to care for both.
The three main things chicks need to survive are heat, food and water, according to “Raising Chickens, A Guide to Everything Chicken.” Ready-made brooders, or shelters, can be purchased where chicks are sold, but a sturdy cardboard box lined with newspaper and wood shavings or straw will work as well. The baby birds also need to be provided with a heat lamp until they are fully feathered.
Chicks will need to be kept near a source of heat for around three to four weeks, according to the University of Wyoming Extension Office. A heat lamp attached to an old stock water tank or other confined area will sufficiently insulate the chicks as they grow.
Baby chicks should be kept at 90 degrees, and the best indicator of correct temperature is the activity of the chicks. If they are all huddled beneath the lamp, they are too cold. If they are spread to the far edges of the space provided, as far from the lamp as possible, they are too hot. Chicks that are crowding together either away from or near a heat source have the potential to suffocate each other, so keeping the temperature of their space regulated is very important, according to the UW Extension Office.
Later, the chickens will require space for resting, feeding, watering, movement and protection from weather and predators. This can all be accomplished with a simple structure, or coop, and access to the outdoors.
Chicken breeds that are appropriate for meat are different than those for eggs, according to “Raising Chickens.” Good meat chickens will grow rapidly and put on meat quickly. Laying chicken breeds include buff rocks, partridge rocks, white rocks and Rhode Island Reds — perhaps the most famous American chicken of all time, said to have outstanding egg production qualities.
“We have layers, and I do bring in some meat birds as well,” Depew said. “We have supplies too, feeders and nesters and coops — you name it, we’ve got it. We have feed … we are set up to keep you running with chickens year-round.”
Shipton’s can order chicks at any time, but usually keeps the birds on hand when it’s warmer.
“We start getting them in in the end of January. In February, March and April, we get a lot from the hatchers and by the end of May we dwindle off a little,” Depew said.
Local eggs are bigger, with richer yolks, he added.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, keeping backyard poultry is becoming more and more popular. People enjoy raising baby chicks and having fresh eggs from their established flocks, and though keeping chickens can be fun and educational, poultry owners “should be aware that chickens and other poultry used for meat and eggs can carry germs that make people sick.”
The CDC recommends thoroughly washing your hands with running water and soap after contact with poultry or their droppings. Although running water and soap are best, you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer until you can get to a sink to wash your hands thoroughly.