Here's my chicks when they were two weeks old:
I took these photos just after I moved them out of the cardboard box, and into the wire framed rabbit cage. They had suddenly grown fatter overnight and looked like they could hardly stand up. While in the first week they scratched at the dirt and did nice chicken behaviours, suddenly it seemed they couldn't even stand on one leg to scratch. Their walk turned into an awkward waddle. I thought they'd need a bigger cage to make sure they got exercise and learnt to manouver their fat bodies around.
Unfortunately though, I think I moved them to the wire cage too soon. Being larger, it is also colder, even with blankets draped over it. They huddled together so tightly that two of the chickens got injured and died - trampled to death? I quickly moved the chicks to a wooden box instead, a bit larger than their original cardboard box. Since then, no more deaths, thank god. But I noticed that they tended to sit all day. If they were eating, they'd be eating sitting down. They'd only waddle the minimum distance they had to and collapse onto their bellies. I decided it was time for them to go outside.
For their first trip to the great outdoors, I put down a mini fence that is normally garden bed edging, and made sure I gave them a spot with both sun and shade. They were absolutely thrilled. Instead of sitting down, they all got to it, pecking around, exploring, testing out the plants and generally fossicking around.
After a few days of this, I was lifting them into the box to carry them back to the bathroom, when they suddenly worked out how to flutter their way out of the box. Clearly I was using a box that was too shallow. They were so happy, freeranging, that I let them go free for a few hours.
Today, they are three weeks old, I've let them go free in the garden all day, and guess what? They are doing all the things chickens should: standing on one leg to scratch, fluttering from one place to another, dust bathing, and pecking at everything... hooray! They seem very healthy. I think they were so bored in their cardboard box that they had nothing to stand up for.
For now they are hanging out in the box overnight, and I'll free range them in the garden during the day when I'm home.
They eat so much food I'm in shock. They whipped through my 5kg bag of starter crumble in the first ten days. The amount they eat increases every day. I've now worked out how to make my own food for them. It's more expensive and more work than starter crumble, but I'm sure it's far, far more nutritious.
Homemade starter crumble recipe:
4 cups grain, coarsely ground - I use a mix of wheat, corn, barley, oat grain - whatever I've bought cheaply in bulk.
1/4 cup flax seeds - I don't grind these as they go rancid quickly, and they are small enough for the chicks to peck whole.
1/4 cup seaweed - I collect my own from the beach, dry it in the sun for a few days, and grind it to a coarse powder. This provides minerals.
3 tsp salt - since I had washed the salt off my seaweed. If using unwashed seaweed, maybe just 2 tsp? Use unrefined salt to provide minerals.
2 tbsp cod liver oil - to provide vitamins A and D, and for general good health. I bought a big bottle of animal grade oil from a feed shop.
2 tbsp fat - I use the tallow that we scrape off the top of stock when we cook it.
1 tbsp molasses - provides vitamins.
1 cup protein - eggs, fish, meat....
Mix everything together and feed to the chicks.
Apart from the protein, I only had to buy the cod liver oil and flax seeds specially. These are both optional - I include them because I want the chooks to have optimum nutrition, and hence to provide very nutritious meat for me to eat. I buy grains and salt cheaply in bulk for my family, so it's no drama to feed some of our supply to the chooks. The protein, however, has been a bit more challenging, since I want to get it for free. I got some fish carcasses from the market, ground up the meatier bits in my food processor, and then dried them in my dehydrator. The result crumbled into fine "pellets" that mixed well with the rest of the feed. When that ran out, I fed them scrambled eggs fried up with greens from the garden. The fish shop will have more free fish for me tomorrow, but in the meantime I'm not sure what to do for protein. I've got a bucket of snails that I picked off the garden last night - maybe I can crush them? There's also worms in my worm farm - maybe I can pick out a handful for the chooks?
So far, at 3 weeks, the chicks have eaten their way through a 5kg bag of starter crumble, and 5 batches of the above homemade recipe. Yikes! I can see why eating a lot of meat is not good for the environment - they go through SO MUCH grain!