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Raising Backyard Chicks

By JoAnne C. Broadwater

The phone rang at 11 a.m. April 12.  A dozen day-old chicks were peeping noisily inside a box at the Hampstead post office.  The tiny Easter Eggers, Buff Orpingtons and Barred Plymouth Rocks had been shipped to Maryland from the My Pet Chicken hatchery in Connecticut.  They wanted to eat.

Raising backyard chickens for their colorful eggs has become a niche market and an enjoyable hobby for consumers, according to Dr. Nancy Buchanan, a poultry expert for  the Pennfield Corporation in Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania.

The chicks grow rapidly and transform from balls of fluff into fully feathered adult birds in about four months, Dr. Buchanan said.  Not long after that, they begin laying eggs. In the meantime, though, they need careful tending, especially in the first week.

The newborns need to be kept warm under red heat lamps at temperatures of 90 to 95 degrees.  If they’re noisy and huddled, the chicks are cold, Dr. Buchanan said.  If they’re spread apart and drowsy, they’re too hot.

By the time, they’re three weeks old, they have some feathers and enjoy going outdoors, stretching their wings, mock fighting and pecking in the dirt.  Once they have all their feathers, they’ll be ready to move outdoors into their chicken coop.

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