How the Hen House Turns: Raising Chicks In House

How the Hen House Turns: Raising Chicks In House
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.
Los Alamos

One spring, several years ago, my daughter and her husband, my granddaughter, and their niece, were coming to visit. I wanted them to experience new chicks, so I chose two at the feed store in time for their arrival.

The Hen House was ready for two more chickens, but it was too early for anyone to be setting. We had a fine time socializing the chicks. As usual,  the dogs assumed that they were supposed to guard them, as if they were new puppies in the pack. When the family members left, I had planned to house the young birds in a separate pen until the others accepted them.

It didn’t happen. It was far too cold to leave them outdoors without an adoptive hen or goose to snuggle under. It really is possible to raise chickens in the house in a fairly civilized manner.

All you need is 4-feet wide chicken wire locked into a circle 5 feet in diameter with a removable lid of chicken wire over the top for needed access. You place this portable enclosure on a sturdy tarp lined with replaceable newspaper and add a small cozy cardboard box.

The box is for the chicks to sleep in. It must have a lid that can be closed. Dark quiets the chicks, and they will go to sleep at a reasonable hour if they have a soft blanket to cuddle under. You secure the blanket by poking one corner through a hole about 1 foot from the floor so it drapes over the chicks like the feathers of a mother hen.

During the day the chicks will peep loudly if you disappear from sight, so you must take them out of the box to peck around the tarp, which has been seeded with straw and chick food or other healthy scraps (no onions, banana peels or citrus). A chick jar screwed onto a large lid provides them water that doesn’t spill—much.

The whole arrangement, complete with chicken wire enclosure, can be moved easily from kitchen to office to living room. This is essential, because the chicks’ peeping, if you disappear, is far too loud to tolerate.

Fair warning. If you give in to their demands and let them fly out of the pen to sit on your shoulder or explore the house, they will. One solution is to drape an old sheet over an even older couch and sit with them for a routine relief from the pen—their relief, that is.

Eventually you can sit with them in the Hen House pen for brief visits, so the other birds learn to accept them as your chicks and part of the flock. The young birds will never forget that they are your chicks—it’s called imprinting, the subject of next weeks’ column.