How to raise friendly chickens

Here at Gillis Gardens, we believe in happy, friendly animals. We believe that, with the right care any animal can become easy to handle and some even enjoy it.

So here are my top 5 tips to creating an unbreakable bond with your flock.

Seriously, start young- This is the big one. Just as soon as we get our babies, I inspect and hold for a moment. Then for the next several weeks, I go in and check on them CONSTANTLY. Any time I have an extra couple minutes, I hold my hand in the pen so they get used to my being in close proximity. Bonus point for when the braver ones start perching on your wrist or maybe even fall asleep on you.

Handle(gently) several times a day- even if only for a few seconds. I believe this gets them used to just being picked up. When you want to check out an adult bird, having them just submit to being picked up is a lot easier then trying to catch it.

Spend lots of time talking to them- We have our chicks set up in our storage room, which we have to walk thru to get to our laundry area. This means I get to talk to them, several times a day, without even having to do much else. I sing while I’m doing to laundry, I run thru my list of stuff to do for the day.. Or I just talk aloud. I want them to not only be used to my voice, but recognize it.

Back off if it’s to much for them- don’t stress your babies out. It wont help form a bond. Use the more trusting, social birds to draw out the nervous ones. Once they realize the other birds have nothing to fear, they will come along.

Don’t give up! – especially if its because they aren’t cute fluff butts anymore. They don’t stay like that long and that’s no excuse to treat them any differently.

Our girls are about a month old now, and they are growing like crazy.

These pictures are a week old already

I have several that like to fight for the perch on my hand/wrist and the shy girls cuddle up next to me. I can honestly say, with my arm in the box, they have all fallen asleep. That is trust, in a nutshell folks.

Well, that’s about all for this one. We were up late the last weeks worth of nights planting strawberries and putting up a fence… we also have a garden to plant, a kitchen to finish (lest we forget), and a whole list of other projects. Wish us luck!

Until next time, have a wicked good day.

The chicks are here!

After a long couple of days- we are proud to announce the arrival of 11 new family members!

It was originally supposed to be 15- but our Brahmas were canceled…. then it was supposed to be 13 but the trip was to much for one little polish and one little salmon faverolle. Hoovers Hatchery has been informed and we will be getting refunded.

Also, Because the FedEx plane was late, our girls missed their ride to town by 30 minutes. So MrGillis went on a rescue mission, 170 miles round trip,to ensure they’d get to us in time.


We’re really hoping for no roos, but we’re just glad that we only lost two. So far, Hoovers Hatchery has our business for the future.

Otherwise, we are knee deep in projects because spring in Maine. It goes by fast, which means work while you can.

So, until next time, have a wicked good day.

Update 05/05/2017: we lost the other faverolle overnight- we are now worried that our chicks are infected with coccidiosis – nasty little buggers that are really in all chickens, but some are particularly bad and the little ones can’t fight them off. We now believe that was the reason for the polish’s death, as well instead of just a rough trip.

So far it seems like all the other chicks are doing well, they are eating, drinking, running and napping like normal. We’ve had one tiny case of pasty butt that was taken care of this morning.

We’ve decided that if we notice anymore looking weak we are going to make the 80 mile round trip to the nearest TSC to get Corid. We will update when we have more news.

On the Topic of Mail Order Chicks

After the disaster that was last week,  we had to sit down and give some real thought as to whether or not we wanted to try this whole mail order chick thing again. This whole order, was LITERALLY my worst nightmare come to life.

It was a really rough couple days. We spent a lot of time blaming ourselves for different reasons. It was too cold or we should have to driven to get them from Hampden… I went thru times of extreme self doubt… how could I really be a care conscientious livestock owner when I was ordering chicks and they were dying from the elements… when I had known that this was a real possibility but went ahead regardless because I selfishly wanted chicks in March.

We were on the fence as to how we were going to do this. We know that in order to be most cost effective in owning and rearing chickens, especially meat birds, we need to order them from a hatchery ourselves, and cut out the middle men like TSC.

I just…. I cried more for those poor little things, then I have in a long time. I feel like I deserve the blame for initiating the whole deal in the first place. My hubby, he’s pretty insistent that it isn’t my fault, but in the end, it was my decision to go ahead.

But, after much soul searching and discussion,, including conceding to the fact that we have about 40 bucks worth of chick stuff that can’t really be wasted, we decided to give this whole mail order chick thing one more go.

In April.

We figure, we’re getting good solid 40 degree days right now- its the overnight temps that probably did them in. Late next month should be ok.

And if it isn’t, then this mail order bird thing, it just isn’t for us.

Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that we spent so much getting ready, we’d probably call it for the year. But part of zero waste, is not wasting money or things we spent money on.

So, here we are. We’ve been doing plenty of other stuff around ye old homestead. MrGillis and our handyguy have been working away at the shed project. I got my newest order in for lotion ingredients. We’ve been beefing up security around about as well. In a town with no cops, its a good idea to have cameras, good heavy duty locks and motion sensor lights, honestly.

Also, I’m working on a new blog series that will be kind of sporadically thrown in- I am dubbing “The Chicken Profiler”. It’s going to be all about the breeds we’ve had over the years, filled with cool breed factoids and stories of crazy chicken antics.

Until next time, have a wicked good day!

When Mail Order Chicks Go Wrong

“I have spent the last week trying not to die from excitement here… and with a heaping dash of anxiety as well. (I’m actually starting this blog while mrgillis goes to the post office to pick up our girls, that’s how anxious I am – I am kinda having gut bubbles at the idea that they don’t arrive safe so bare with me) We’ve NEVER ordered chicks thru the mail before and of course, the horror stories online will keep you awake for days. Sometimes its just better to stay away from review sites.

We’ve had the brooder set up for a couple days in the spare room- Originally we were going to use our bedroom closet, but decided, probably not the best idea. The lamp is held in place to keep a good portion at 90ish degrees. They have electrolyte water and chick starter with chick grit in two separate locations.”

The was the start of a much different blog. The blog was supposed to be about bringing home our newest generation of laying hens.

My hubby started the truck at about 7:15 this morning, so the cab would be nice and toasty for their one mile trip home. He left at quarter to 8, just to make sure he could get them just as soon as possible, as they’ve been in the mail since wednesday night… This being saturday morning. They say chicks are pretty good for the first 72 hours of their life, but I was still nervous/giddy/straightupscareds.

No lie, I had been a wreck since the night before. I was beginning to wonder if mail order chicks were worth the stress. My hubby offered to drive to Hampden’s postal facility two hours away to pick them up last night, because I’m such a stressball. Ultimately we decided to stay home and let it be whatever it may be.

Ultimately, it was a decision we regretted.

We will never know what could have been, because when the chicks arrived, they had all frozen to death en route.

Of course, my wonderful husband took care of it. He took care of those poor little souls that knew nothing but suffering.

As of now, I’ve emailed the company to let them know the box was a total loss. I have not yet decided what to do as far as trying again vs. getting a refund. Of course, mrgillis says its up to me.

For right now, I’m going to find some solace in hot coffee, our wonderful homestead and everything else that I have going on that is awesome.

Until next time, have a wicked good day.





Getting Ready for Chicks

In three rounds of bringing chicks home, and a total of 20 chicks bought, we have only lost one as a baby. I believe that it didn’t get the water that it needed to recoup after a long drive home in cold maine spring. It was a hard lesson, and one I hope to not repeat. But basically, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the what, where and how of raising baby chicks.

So, I’m going to share my tips for optimal chick rearing, starting at the most important step- Setting up your brooder area.

These are the steps I follow in the days before my chicks arrive, in order to assure they come into a safe home.

Step 1- choosing a brooder box – There are a couple of options here that are simple and quick to access. You can use a cardboard box, a plastic tote, a dog crate, an old tub…. None of these things are going to fit your chickies for long but they all have a certain amount of usefulness for the first 4 to 6 weeks of life. We use a big 45 gallon tote that is fairly heavy duty. The walls are pretty high and after they learn to jump out, we cover it with bird netting and it keeps them in until they need more space. We then move them into a bigger cage we made ourselves for the remainder of their brooding time. This time, with 15 chicks, we’ll probably have to use our dog crate too. The important thing to remember tho, use something that is easily cleaned, or easily replaced. Chicks are messy and need to be cleaned out often or you’ll end up with a big stinky problem on your hands and fast.

Step 2 – Choosing a watering system- We use a standard 1 gallon drinker fount. The smaller one, the one made especially for chicks, just gets knocked over and is essentially useless. The wide base on this type of drinking setup keeps it from getting knocked over by curious and active birds.

step 3 – choosing a litter – For the first few days to week, we use paper towels. This is for a couple reasons. One, you can watch for any odd poop. Two, if an accidental water spill happens, its a lot easier to clean up. Three, there is nothing for the little ones to choke on. We introduce pine shavings, the same litter we use in our coop, as they get older. Lastly, it’s easy for them to walk on, and they wont end up with splayed/spraddled foot/leg syndrome, which is a killer in most cases.

step 4 – choosing a feed and feeder – we order chicks that have been un-medicated for Coccidiosis, but HAVE been vaccinated for Marek’s, so we use a standard medicated growers feed. THIS IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW. Please find out the details behind your chicks before purchasing their food. Whatever decision you make regarding your chicken’s feed, just please be informed.

step 5 – choosing a heat source and monitoring system – we use a brooder lamp with porcelain base with a red bulb and a safety thermometer that we bought at walmart for 97 cents. The red bulb is supposed to be easier on the girls and reduce pecking and fighting and we have had great luck with it over the years. In fact, we are still on the first bulb we ever bought and we have run that sucker a lot.

step 6 – to supplement, or to not – We supplement our chicks diet with a ultrakibble and chick grit. Also we buy a babycake for them to peck at for a hour or so a day after they are a few days old. Lastly, when we first bring them home, we put Braggs apple cider vinegar  (the good kind with the mother in it)  in their water.. just a little tho. This year, we’ll be adding a bit of homemade electrolytes as well because they’ll be coming directly from the post office. This is a call you have to make for your situation. I figure, the better a start you give them, the better a life they will live.

Homemade Electrolytes (not just for chicks!)

1 Cup Water
2 teaspoons honey or sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda

Step 7 – choosing your chick dealer – We have always bought our chickens thru stores in the past, and this has always worked fairly well for us. This year tho, we decided to try ordering from a hatchery directly. After lots of looking around, we decided to go with Hoover’s Hatchery for a couple different reasons. They offer a pretty good variety of birds and they have FREE SHIPPING on all orders. Also, their vaccination prices are excellent- super cheap per bird, not 2 or 3 bucks per bird, like some hatcheries I looked at.

So that’s about that for now… a brooder all set up with no chicks to live in it for about another week… my future girls haven’t even been hatched yet, and I am practically DYING. But I guess I’ll just have to contain myself….

Until next time, have a wicked good day.