Chicks are ‘kid magnets’ at area farm stores

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold, Preston - posted Mon., Mar. 21, 2011
Brenda Stone (right), of Niantic, holds a baby chick for her granddaughter, Jaime, 7, as another shopper looks on. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Brenda Stone (right), of Niantic, holds a baby chick for her granddaughter, Jaime, 7, as another shopper looks on. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Hear that cheeping from the back of the farm supply store? It’s a sure sign that spring is here – the chicks have arrived.

And apparently, this year they’re going faster than usual.

“We sell out every single day,” said Colleen Caplet, who manages the Tractor Supply Company store on Route 138 in Griswold. “We had 100 come in today and they’re nearly gone.”

The two dozen or so remaining black sex link pullet chicks, milling around in a feed tub under a heat lamp, drew an excited circle of youngsters and their parents.

The scene was similar at Fleming’s Feed and Hardware in Preston, said employee Lena Baldwin. “Springtime comes and people stop in and ask, ‘Did you get the chicks yet?’”

TSC and Fleming’s are among the local agricultural centers that supply spring chicks to customers eager to start backyard flocks. Caplet said that there’s been a real upswing in interest and sales this year among local residents, many of whom have acreage and perhaps a vacant outbuilding that could potentially house and raise some poultry, in an effort to put a dent in the grocery bill.

“A lot more people want to get back to basics and want to raise chickens for the eggs,” Caplet said. “[Chickens] also eat ticks. And people don’t want to think about it, but when they’re done laying [eggs], you can eat them for dinner.”

There’s the naturally-grown aspect to consider, too, added Baldwin. “You have your own eggs. You know what goes into them, that there’s no bad stuff. You know they’re fresh,” she said.

Fleming’s got its first shipment of about 400 laying hens March 18. “Our brooder can handle 400 to 700 birds,” said Baldwin. “We’ll have them through April and we’ll be getting shipments every week.”

The chickens available include Rhode Island reds, white rocks and araucanas, known for laying “Easter eggs” with a greenish tint.

Fleming’s keeps its chicks in a brooder, or cage-like box. At TSC, customers are permitted to touch or pick up the chicks, but only under the watchful eye of a store employee. The young birds are extremely fragile, said Caplet, and can be injured if they’re dropped or squeezed too hard. A dispenser of hand sanitizer stands nearby, which children are required to use if they touch a chick, she said.

Caplet said that this year, TSC has been carrying a number of specialty breeds, including hybrids like tetra tints. Often they don’t know what breed has been shipped, so it’s a surprise when a batch of chicks arrives. They sell ducklings, too.

Both stores sell feed and supplies for raising chicks to egg-laying adulthood: heat lamps, waterers, coops, bedding, nesting boxes and instructional books. Caplet said it can cost between $150 and $300 to set up a backyard flock, depending on whether there’s a suitable shelter in the backyard already.

It can start out pretty simply, though, she said. If chicks are kept in the house during the first weeks, they can get by with the heat from a plain light bulb.

The chicks are cheap – about $2.50 each at TSC – but the store won’t sell them in quantities less than half a dozen – an ideal number for a first backyard flock. That’s to avoid them being bought as “disposable” pets, since they are intended for agricultural purposes.

The chicks won’t stay tiny, fluffy and cute for long, though. When it reaches maturity, a hen will lay four to five eggs weekly, Caplet said. “It depends on the breed,” she said. “Some are high producers, some are not.” The birds go through annual molting cycles when egg production stops, but they can remain productive for six or seven years.

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