As the days grow longer and the sap starts to run, we look forward to the arrival of perhaps one of the most beloved symbols of spring: the arrival of the baby chicks! In my mind there are very few things that signify the coming of the season than the “peep, peep, peep” of those fuzzy little hatchlings. It’s a sentiment I’ve had since I was a child, helping to raise our own family flock. And to this day, it still kindles a sense of hope, of new beginnings, and of eager anticipation for the season to come. Nothing announces the coming of spring quite as boldly and eagerly as the baby chicks.

Raising chickens is a tradition that has been practiced for thousands of years, primarily because as far as raising livestock for food goes, it is relatively simple and quite practical. In spite of the fact that today there are fewer commercial farming operations, there has been a dramatic resurgence of subsistence poultry-raising in recent years. This is the direct result of families becoming much more aware of the risks associated with processed, mass-marketed foods and the converse health benefits of growing their own. And because rearing a flock is relatively easy, parents see it as a wonderful opportunity to teach their children some valuable life lessons. There are certainly a variety of merits to raising and keeping poultry, and it is truly an activity that both young and old can enjoy together.

Getting started raising chickens in your own backyard is fairly easy and can be quite rewarding. In fact, if you are new to raising poultry, West Lebanon Feed & Supply even offers free poultry-raising workshops specifically designed to teach the basics to folks who are just starting out. We are happy to discuss your goals and supply you with information on poultry health and nutrition, breed selection, housing requirements, flock protection, and more. Most people find that, beyond the initial investment of purchasing the birds and supplies, raising poultry is a relatively low-cost activity that provides a fun and educational experience for the entire family.

Although nothing can replace the practical advice of a local expert, there is certainly a wealth of information about raising poultry available in books and on the internet. Before placing their first order of birds from us, many families will spend time researching the various breeds that fit their needs, looking at color and variety, as well as temperament, egg production, and hardiness in New England weather. It’s always such a gratifying experience to have a grade-school child step confidently up to our counter, with a parent in tow, and explain that, after doing loads of research, they’ve decided on exactly what to order to achieve the “best” flock. Of course everyone has their own opinions about which birds are superior, but I love seeing the way that raising poultry can bring a family together to share in something special, just like it did when I was a kid.

West Lebanon Feed & Supply has been the Upper Valley’s home for all things poultry since 1926 and our customers have long looked to us for expert advice on raising and keeping birds. Here are just a few of the most common questions we get asked on a regular basis:

Why do I need to keep my baby chicks indoors?
When you pick up your birds they are typically only a few days old. This is a very delicate stage of life and there are several things that must be done in order to provide the best chance for survival. We recommend using a brooder lamp to provide adequate heat, medicated starter feed and a vitamin & electrolyte water supplement to fight off infection, and lots of supervision in order to get them beyond that fragile period. For more specific details on caring for baby chicks, please ask us.

Do you sell organic poultry feed?
Yes, for those who wish to feed organic to their flock, we do stock organic poultry feeds.

Does my flock need a rooster?
Although more information may be required depending on your specific goals, the simple answer is no, you do not need a rooster in order for hens to provide unfertilized eggs.

How many eggs will I get?
On average, a hen at peak egg production will lay one egg approximately every twenty-five hours, or roughly an egg a day.

Why do you require a minimum number of birds for my flock?
Although state requirements may have recently changed, we still believe that chickens are instinctively flock birds and thrive in numbers. Our experience indicates that the birds simply do better when they are part of a flock and therefore, we recommend raising them in a flock environment. It is primarily for the overall health and well-being of the birds that we have maintained our minimum quantity policy.

I’m getting more eggs than I need. What should I do?
Donate your surplus farm-fresh eggs to feed local hungry families! We launched a wonderful program in 2009 called “Share the Harvest” and, in partnership with Willing Hands, our participants have aided in the distribution of tens of thousands of fresh eggs to hungry families. But the need is still great and we are always looking for more help to provide wonderful, nutritious eggs to those who can use them. Ask us for details and learn how you can help “Share the Harvest”.

Of course this is merely a sampling of the wide variety of questions we get asked on a daily basis during the busy poultry season. West Lebanon Feed & Supply typically sells approximately 10,000 birds annually, and we’ve continued to see dramatic increases as a growing number of people “flock” to the practice of becoming more self-sustaining. If you have any questions, are interested in placing your order for chickens, turkeys, ducks, or geese this season, or would like to sign up for one of our free poultry workshops, we encourage you to contact us. We’re always here to help!

For more information on West Lebanon Feed & Supply poultry ordering or the Share the Harvest program, please contact us at (603) 298-8600 or visit us online at www.westlebanonsupply.com.