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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

They Grow Up So Fast: Caring For Baby Chicks

Springtime means Jana Wilson is running a nursery and a pre-school on her chicken farm.

Sicilian Buttercup Chicks

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

These little chicks are only 5 days old. They currently live indoors under a heat lamp.

All Ears

Jana Wilson has been raising her beloved Sicilian Buttercup chickens for 13 years, so when she offers fun facts, we listen:

If you look at the earlobes of the birds… if they have white earlobes, they lay white eggs. If they have red earlobes (like the Buttercups), then they lay brown eggs.

What about blue eggs?

Those are Ameraucanas. I have a couple that lay the green and blue eggs. Their earlobes are red, so they’re different and you can’t tell from them. But they are the exception.

Full House

There are about 30 chickens and several ducks roaming around her land just outside Bloomington. But this time of year, that number quadruples thanks to all the chicks she hatches. She started hatching in April this year, which is two months later than she normally likes to start. On a typical year, she’ll have 100 little chicks to take care of.

Her two-week-old downy fluff balls live in the shed at the moment.

“Their feathers provide the heat and warmth, and when they have down they can’t keep warmth in their body,” she says. When they first hatch, the chicks need to live in 95-degree temperatures. She lowers the heat by 5 degrees every week until reaching 70 degrees, at which point the birds should have developed feathers and are ready to live outdoors.

Chick Nursery

The 5-day-old Buttercup chicks live upstairs in her house. The black pattern on the chicks’ heads are called chipmunk markings. “But I think they look like little bandits,” says Wilson. “Don’t they look like they have little masks on?”

Their cage is covered in a towel and a heat lamp keeps it very warm. The towels lining the inside of the cage help keep the heat in and give the chicks easy-to-grip footing.

“If you put them on newspaper, their legs can slip and they can actually pull a tendon and get something called straddle leg,” she says.

She plans to keep 5-10 birds for her farm, and she will sell the remainders at poultry shows across the Midwest throughout the spring.

Jana Wilson With A Sicilian Buttercup Chick

Photo: Annie Corrigan/WFIU

Jana Wilson holds a 2-week-old Sicilian Buttercup chick. Through her participation in poultry shows, she hopes to spread the word about this gorgeous breed of bird.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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