The chicks will pretty much take care of themselves (feed, drink, chicken stuff), you mainly just have to provide their constant, regulated heat, and be sure they have clean food and water at all times. I keep them on my porch which is basically another room of my house but with a lot of windows all around for nice light. This keeps them out of the way enough of everything else going on in the house but keeps them away from loud sounds, drafts, etc. My son doesn’t take much interest in them so I don’t have issues with him being around them. I haven’t let him touch or feed them but once when we first got them. They’ve been too skiddish to let me do that so I don’t bother grabbing one and freaking them all out just so he can pet one.
The first week and a half you do the most work because you need to check their bottoms daily and make sure they are clean, and the temp. is ok so they are not too cold or too hot. The first week they often get “pasty butt” where their poop basically cakes on their vent and this must be cleaned away or they will die from being unable to poop. It’s an easy fix, just gotta clean with warm water. I did butt checks a few times daily and didn’t plan to leave the house for anything but getting my son to and from school so I would always be on hand in case of emergency. I got a bin large enough so I could have the heat lamp at one end so they could self-regulate and go away from the heat when they wanted. You must have a back-up plan in case of power failure ( we get a LOT of that out here) because being less than 95 degrees that first week can be fatal for them, cause illness, etc. I had a 30 min battery back-up system in place and ready to go just in case. I also had hand warmer heat packs on hand as a tertiary measure. If the battery back-up ran out before the power came back on, the hot hand warmers could be placed under the shavings while we got the generator to work. If the generator would fail to get started, we did have several empty water bottles on hand (gallon containers) so that we could fill them with hot water…worse case scenario the chicks can snuggle next to those with a towel placed over the entire brooder, or even put on top of the chicks. First two weeks is the most critical, and after that you take less and less time actually dealing with them directly and can sorta get back to living your life.
When the chicks were small enough to fit in their original brooder I would transfer them into a big Amazon shipping box and empty the brooder, re-fill the shavings, and put the chicks back into it in order to clean them. I did that about once/twice a week. After they got placed into the huge horse trough though, that is too big to clean and I can’t move them into a box since they are football sized birds now so I use something they call a “deep litter method” which is simply adding more shavings on top when they get their current layer plenty dirty. This is a short-term thing though because they will smell no matter what. Some say this is actually healthier for your chickens… helps acclimate them better for outside living. Personally, I’d rather clean it out but it’s too large for me to do so, so I have no choice. You might want to start with less chickens so this isn’t a problem for you. I personally planned for 10 chickens. For ten requiring the time-frame indoors for me in Illinois, that means I needed something around 4 foot long by 2-3 feet wide, give or take. You can build to your needs or buy troughs, bins, etc.
A lot of people complain of the smell as they get older than a few weeks. I have a very sensitive sense of smell myself and I haven’t actually had an issue with the smells until literally now (and it’s a vague smell atm), and they are almost ready to go outside so I can deal with it for a week. I stir up the bedding so that the poop kinda falls to the bottom and then add shavings every other day or so. Obviously cleaning out the whole brooder would be great to prevent smells but if your brooder is too large that’s just not really an option.
Keeping everything elevated has been troublesome and they land on and knock everything down. I have gone through a lot of methods but the best has been elevating on bricks and buying the waterer with nipples which keeps the water clean all the time and is like a whole time saving necessity…should have started with that from day 1! The feeder we set up with PVC pipes so they don’t waste as much food. I’d say normally they waste just as much as they eat without a system in place because they kick their food out onto the ground all the time, spill everything, poop in everything etc.
As they have gotten bigger I don’t need to do too much with them other than maintenance of food and water, and cleaning off poop from things. Now that they are feathered out they can have less and less heat. The general idea is to lessen the heat by 5 degrees per week until they go outside. Again, the heat lamp is placed in such a way that they can self regulate and it’s so much easier. Just this week they started to really jump around and fly atop things and have been seeking escape, so this has been a constant problem as I have to check on them much more, even though I have chicken wire over the entire trough now.
Also, they get dust all over EVERYTHING. They are on the porch which is also my Nerf gun room and every gun will need to be heavily cleaned to remove the layer of dust. You can spell your name on anything on the porch…I’m not exaggerating, sadly. It’s bad. It’s so bad the dust is seeping into other rooms and you can see our footprints on the wood floor in the living room. They are messy, foul, things. Depending on the outdoor temperature of where you live, you could get the chickens out in less time than housing them indoors for up to 2 months.
I am highly allergic to feather dander but even though I deal with the chickens daily, I haven’t had any problems yet. When they flap around you can literally see their feather fluffs in the air like you shot a pillow with a BB gun and POOF! They do have feather fluffins all over the place on the porch but since that’s all baby down or baby fluffs, maybe it doesn’t effect me the same way as full feathers. They won’t be molting full feathers while inside since they have to grow 'em first so, I’m not too worried. I don’t know but so far I’m ok. I am starting to take Claritin just in case though, especially since this is the time of year of seasonal allergies anyway and I have pollen issues too.
If I had to do it all over again I would change up the food and water system from day 1, and start with less birds. Otherwise, it’s been ok. It does cut into your life though, especially the first couple weeks, and you won’t be able to concentrate on work. I had to notify the people I was working on my Kittyfuda card game for that I had to take a break for this. I don’t know how people go to work though, without having a back-up person in place at home to monitor the birds when you first have them. They can go downhill quickly as what happened to one of mine and it died shortly after I even noticed it having an issue. The only warning when I look back now was the odd chirping it made. Even then, there was nothing I could see wrong with it otherwise. Sometimes you just can’t help or don’t even know why, but as long as you’re watchful and doing your best, and researching things, trying to keep them alive and well you can’t really go wrong.
I think everybody should try having some chickens if they want to and can do so. It’s a lot of up-front work but It’s kinda short lived and would be no more maintenance than owning any other kind of pet. Just like a new puppy having to be trained to go outside instead of pee indoors, it’s just a temporary annoyance and eventually it all just pans out.