Raising Chicks 101
Maybe you purchased chicks, you're hatching eggs or you're toying with the idea of getting chickens. We'll, if they aren't past the age of 6 weeks old, you're going to need some supplies and knowledge to help keep them healthy. Below I'm going to go over the very basic necessities for raising chicks as well as some common issues people run into.
If you plan to keep and raise their little fluff butts, you will need some basic supplies to help keep them happy and healthy. Like a "brooder". A brooder is a safe and well ventilated home that prevents them from getting out and Mr. Pickles the cat from getting in. You can use a large plastic tote for this but be sure to cut lots of holes for air or a large hole with some chicken wire to cover the hole. The one shown above is linked here.
You can always DIY a brooder like I have in the picture above. This is a large plastic tote I purchased from walmart. I cut out a large square, hardware cloth for the top and zip tied it down. Very cost effective.
You will need something to put their food into. Chicks and chickens naturally love scratching around for their food. You can of course just put it in a bowl but they will absolutely jump in and kick it all over the place then not eat what landed on the ground. These smaller 1 liter feeders are perfect as they help prevent mess, waste and they don't take up a lot of space. Plus you don't have to fill it as often as you would a bowl. You can find these at local feed stores like tractor supply but if you don't have one amazon also carries them here.
Avoid bowls of water or anything the chicks can fall into. They are not swimmers and bowls can lead to drowning. Waterers like this have a small area for them to drink out of and you don't have to refill them as often. Those can be found here.
This is a safe alternative to heating lamps. Chicks need to be kept very warm 90-95 degrees the first week then slowly reducing the heat by 5 degrees each week until their brooder temp is the same as outdoors or they are fully feathered around 6 weeks. In my mind, yes they are a little bit more money but it will save you on electricity vs. buying a red lamp, trust me. I like this one a lot because it's super easy to adjust the height for the size of your chicks. It fits easily 10-15 chicks. This is the one I use here.
I use non medicated when I'm hatching my own or picking up from someone local. If I were ordering them, I would go with medicated feed as it's often packed with vitamins as well as anti bacterial meds. When chicks come from hatcheries, you often don't know the condition of the place where they were hatched. Was it over crowded? When was the last time they were tested for diseases? Plus long shipments can put your chicks at risk with extreme heat or cold.
Wood chips are my preferred bedding for baby chicks but others like news paper as it's free and easy to clean. Chicks should not be raised or just plastic or other slippery surfaces as they can get leg issues from sliding around. You can get larger bags at grain food stores.
Caring for them
When finding a place for your brooder, be sure that it's in a safe location from being tripped on and always away from drafty windows or where the sun can pier in on them during the day. I don't recommend garages, sheds or basements unless they are temperature controlled. Most chick heaters are only effective if it's above 60 degrees outside of the brooder. You want the temperatures to remain steady and you would be surprised how quickly sun from a window can overheat your little birds. If you are getting your chicks in from a hatchery by mail, there's a couple steps you want to do as soon as you get them. Of course they need food and water right away but adding Sav-a-chick to their water is the best thing you can do for them. One is an electrolyte and the other a probiotic. These things are good to have on hand anyways even when they are full grown but it can be the matter of life and death for two day old chicks that just arrived by USPS.
Feeding- After the chicks hatch or arrive you must show them how to eat and drink by carefully tapping their beaks into the chick food then into the water. You must do this for each chick. If you notice one isn't eating after a couple hours, just show him again.
Cleaning the bedding- Keeping their brooder dry is your best defense from sickness and disease. Water, Poop and wood chips can create a nasty breeding ground that their immune systems can't handle. Don't go crazy either with it. Yes water will spill from them drinking and bouncing around but as long as they have 85% of the brooder dry, that's fine. Regardless if it's wet, try to change the chips weekly. This will also cut down on smell and dust.
Loud Peeping - Usually this is a sign of distress. Either they are too hot, too cold or possibly stuck. I've had chicks fall on their backs and even get stuck on top of the heating plate. Little chirps are normal and it's what they do. If you have a heat plate in the brooder and they are actively peeping loudly, try putting a towel under the brooder. Some times the heat plates aren't enough to warm the bottom and this stress can actually kill the chicks.
Getting older - Yes, your adorable little babies will eventually outgrow their brooder. It's best to plan really far ahead for this as I swear they turn from chick to giant velociraptors over night. They can go outside when they are fully feathered around 6 weeks. Try to introduce cooler temps slowly as their bodies can't acclimate to cold temperatures quickly and the shock can kill them. You may find that they are flying around in your brooder and causing havoc in your home. This is the hard stage between baby and adult.
Dust - Chickens create dust as they grow older just like humans do but at a much faster rate. Don't be surprised if areas around your brooder start collecting dust. This is normal.
Pasty Butt- This is most common with delivered chicks , Yeup... it's just as gross as it sounds. This is when poo builds up on their bums. It's often caused from stress but it can occasionally happen after hatching or picking them up locally too. To rid this problem act quickly. Using warm water, wet a paper towel and gently wipe away the poo from their butts. If it comes back, repeat this process and you can even use coconut oil and a q-tip to lubricate the area around where they go to prevent sticking. Don't ignore it, it can actually back up so bad that they will stop eating and die.
- DO NOT LET CHILDREN UNDER 5 HANDLE BABY CHICKS. While our chickens are healthy, children under 5 have weaker immune systems and there's always bacteria in poop. Always wash your hands before and after handling them.
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