Updated: Sep 30, 2020
What you need to know before bringing your baby chicks home
Caring for baby chicks isn't as hard as it sounds, as long as you know what you are doing. There are only a few items you will need to have ready before you bring your chicks home. These include: Brooder Box, Bedding, Heat Lamp, Chick Starter Feed, Water, Waterer, Feeder, and Grit (Unless chicks are kept outside on grass/dirt)
A brooder box is simply a safe place in which your chicks will be staying. The floor of your brooder box should be covered with bedding, and the brooder box should always contain a chick feeder and waterer filled with feed/water. A brooder box does not have to be an elaborate set-up, but it can be. In the past, we've used a simple storage bin covered with 1/2 inch of pine shavings on the bottom. We like to place a piece of chicken wire (with two small boards on top of the chicken wire to keep the chicks from knocking the wire off) over the top of the brooder box, to ensure the chicks can't fly out. Keep in mind that as your chicks grow older, they will get bigger! Be prepared in case you must get a larger brooder box. If you have already prepared a large brooder box that can house your chicks until they are fully-feathered, that is great!
Finding the perfect bedding for your chicks can be a bit of a challenge for some. We have always used pine shavings, and they have worked great for us. Pine shaving can be bought online, and at most animal supply stores. Just be sure to avoid cedar shavings as they are toxic to chickens. To those of you who do not have access to pine shavings, many other bedding options can work! Some other options include:
1. Dry crumpled/chopped leaves
2. Hay/Straw (Be sure your hay/straw is clean. Many who use hay/straw choose hay/straw that is low-quality and would not otherwise be fed to livestock. Avoid dusty hay/straw as the dust can negatively affect your chicks' respiratory systems)
3. Sand (Make sure that the sand you use is NOT play sand, or other fine-particle sand. fine-particle sand can hurt your chick's respiratory systems. Construction-grade sand is the best option)
There are many other options, but a key thing in choosing your chick's bedding is making sure that it will stay dry to avoid fungal infection on their feet. The bedding should be cleaned out often, depending on the number of chicks in the brooder. If bedding is not replaced regularly, ammonia will build up. Not only is ammonia a horrible smell, but it can harm your chick's respiratory systems.
There are many options when it comes to keeping your chicks warm! We usually use a caged heat lamp with a red 250-watt bulb. There are also clamp heat lamps for those who can not hang their heat lamp. Some choose to use a white bulb instead, while others choose to use a heating pad without any sort of heat lamp. The most important thing is finding the perfect temperature balance for your chicks. If you find your chicks huddled together, they may be too cold, which means your heat lamps must be moved closer. If your chicks are spread out, panting, or, in some cases, acting aggressively towards one another, they may be too hot. In that case, move your heat lamp further away and see how your chicks respond.
The chart to the left shows a temperature guide for your chicks. By eight weeks old, your chicks should be moved outside as long as they are fully feathered, and the temperature is 50+ degrees Fahrenheit. Your chicks may be able to handle lower temperatures if they are a hardy breed. As your chicks age, they should be able to handle lower temperatures with ease.
The chart to the left is merely a temperature guide. If your chicks show signs that they are too hot or too cold, adjust accordingly.
Chick Starter Feed
There are many options when it comes to choosing the best feed for your chicks. There are both medicated and non-medicated feed options, and the type you choose is totally up to your personal preference! We have always used non-medicated feed because that is what works for us. Be sure that the feed you buy says that it is 'Chick Starter' or 'Chick Feed.' Make sure it is not layer feed or grit. From our experience, chicks seem to do better on a crumble feed rather than pellets. We like to start gradually feeding our chicks pellets rather than chick starter crumbles around twelve weeks of age. Chickens generally start laying eggs around five months old, (Can vary between breeds. Some chickens don't start laying until they are 6-7 months old) so we like to make sure they are used to the pelleted feed so they can have all the nutrition they need to make their eggs and stay healthy!
Chicks (like all birds) should always have fresh clean water available! Be sure to check their water many times throughout the day. Chicks drink more water than you may think! When your chicks arrive, make sure you dip their beaks in their water so they know where to find it. If you have a large batch of chicks, you should only need to dip half of them, and the rest will imitate their siblings. If your chicks are panting, they may need their beaks dipped in their water again. If not, they may just be hot because your heat lamp is too close. Do not be alarmed if a few hours have passed and your chicks haven't drunk any water yet. Remember that day-old chicks have absorbed the yolk from their egg before they hatched, and are capable of sustaining themselves for three days. Of course, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't give them the option to drink water.
While getting a waterer for your chicks isn't too hard, keeping it clean, is a challenge. Especially when using a bedding such as pine shavings, straw, or other light substances that fall into the water as your chicks run, and act out their dreams of flight. We like to use a mason jar chick waterer. Since the mason jar filled with water is so heavy, it is very difficult for your chicks to tip it over when it is full, which saves you a LOT of work and time. Trust me, cleaning muddy, gross, water-soaked pine shavings out of a brooder box is NOT fun. To keep the water as clean as possible, placing the waterer on a block of wood, or hanging it (If you chicks aren't scared of hanging waterers), as long as your chicks can reach it, will really help minimize the debris that falls into the water.
Although most waterers are not too deep, we like to place 1-2 layers of marbles in the base of the waterer to make sure the chicks can't drown in the water. Although a chick drowning in the water is uncommon, it is good to be safe just in case. It is truly heartbreaking to lose a chick for any reason, especially one that can be so easily prevented. By the time the chicks are about 5-6 days old, a little bigger, and are used to the idea of a waterer, you should be able to safely take the marbles out of the waterer.
There are many options when it comes to purchasing a feeder for your chicks. The feeder you purchase should be based on the number of chicks you have. Chicks start forming their pecking order very quickly after they hatch, and chicks that are low in the pecking order always eat last. If you have 10-20 chicks, a long row feeder works great to make sure everybody gets a chance to eat. If you have 10 chicks or lower, a mason jar feeder should work fine. Like water, chick starter feed should be available at all times. Don't be alarmed if a few hours have passed and your chicks have not eaten. Chicks absorb their egg yolk before they hatch, and can sustain themselves for three days without feed or water. Of course, it is best to give them the option to eat and drink since hatching is hard work!
Grit is a lesser-known, but an important part of raising chicks. This is not the grits we humans eat, of course, but rather small stones chicks/chickens use to grind their food. Since chicks/chickens do not have teeth, they need the grit to grind up their food for them. Chick grit can be purchased online or can be found in most livestock feed/supply stores. Grit can be kept in a small dish/container or spread throughout your chick's brooder box. Chicks kept on grass/dirt, or raised by a hen, will not need to be offered grit since their mother hen will show them how to find grit in the grass/dirt. Chicks do not need a lot of grit, and you may only need to offer grit every week or so. Some chick owners successfully raise chicks without offering them grit, but if you want your chicks in the best condition, offering them grit is the best way to go. After all, it can't hurt!
That wasn't so bad, was it? Although it may sound complicated, raising chicks is not hard at all!
Unfortunately, as hard as we may try to keep our chicks healthy, chicks are very fragile birds and may pass away due to stress, or other unknown reasons. As heartbreaking as it is, just because you lost a chick or two, does not mean you are a terrible owner! All chick owners, whether they are breeders, owners, first-time buyers, or experienced buyers, have lost chicks before. Although it is a terrible feeling to lose a chick, all the precious moments, fun times, and fresh eggs are worth it!
If you have any suggestions to improve this article, questions regarding chick care, or would like to purchase chicks from Cedar Shade Farm, feel free to fill out our contact form below! Thank you for reading!
-Cedar Shade Farm