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Raising Baby Chicks

 


So now you have a bunch of little fuzzy balls of energy to take care of. Congratulations!

 
Baby chicks will need constant care for the next 4 weeks. They will need to be taken care of and looked after very well if they are to mature. Unless they are in the house where you can see them most of the time, they will need to be checked up on at least 5 times a day. You'll need to make sure this can be accomplished by setting aside the time. And I whole heartedly recommend it to anyone!
 

Their First Home

You can keep new chicks almost anywhere. They are small enough to fit in the kitchen, a spare room, or out in the garage or shed. There are a few things to consider before placing. In order to raise happy healthy chicks they will need warmth, food, water, and space.
At first the chicks are just a bit more than cute little fuzzy balls of down – but they grow very quckly. By the time they are 4 weeks old they will be taking up a considerable amount of space, be noisy and making a bit of a mess.
Brooder
A brooder is simply a safe environment for the chicks. It must provide a place where they have food and water, warmth and protection from drafts/predators. The simplest brooder is a cardboard box. Just make it big enough for the chicks to be able to get under the heat source comfortably and room to run around. For example, our brooder is a glass case I made that is 420mm wide x 650mm long x 400mm high. We often have up to 20 chicks at a time. There is also a 'yard' we use after they reach age two weeks, which is placed outside in the grass. This gives them plenty of room to explore. They play during the day and return (with my daughters help and a couple buckets) to the brooder at night.
Baby chicks poop a lot so the bottom of the brooder must have an absorbent coating. Straw, hay, grass clippings, a couple layers of Hessian (Burlap) material will all work. The best I have found is pine wood shavings. Straw and hay will matt pretty quickly. Hessian will have to be taken out, washed and dried before returning.
Do not use cedar shavings as they are toxic to the chicks. In Australia, do not use Blackwood shavings either. Chicks have delicate respiratory systems. Newspaper is not good either. Even shredded, the surface is slick and they will end up hurting themselves.
Be prepared to change flooring material every other day or so, depending on the number of chicks and space available. The second you smell ammonia change right away – you have waited too long! It's not that the ammonia smell will hurt them – it's just that the flooring has become unhealthy. Keep your chicks happy and healthy!
Heat
A good reliable heat source is paramount. The chicks need to be kept at 35C (95F) at first entering the brooder. Every week the temperature can be dropped 3C (5F). Some use one or two 100 watt light bulbs for heat, however a red  infrared / heat lamp is much better. The heat they produce is much more efficient and the red light doesn't keep the chicks awake. There is evidence that under a red light they don't peck at each other as much, too.
Place the light in the middle of the brooder or towards one end so that the chicks can all get under the heat produced. The temperature under the light should be 35C (95F) for the first week.
It's pretty easy to know whether the heat is right. If the chicks are huddled together under the light, then it is too cold. When too cold they usually have little interest in water or food. Lower the lamp a bit more and watch what happens. If they are outside the directly lit area, then they are too warm. When this is the case, the chicks will be going to water more frequently also. Raise the bulb away just a little and watch.
If the chicks are huddled to one side or the other, it usually means they are trying to stay out of a draft. The easiest way I have found to locate a draft is to light a piece of straw so that is smolders and move it around inside the brooder till located. Be safety concious!
Ideally, the chicks will be spread out fairly evenly through out the brooder over a five minute period.When temperatures outside are around 20C (68F) they can go out into the coop.
Food and water
It is not uncommon to dip a chicks beak into the water and food container so they know where it is. After coming out of the incubator, they have enough sustenance from the egg yolk to survive for a couple days. They will start to get hungry pretty quickly, though, so keep an eye on them and if they need a little help try the dip method.
With their food it is important that they are provided a healthy diet. Most major manufacturers of animal feed will have a 'chick starter' which is formulated to give them all the things they need in their diet. We always start our chicks, at least for the first few days, on cooked rice and finely chopped egg yolk. They love it! Replace this mixture with chick starter over the next 5 or 6 days. And for dessert – don't be afraid to give them a bit of greens; lettuce, spinach, peas, corn, etc. Found a worm or nice juicy bug? They'll love it!
Water should always be available. Clean and cool – room temperature. Never put refrigerated water in for them, it is just too cold.
With both waterer and feeder, if the chicks can walk in it, kick bedding in it, or poop in it they will. There are special waterers and feeders for chicks which are suited to the task, but you can work this out for yourself if you like.

See our DIY section for a Great Non Messy Watering System and Auto Feeder, too!

If you decide to make your own water and feeder take into consideration the sloppyness of the chicks. They have no table manners whatsoever! No sharp edges, not too deep, and enough area for several chicks at one time.
When feeding – this will need to be done 3 to 5 times a day – feed only as much as they will eat at a time. After feed time there might be just a bit left in the container. Keep an eye on them and make sure they are getting enough food. Chickens are not over eaters, they only eat what they need.
The water is a different story. It must be available at all times. If using some sort of dish or lid, be aware that unless you can keep the chicks out of it, it is very easy for them to drown. One way is to place a large rock or two in the lid so that the water is only reachable around the edge and there is no room for the chick to walk in. The rock should be tall and uncomfortable to keep the chicks from climbing on it also. That way they are less likely to soil the water. Remember, clean and fresh is the key. Check water often. You will get a feel for how much they drink after awhile and have to check less often.
After the second week it helps to raise the waterer off the floor a little bit to cut down on the soiling from them kicking bedding or pooping in it but it only helps a bit. Even with the best waterers the chicks will soil it so plan on changing water regularly. That is, unless you use our DIY waterer!
Grit is what chickens eat to aid the digestion of food. It goes into the chicks 'crop' and helps grind up the food they eat. Chicks need it, too. You can purchase grit from your local feed store, or you can use sand or parakeet grit
In conclusion, chicks need a lot of care. Without your daily attention they will not survive.
Even with all the work involved I have no qualms in recommending this adventure to everyone! And after all the handling there are always a couple that remain pets - and have a name other than "Freezer".