Jun 19, 2017

Baby Chick Essentials

What you need for raising baby chickens

We got some more chicks! If you get the newsletter, you've already received a sneak peek of the chicks. Sign up so you don't miss any more happenings!

We feel so much more confident about raising chicks now that we've done it a couple of times before. We started with Rhode Island Reds, then Ameraucanas, and now we have a mixed flock: 3 Leghorns and 5 Golden Comets.



We've had some great success with raising our chicks (and have yet to lose a chick- knock on wood!). If you are looking to get started here are the essentials for raising baby chicks. The links below for items are affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and make a purchase I may make a commission, but the price to you is unchanged.

Coop/Brooder

Your chicks need somewhere to live. Technically that place is a brooder while it is heated, and a coop if it is not. For us, a house is a house no matter what you call it, and, regardless of what you call it, their first one does not need to be fancy. For our first set of chickens we used a large cardboard box with some hardware cloth over it. Know what? It worked out perfectly. Your chicks are only going to be in there a few months so it's plenty.

Now for our second batch of chicks we knew we'd need something a little more robust not only because our dogs were beginning to understand what chickens were, but we wanted something we could use when it was time to introduce the two flocks. So we knew this coop would need to withstand chickens fighting and it would need to have screens so they could see one another.

We built what we affectionately call our Mini Coop. It's plenty large to hold baby chicks. It held our 6 juvenile Ameraucanas with no problems. Whether you use a box or a coop, they'll need a protected home. Read how we made their big coop.



Water

There are nearly an infinite number of ways that you can provide water for your chicks. At a young age I recommend a waterer or poultry drinker that has a trough. I haven't used a nipple waterer, but I imagine it might be hard for chicks to figure out and I've heard algae can grow up in them. It's far easier to take apart and wash a trough.

When ours are babies we use this one (ours is plastic, and I wish I had known they make it in metal).  I love that we can use regular mason jars for them. The larger the mason jar you use, the less often you have to refill it. However I'd advise against getting one too large and you have to be careful where it is placed. Chickens like to scratch at the ground and they almost always kick up litter into the water so it will need to be cleaned regularly.

When they get larger you should get this waterer because it uses a float to prevent water from leaking out. You can take the top off and refill it with a hose rather than waiting until it is empty. It also doesn't use nipples which can get stuck with algae. I am so happy we got this one, it is a huge time saver for us and we never have to worry about running out of water or it spilling everywhere.


Food

Your chicks will need to eat something. It is up to you if you want to use organic chick feed or medicated/conventional chick feed. We've always elected to use the medicated feed because we didn't want them to get coccidiosis, an intestinal disease, and we weren't raising them to be organic egg layers or organic meat. If you are raising them to be organic you will obviously want to go with the organic feed.

We feed them the medicated started the first month or so, usually just a bag or two, but our current 8 seem to be eating up a storm (or spilling it everywhere), so we may need some more. After the first month we convert to non medicated starter or starter/grower. This has a higher protein content and lower calcium content than you'll want once they start laying. At that age, about 5 months or so, you'll want to switch to layer feed. I am so thankful they named the types of feed so it makes sense: starter to start, grower to get them big, and layer for while they are laying!

While they are eating chick feed they do not need supplemental calcium or grit.

Heat

Baby chicks don't have all their feathers in nor do ours have their Momma to burrow under. So you have to make sure they stay warm enough. Recommendations I've heard are to keep them at about 95 degrees for the first week and then lower it by 5 degrees every week. So week two keep them at about 90 degrees, week three would be 85.

Keep it going until they have all their feathers or you have caught up to ambient temperature. Now pay attention to your birds. If they are all huddled together it means they are too cold, if they are spread out and "panting" they are too hot. Don't force them to be at 90 degrees simply because that's what the recommendation is. 


How do you provide heat?

In the past we've just used a small utility light with a standard incandescent bulb. You'll want to avoid an LED light, because while it will shine, it will not provide any heat! This is the one time you should get a standard bulb over the environmentally friendly option. Just the regular light bulb has worked well for us, but we live in Florida and chick raising is in the spring and summer when temperatures are getting warmer.

For these chicks we purchased a heat bulb. The red is supposed to help them with their circadian rhythm and provides heat. We noticed that they were getting too hot with the lamp and the air, so we turn the light off in the day and just keep it on at night when it gets cooler and eventually we switched back to a regular incandescent light. Again, watch your chicks, they'll tell you what they need.

How do you measure the heat?

A thermometer! It doesn't matter how fancy it is. It can be an old mercury thermometer or a fancy laser thermometer. We've used both.


Litter

You'll need to put something in the bottom of the coop. It helps absorb the poop and chickens love to scratch at things. We've used old leaves, wood chips, and straw. Pretty much the only thing I've heard advised against is cedar. The fumes and scent off of the cedar chips made someone's chicks ill. Remember the chicks will be in an enclosed space with this so limit items with a strong odor.

We change ours about once week. The reason for this is two fold. First, it's a small space with a lot of birds. The number one thing chickens were put on earth to do is poop. So it can start to smell if the poop-to-litter ratio gets off. Second, they like to scratch and some falls out the holes so it needs a topping off.

Roost

Your little chicks will start to sleep on a roost at a young age. A roost is a raised area where chickens sleep. It generally is a a bar or rod shaped item raised off the ground for the chickens to sleep on. Depending on when you move them into a permanent coop you might be able to get away from this, but they chicks experiment jumping up on the roost and trying to balance up there from a young age. Our first roost was a piece of bamboo strung up between both sides of the box. It might have been a little narrow for our chicks, but they got the hang of it. Our outdoor coop has a 2x2 piece of wood that the chickens all jump up on to sleep.


That's it! It's very easy to raise baby chicks. Now that you have some babies, you'd better start working on their coop. Or maybe you want to learn from some of the set backs we experienced such as them molting, eating their eggs or getting chicken pox (yes, that's a thing!).

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5 comments:

  1. I've always wanted to keep chickens but we are away most weekends so it just wouldn't work for us. Good luck with your new chicks :) #WasteLessWednesday

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    1. The chickens would probably do ok, it's their eggs you'd have to worry about them pecking at and destroying. I suggest you convince a friend to get chickens so you can always have fresh eggs! Ha!

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  2. I am not a chicken keeping kind of gal but I still love to learn about different things. You do not disappoint.

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    1. Thanks! I was surprised how easy chicken raising has been. And the fresh eggs are totally worth it!

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  3. I keep thinking about having some chickens, but I guess I always assumed I'd get some grown up ones. I'd not really thought of raising them from chicks.

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