Tips On How To Raise Baby Chicks
Thinking you want to raise baby chicks? There’s nothing cuter than little chicks aka peeps! Whatever you call them, they are adorable, and fun to raise! But before you get started there are a few things you should know about how to raise baby chicks.
First, before you get your babies, if you are starting off with chicks be prepared to put your life on hold for the first few weeks. The first few weeks are the hardest when it comes to chick rearing, so don’t plan on any day trips or vacations during that time, unless you have an experienced chick setter to keep on eye on your new babies. When you have decided you’re ready, then you can proceed to step two.
Step Two: The Brooder
The main cause of chicks dying is that they get chilled easily. When you raise baby chicks they must have a warm, draft free home or brooder. Your brooder doesn’t need to be fancy, just warm and draft free.
I have known people to use cardboard boxes, but I don’t recommend them because they get wet, they get smelly, and I worry about the possibility of them being a fire hazard. I am told fish aquariums make good brooders as do plastic storage totes. If you are raising a lot of chicks at one time then metal stock tank is perfect!
I personally LOVE plastic storage totes, they are relatively inexpensive, they are easy to keep clean, and they can be used over and over ! I use a 29-gallon tote which is 30.2 x 20 x 16.8 IN for up to 12 chicks. I like to have 2-totes ready to go, so when it comes time to clean up I can just switch them out. Whatever you decide to use remember you will need a wire top, these little guys learn to fly up and out pretty quickly.
Next, you will need a heat light or lamp (preferably with a red bulb) with a clip to hold it in place. Some people use regular clear heat lights however the constant glare of a bright light interferes with the chicks ability to sleep, Red lights also help prevent chicks from pecking each other. If you are using a plastic tote or cardboard box be careful to make sure the light is secure and is not touching the container, as this could cause a fire.
Your brooder needs to be a toasty 95 degrees for the first week then you can drop 5 degrees each week until you get down to 70 degrees and chicks are feathered out. Clip the light to one side of the brooding box so that the chicks can decide whether to get under the light or stay to the side. Watch your chicks behavior closely, if your chicks crowd together directly under the light, this means they are cold. If you notice they are sticking close to the sides away from the light, then they are too hot, try raising the lamp. Happy chicks wander around the brooder. Using a thermometer is always a good idea and takes away much of the guesswork, but it doesn’t replace a good eye and common sense.
Besides heat, you will need absorbent bedding. I have heard some people say they use newspaper but it’s not really all that absorbent and its smooth surface can lead to a deformity called “spraddle leg or splayed leg.” I personally prefer pine shavings spread about 1″ thick to cover the bottom of the brooder. NEVER use cedar shavings, as the oils can be toxic. Another “NO-NO” when it comes to bedding is sand, as chicks will eat it. The sand then gets stuck in the chicks crops, resulting in death.
Step Three: Food
Your chicks will need free access to clean, fresh, food and water. Several types and sizes of feeders and waterers are available, depending on how many chicks you are raising will help you decide the size that’s right for you. Waters and feeders come in both galvanized and plastic and can be purchased at your local feed store or online at Amazon. I don’t recommend using plates, bowls or saucers for food or water containers, chicks can easily drown in these dishes plus they spill easily causing the brooder to become wet and unsanitary.
When it comes to what to fed your chicks, this is a decision you will have to make for yourself based on your personal needs. Some people say medicated food is the only way to go, medicated feed helps chicks to fight against coccidiosis. Some people go with non-medicated chick starter and still others use organic NO-GMO feed. No GMO feed can be harder to find but can be purchased on Amazon, but be prepared to pay a high price for it. The one thing to keep in mind is that no matter what you feed make sure it is a chick starter made for chicks, like all babies chicks have special nutritional requirements. Chicks should be on chick starter for at least 8 weeks.
Now that you have your feed and supplies to set up your brooder, you will now need to decide where to keep it. At first, you can keep your chicks almost anywhere, but they grow fast and in no time they will be making a big mess not to mention the smell. If you live in an area where temperatures are warm and stable you can move the chicks to an outside coop at 4-5 weeks of age.
Now comes the easy part, getting your chicks. WRONG! Before you purchase your chicks you will need to decide a few things. Breed, this will depend on if you want chickens for eggs, meat or both. Straight run or sexed? Again this will depend on your reason for wanting chickens. A straight run means you are getting a mix of pullets (hens) and roosters, this may not matter if you are only wanting chickens to eat however it makes a big difference if you’re mainly wanting eggs as hens are the only ones that lay. Vaccinated or no? It may surprise you to know when you order chicks some companies will ask you if you want your chicks vaccinated. There are disease’s such as Marek’s that affect chickens and some people do vaccinate against them, I don’t know much about this, so you’re on your own here. I for one don’t worry about getting vaccinated and my hens have been fine.
Headstart, some people also give their new chicks a mixture of vitamins and electrolytes in the drinking water for the first few days, these packages can be purchased when you order your chicks or picked up at your local feed supply. You can also use a mixture of 3 tablespoons of sugar to a quart of water for an extra energy boost for the first day or two, or skip the headstart and just go with pure water.
After you get your chicks home and settled in the brooder they may experience what is known as “PASTING UP” due to the stress from shipping. While not a pleasant thing to talk about, it is something you need to know about if you’re going to raise baby chicks. “PASTING UP” is poop, manure that sticks to the back of the chick. This MUST be removed daily. The best way of doing this is to wash it off with warm water and a clean cloth if you have to pull be gentle. The problem should go away in a day or two.
After a couple weeks, your chicks will want to do what chickens naturally do and that is roost. Providing them with roosting poles a few inches off the ground will help keep them off the waterer and feeder.
When your chicks start to feather out, if the days are warm take them outside in a wire pen in a draft-free area with a tray of diatomaceous earth and allow them to enjoy a dust bath.
Now it is pretty much just watch them and let them grow!