(1) Preparing for arrival
Things you will need:
- Brooder box- This should be a large, sturdy bin/box made out of plastic, metal, cardboard, or wood that is easy to clean. It is best to allow for 2 square feet per chick so that they have enough space as they grow, although they can start in a smaller enclosure at first. Cover it with a section of hardware cloth or small gauge chicken wire to keep your babies in and other household animals out.
- Heat panel- A heating panel is a much safer and more energy efficient method for providing warmth to your baby chicks than a traditional heat lamp. Set the heating panel so that it almost touches the backs of the baby chicks when the go beneath it and raise it as they grow.
- Bedding- pine shavings work well for chicks, do not use cedar shavings as they can be harmful to your chicks respiratory tract
- Feed- chick starter mash for the first 5 weeks, poultry grower feed from 5 weeks until 5-6 months, and then a coarse layer or layer pellet feed from 5-6 months on
- Grit- start your birds with chick grit to help aid in digestion, you can sprinkle it lightly over their food for the first 2 weeks, then offer it free choice in a separate container
- Feeder & waterer- keep them both full with clean feed and water, you can raise them on wooden blocks or bricks as your little ones grow. (If using a heat lamp, place the water in the opposite corner as the lamp.)
- A good reference book, we love Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, to answer any questions you might have down the road.
(2) Bringing your chicks home
- In the car on the way home- Turn the heat up. The chicks are used to around 90-95 degrees. If you are sweating, they are likely comfortable.
- Place chicks in the brooder pen right away so that they can find the warmth of their heating panel. If your chicks have come straight from a hatchery, gently dip each chick’s beak in their water dish to teach them where to go for water.
- Provide your chicks access to clean food and water at all times.
(3) Your flock- the first weeks
- Try to resist the temptation to handle your chicks during the first two weeks. They need the warmth from their heat panel and comfort of their fellow chick friends. If you can’t hold back, handle them very gently inside their enclosure where they can remain warm and snug.
- Check your chicks regularly for “pasting up” a condition in which a dried bit of poop is blocking their ability to defecate. If one of your chicks gets this condition, use a warm washcloth to gently clear the area. This condition is not common after your chicks are 2 weeks old and is very rare in instances where a heating panel is used (as opposed to a heat lamp)
- Keep bedding clean and dry. As your chicks get older, (2+ weeks) you can add sticks, leaves, grass clippings, a sand box, and other bits to their enclosure to give them material to peck around in and perch on.
- The chicks should remain inside with access to their heating panel for 4-6 weeks before going outside (closer to 4 weeks if you are raising them in the summer and closer to six weeks if you are raising them in the spring). The general rule of thumb is to start the chicks at 95 degrees and allow the temperature in their enclosure to drop 5 degrees per week until they reach ambient temperature. With a heating panel, simply adjust the panel as they grow and give them access to it until they are ready to go outside.
- Occasionally chicks will peck at each others toes and feathers, sometimes to the point where they will draw blood. This practice can often be prevented by ensuring that your chicks: have plenty of space in their enclosure, have adequate ventilation, have easy access to food and water, and are not subject to constant bright light.
Hope you enjoy your new peeps and feel free to call the store if you have any questions!