Feb 18, 2013

Getting Ready for Chicks

Two years ago, our chicks came home almost fully feathered.
Last time we brought home chicks, they were almost fully feathered and basically looked like mini-hens. I actually think that's a good thing. It means spending less money feeding the birds before they start laying - and no worrying about more fragile babies.


But this season, as we prepare to buy chicks to replace our older hens, we decided to go with chicks only a few days old - little fluff balls, as we
Little fluff ball chick, just a few days old.
affectionately call them. Yes, they are a bit more trouble, but the kids want the experience. I don't blame them.
Whether you bring home fully feathered chicks or little fluff balls, you'll want to be prepared to keep them well and happy. Here's how.

The brooder we use.
1. A brooder. This needn't be fancy. We use a Rubbermaid box with some wire cooling racks (like you use for baking) on top. Other people use cardboard boxes or large, clean aquariums.

2. A light. Chicks can't regulate their body temperature very well. Especially if you're dealing with little fluff balls (but also with older chicks who have most, but not all, their feathers), you must have a warming light to keep them healthy. You can buy brooder lights at feed stores or online, but we just use a silver gooseneck lamp with a 100 watt bulb in it. Whatever you use, the height must be adjustable. When chicks are too hot, they hold out their wings and pant. When they are too cold, they try to fluff up and hunker down. Adjust the temperature of the brooder by lowering or raising the lamp. It's also a good idea to keep one area of the brooder light-free; this allows the chicks to seek cooler or warmer locations, if needed.

3. A thermometer. Keep the brooder between 90 and 100 degrees for the first week or so. Afterward, you can reduce the heat by 5 degrees each week, until the chicks are fully feathered. Again, adjust the temperature by moving the lamp closer or further away from the brooder.

4. Bedding. Lots of it. Chicks poop a lot. Never use ceder shavings, as they cause respiratory problems (including those that lead to death) in chickens. Newspapers are really the best, in my experience. Some people shred them, because the littlest chicks may find them slippery, otherwise. But I just lay down sheets of paper and watch the silly little critters peck at the news type. It's very important to change bedding often - I usually do it every day. Don't allow the chicks to sit on damp bedding.

5. A proper waterer and feeder. Don't use a bowl, or a feeder/waterer designed for full grown chickens because the chicks will fall into them, and yes, sometimes drown in them. A feeder and waterer designed just for little chicks is what you need. Again, the feed store or online are your best sources. Chicks drink a lot of water, so check the water level regularly.

6. Starter feed. Don't feed chicks anything but started feed. It's designed to give them the correct nutrition for their growing needs. When they are about four weeks old, you can give them occasional bugs, but not without giving them grit first. Chickens can't chew, so they ingest grit (pebbles) instead. Chicks need chick-grit, which is smaller than grit for full sized hens. Don't give chicks that aren't fully feathered greens to eat; this may cause diarrhea, which in turn can lead to other health problems.

As you can see, chicks don't require a lot of stuff. My only other recommendation is to hold them daily (to help tame them) and to check their vents (bottoms) at least once a day. If you see any poop or goo on their bottoms, wipe it away gently with a damp cloth. Soon you'll have a happy, healthy laying flock!

This post featured at Homestead Abundance.

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