If you read our previous post (find it here), you know you’ve got some preparation to do before you bring home some springtime chicks. But once you’ve got your brooder, your light, and your chick feed ready, it’s time to bring on the chicks.
Here are some tips for making those first few weeks go smoothly.
In the springtime, it’s hard to miss the peeping coming from the back of your local ranch store. Often these stores will have “chick days” during the spring where they’ll have special pricing on the chicks and supplies.
You can also find chicks through your local poultry association—these associations are full of great resources as you begin raising chickens. (You can even join and take part in their competitions and shows when your chicks have grown!)
Or skip the middleman and order chicks directly from breeders. The breeders will generally have two shipments of chicks during the spring and will mail a box of chicks directly to you. Be aware, though, that these shipments will go directly to the post office for you to pick up instead of being delivered to your home. Just like with human babies, the delivery date is approximate—make sure you’re ready a few days before the expected date.
Be sure to turn on your heat lamp before you bring your chicks home. Temperature is vital for chicks’ health, so if you wait to turn on the lamp until the chicks arrive, the time it takes for the lamp to reach the right temperature could prove dangerous—if not fatal—to the chicks.
The general rule for day one is to look, but don’t touch. Chicks are prone to stress, especially during travel, so give them some touch-free time after you place the chicks in their brooder. Do keep an eye on them, though, to make sure they are finding the water and feed and don’t seem dazed, lethargic, or too cold.
Water is essential for chicks. Make sure water is available to them as soon as they enter the breeder. Hold off on introducing feed for a few hours to really make sure they hydrate.
If you are getting chicks directly from a breeder, as you place each chick individually into the breeder, firmly hold their beaks down in the waterer until they take a gulp of water—this teaches them how to drink in the future.
It is also helpful to initially give the chicks warm water—this will help them maintain their temperature. Coldwater could drop their internal temperature dangerously low.
Keep an eye on your chicks to make sure they’re happy and have enough space. Corners can be especially tricky for the chicks, with the chance of getting stuck, trampled, or suffocated. You may want to use some scrap pieces of cardboard to block the brooder’s corners, making a nice, round space for the birds.
For the first week, make sure you maintain a temperature of at least 95 degrees in the breeder. Hang the heat lamp on one side of the breeder so the chicks can self regulate—they can stand directly under the lamp if they’re cold, or standoff to the side in the cooler area if they are too hot. If you notice the chicks constantly crowding together under the lamp, they may be too cold. (They crowd to help warm each other up.)
Make sure you’re giving the chicks feed that is formulated especially for chicks. A chick layer feed will have all the nutrition they need. Check regularly on their feed to make sure it hasn’t run out. Chicks will not overeat, so you can fill their feeder without worry.
Chicks are messy! They will get their food and droppings everywhere, including their feeder and waterer, so change out their bedding often to keep it clean and dry.
One sign of stress in chicks is called pasty butt, for literal reasons. Their feces will get stuck in the down around their anus and “paste-up” their means of defecation. If they’re left plugged up, it can be fatal.
At least daily, hold each chick upside down and check for blockage—you can clean a block with a wet washcloth, or go band-aid style and rip the dried paste off, taking the offending down with it. A little apple cider vinegar in their water can help prevent the blockage.
Pasty butt can also be a sign that the chicks are being handled too much—you may need to return to “look but don’t touch.”
After week one, you can begin to offer the chicks occasional treats (think fruits, yogurt, crushed up cereal, bugs, grass, etc) but be sure to also give them chick-sized grit to help them digest. Treats for them are just like candy for us, so only give them sparingly.
As they grow, you can start introducing the chicks to the outside world in small doses. Keep in mind that chicks are fast and can squeeze into tiny places. Make sure they are in a safe, contained place, away from predators (including your dogs and cats!). Also, keep the outside temperature in mind. If it’s a chilly day, keep the chicks inside.
You can reduce the temperature in the brooder by about five degrees each week. After you lower the temperature, watch the chicks carefully to make sure they are still warm enough.
It is natural for chicks to pick or groom themselves. Their new feathers are full of blood, though, so they may bleed after grooming. The red blood spots can attract other chicks to come pick in the same spot, endangering the chick. Use a red light in the brooder so that the chicks cannot see blood on each other.
Picking can also be a sign of stress. If you notice your chicks are picking a lot, make sure they have enough space, they aren’t too hot, they have fresh air, and they aren’t bored. Constant bright light will also cause stress and picking. Using a red light will also help with that issue.
After six to nine weeks, chicks won’t need to have regulated temperature anymore, and you can transition them to the coop. They will start laying eggs around 16-18 weeks.
Congratulations! You just raised your first flock of chicks. But be careful—it’s addicting!
Be sure to stop by our online store to get all the supplies you need for raising your chicks and beyond.