Last week we looked at hatching your own baby chicks. This week we are going to see what we need to do once we have our babies. As I have said before, you can either buy your new chicks or hatch them yourself, either way, you need to be ready for their arrival. First things first, you need to have a brooder.
There are many brooder designs, some really simple and some much more complex. No matter what brooder design you decide on there are some key elements all brooders Must have. First, you need a heat source for your babies. I have a clamp light and bulb that provides heat to the brooder. It doesn’t matter if you get a red or white light bulb as long as they are for heating the brooder. I have used both types of bulbs with success. When you set up your light, be sure that you set it up to one end of the brooder giving your babies a warm area as well as an area the is cooler. You want the brooder to be at about 90 degrees Fahrenheit when you first put your babies in. Each week you will decrease the temperature in the brooder by 5 degrees. Even if you are keeping the temperatures at the right level you still need to watch your chicks for signs of how they are doing.
Every day when I go out to check on my chicks one thing I look for is signs that they are too hot or too cold. Signs that they are too hot include sitting very far apart from one another, panting, and wings spread out. If you see these signs you want to make sure that you decrease the temperature and ensure ample water is available. When your chicks get too hot you may want to come back and check on them after you make your adjustments to ensure that they have perked back up. Signs that they are too cold include, huddling together and not leaving from under the heat source. Your chicks will naturally huddle somewhat but there should be a little bit of space between them, they should not look like one giant ball of chick. The chicks should also be fairly active. They should be chirping and exploring as they are naturally very curious.
You have your heat source now you need to have your water and feed set up. When you get your water ready you should add some electrolytes and even vitamins to the water when you first get your birds. This will help boost their systems. I try to give these supplements to my birds for the first week. Please know if you get your birds home and you don’t have these things they can do fine but adding the supplements will help any weaker birds do better. Placing your water correctly in the brooder is also important. You should not place your water directly under your light. No one wants warm water. I place my water and feed in the cooler area of my brooder so that the birds are forced to get out from under the light even if only briefly.
Let’s talk feed. When you have babies you need to use a starter feed. I like using starter feed from Reedy Fork Farm. It is important that you get starter feed at this stage as it is formulated just right for what your baby needs. As they get older you will change feed to a grower or broiler feed and then finally a layer feed for those birds you have just for eggs. If you are raising meat birds they will stay on the grower/broiler feed until they are ready to be processed. Chicks need to have food available at all times as they are growing. When my chicks get old enough to free-range with the rest of the flock I will feed only once a day since they are getting more than enough nutrients while foraging. If you do not have a set up for free-ranging your birds then you may want to free feed them by setting out feed in the morning and again in the late afternoon to let them pick from. Most chickens will not gorge themselves so they should just eat what they need.
Other baby chick tips:
- If you want to be sure the babies see their water try putting in some shiny marbles or even large pebbles to attract them to the bowl. Being naturally curious they should come over and peck at these things and find their water.
- Chicks love to make a mess with their feed. I make sure to get just the right type of feeder and feed them smaller amounts more often to reduce waste.
- If you don’t have a thermometer for your brooder you can test the heat by placing your hand at the height of your babies. It should feel relatively warm to you but not so hot that it burns. This is not a full-proof method so be sure to watch your babies for signs of how they are feeling. (I have had to do this before and have had success, but it could just as easily not work)
- Always buy extra bulbs. You will be surprised at how quickly some bulbs may die, or how a change in conditions may make one fizzle out. You don’t want your babies getting cold so have that backup bulb ready.
Now remember and this is important: You may do everything right, feed the right food, perfect temperatures, plenty of water and you may still loose a bird. It is part of what happens when you raise chicks. Not all are strong enough so just be prepared for this to happen. Make sure if you have kids you let them know that no one was at fault some babies are just not strong enough. Raising chicks is fun but can be sad so just don’t be surprised. I hope that this has helped you feel a little bit better about having your new babies! Enjoy your new additions!!