Keeping chickens is an increasingly popular hobby and every year more people take up the cause. Whether it is because you want fresh eggs or simply because you want chickens it does not matter.
Springtime arrives with the overwhelming urge to get chicks!
Baby chicks require quite a bit of care and attention when they are very young.
The key to success is being prepared for the arrival of your new children. You need to have everything on hand to make this busy time easier.
In this article we will explain everything you need to know about bringing your baby chicks home. We will explain how to care for them up until they start laying those beautiful eggs.
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Where Should You Buy Your Baby Chicks From
You should always get your chicks from a reputable source.
This can be either a hatchery or local breeder. These types of business have a reputation to protect and nothing travels faster than a rotten review.
There are two main reasons why you should buy your chicks from a reputable source:
- Should anything go wrong you can call them and ask for advice or guidance.
- If your chicks get sick you can get some useful information from them on how to treat them.
The large majority of online hatcheries are very helpful and will answer your questions.
They will usually give you a shipping date and expected arrival time. Should your chicks get lost in the mail (it does happen sadly), they will often replace your order or give a refund.
If you are using a local breeder then check out their reputation. If it is good then go ahead and get your chicks. Breeders will often give advice and tips on chick care and raising them – nothing beats the personal touch.
Many people get their chicks from a big box store.
Although these stores are not as good as the first choices here, they are usually friendly and helpful. Just remember though that their staff may not be trained in chicks, so asking questions can be a bit hit and miss with the validity of information given.
Also, once those chicks are out of the store they are yours!
Rarely will you get a refund if something terrible happens to your chicks and there will be nobody to answer your questions.
I strongly advise against getting chicks from Craigslist, local ads or your neighbor unless you know for certain that the chicks have been raised in sanitary surroundings.
What To Prepare Before Your Chicks Arrive
What exactly do you need for chicks?
There are several items that you will need to have on hand to be fully prepared for your chicks.
Your initial outlay may be a bit expensive, but if you are good at improvising then you can cut your costs significantly.
They will need:
- Brooder: A brooder is basically a warm container where you keep your chicks.
- Heat Source: Either a red lamp or electric hen.
- Feeder: You will need a chick sized feed container.
- Waterer: Again this should be chick sized.
- Bedding: Something soft such as pine shavings.
- Feed: This will need to be chick crumbles.
- Electrolyte Powder: Should be used for the first few days and is added to the water.
- Paper Towels: This is used so your chicks’ feet have something to grip on inside the brooder.
There are many different types of brooder available.
A small brooder suitable for the first week or so would be a large plastic tote box or a cardboard box. If you have an area that they can brood in for the seven or so weeks required that would be perfect.
Ideally you would raise them in one area for the entire time, but sometimes that is not possible and other arrangements have to be made.
Always make sure they have enough room because if your baby chicks are overcrowded they will start to pick on each other.
The safest heat source available is something known as an electric hen.
This is a heat plate that the chicks can slip under to keep warm. It has a constant temperature, is height adjustable and uses a small amount of electricity. They are incredibly safe to use.
If you are planning to raise a lot of chicks over time then the initial outlay will easily pay for itself. Read 5 best chicken coop heaters for more information.
However the most popular heat source is the good old fashioned red heat lamp. These things are cheap to buy and easy to use but they are a fire hazard. If you decide to use one make sure you have it securely fastened using two separate fasteners.
You will have to check the temperature of the brooder if you use a heat lamp. You can do this by watching your chicks. If they are clustered under the lamp, they are cold. If they are far away from the lamp, then they are too hot. When they are all scattered around making happy little cheeps they are just right.
Whatever heat source you decide to use make sure to test it beforehand.
Feeder and Waterer
These can normally be purchased as a set and they are fairly cheap.
You will need one of each for up to 10 chicks, any more than 10 chicks will require a second set.
Of course you can use things like paper plates to hold their food but chicks are messy. They will poop in their food and scatter in all over the place. So it really is better to have a dedicated feeder.
The waterer needs to have a small shallow area for drinking because chicks can sometimes accidentally drown. If the trough is deep then you should use clean marbles or pebbles to prevent them from having any deep water.
There are lots of different types of bedding but far and away the most popular and cost effective is pine shavings.
They are fairly cheap, easy to use and smell nice.
Make sure not to use cedar shavings because the aroma from the shavings can cause respiratory problems for chicks.
If you are using a container that has a slick or slippery bottom then line it with paper towels so that the chicks can have something to grip onto while walking around. This simple trick can prevent injuries to legs and feet.
This is an extremely important item because chicks need the correct feed to help them grow and be healthy.
You should give them a 24% protein crumble for the first few weeks and then change to 20%.
Most manufactures produce something known as 20% starter/grower.
I have used this for years and I give it to all my birds from Day 1 until they reach their 16th week. This way I do not have left over feed hanging around and I do not have to remember to switch out feeds.
Although the chick feed has all the nutrients a chick should need, you can occasionally still run into problems.
Sometimes your chicks can have a vitamin deficiency and giving them an electrolyte boost in the first few days can help tremendously. There are a few brands out there but they all work basically the same.
What To Do When Your Chicks Arrive
Needless to say before they arrive you will have everything set up (brooder, bedding, heat, food and water).
The heater should be turned on and the temperature should be set to 90°F.
Most importantly you will need to show them where the food and water is.
Take each chick and do a quick health assessment, then dip their beak into the water. You will need to do this with each chick. If you have decided to use the an electrolyte powder then the water may look orange in color but this is ok.
Travelling is hard on these little guys and they can dehydrate very quickly, so showing them to the water is a vital step for them.
They will naturally find the food by themselves.
If you want to you can show one or two of them where the food is and they will teach the others where it is.
As much as you want to play and handle them you should give them a few hours to recover from their travels – even if it was only a short journey.
It is crucial that they are safe and secure from pets and small children. Children can get overexcited and do not realize how fragile chicks are. Because of this young children should always be supervised around chicks.
You should also make sure that there are no cold drafts blowing down on them.
The ambient temperature of the brooder room should be 60°F or hotter.
How To Care For Baby Chicks
Perhaps the important thing to remember with chicks is that they make a lot of mess and they need to be cleaned out once a day at least.
Your chicks will kick poop into the water and the heat will encourage bacteria to grow, so you will need to change the water frequently.
The same rule applies to their food too.
They will have bedding and poop everywhere (including the feeder) so it will need to be cleaned out daily. When filling the feeder, fill the base up to the neck only for the first few days. They won’t be able to eat it all and it will save a little feed from being tossed out.
Bedding will need to be cleaned out daily too.
You should remove the poop and any wet areas. The wet areas will encourage mold to grow so it is important to remove them quickly. You do not need to change all the bedding daily – just the mucky bits. Toss new bedding in and mix it all together.
You can elevate the waterer and feeder as they grow so they do not get quite so messy.
As a side note while your chicks are small this is the key time to bond with them. Encourage them to eat from your hand, talk to them and let the kids handle them gently under supervision.
What To Expect During Your Chick’s First Few Weeks
This is probably their most intense week of learning and developing.
They need mama (you) to show them where the food and water is. Beyond that it really is better to leave them to do their own thing for the first seven day.
Your chicks will explore their home, practice scratching, develop some social group skills and sleep a lot.
During this time your role is basically mother, housekeeper and waitress rolled into one. Your brooder temperature should be 90°F.
You can now reduce the brooder temp to 85°F.
During this period the chick fluff will gradually be replaced by their first real feathers. It is also a good time to start to interact with them. You can feed them finely chopped greens from your hand.
Your baby chicks will soon start thinking about roosting, so offer them a small but sturdy perching area to use.
By week 4 the brooder temperature should be at 75°F.
This is a busy time for your chicks.
They will be starting a mini-molt and their adult feathers will start to come in. During this period, they are starting to develop some sexual characteristics too and by week 7 you may hear some pathetic attempts at crowing!
If your outside temperatures are stable at 60°F+ you can now turn off your brooder lamp. Just remember they may still need the lamp during nighttime.
Now is a great time to move them to an outside coop or area (not with adult chickens yet). There they can learn to scratch dirt, eat worms, grass and other goodies. Once they are settled in their coop and know where home is you can let them free range during the daytime.
You can also start to feed them kitchen scraps like: tomatoes, greens and fruit. They should not have more than 10% of their daily ration in treats and extras.
It is during these weeks that they will pass through the awkward gangly teenage stage.
Chickens are creatures of habit so try not to change any routines you already have in place. Change causes them stress and when they are stressed they do not lay.
If you are planning to integrate them into another flock then wait until they are about 2/3 the size of the adults. Also make sure there are enough spaces they can take cover in if they need to.
I have found the best time to integrate them is at night when they hare all gone to roost.
Make sure you are up early the next morning to watch how things go when they start to get moving. There will be pushing, shoving, a few pecks here and there and probably some dramatic squawks, but no blood should flow.
At the end of week 14 they should start to look like adults now.
They should also be comfortable and friendly with you.
You should read 3 simple ways to determine the age of a chicken for a more detailed explaination of their growth stages.
When Will My Chickens Start Laying Eggs?
When your chick starts laying eggs will depend on which breed(s) you have.
Most of the standard breeds will start to lay somewhere between 16-20 weeks old. Sex link breeds will be among those that lay in this group along, so too will Wyandottes, Rhode Island Reds and many others.
Some pure breeds (such as Orpingtons) are slower to come on line and it can take up to 24 weeks until they start laying eggs.
You also have late developers (such as Silkies) who can take up to 32 weeks until they start to lay!
Other factors can influence laying too.
Hens that are not fed a nutritious diet will be likely to start laying later. Severely malnourished or traumatized hens will not lay at all until they are in good health.
Read when do chickens start laying eggs for more information.
Raising chicks to become your new flock members is fun, rewarding, educational and exciting.
It can also be a bit of hard work for the first few months, after that everything should settle into a steady routine.
Although the first few weeks may seem a bit frantic, once you have done it a couple of times it becomes easier to do since you know what lies ahead.
Sometimes one of your chicks may die for no apparent reason. Do not start beating yourself up. It is highly unlikely to be your fault as most times it is nature’s way of dealing with the weak. Harsh but natural.
There are many benefits to raising your own birds and they range from garden pest control and fresh eggs, to knowing that your flock has been raised in a healthy and friendly environment. Just remember that if you handle them frequently and reward good behaviors with food, you will have a friendly group of ladies who will consider you part of the flock.
Once your baby chicks have grown and become egg laying members of your household, you may find yourself wanting more!
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