If you are just starting with some baby chicks or maybe thinking about getting them. Here are some important things we have learned after successfully introducing and raising some on our farm over the years.
Reality check! If you have not purchased them yet it is important to consider just like any pet, owning an animal is a cost and a responsibility. If you want to truly care for your animals be prepared for work and expenses. A lot of people get chickens expecting to make money on them. The reality is, you likely won’t. You may break even in feed costs. But when you calculate what you spent on birds, feed and care (let alone housing materials). Chickens will not bring in the bling.
They are also work. They are fluffy butted, stinky poopers. That poop needs to get cleaned. The smaller their roaming space the more cleaning you can expect to do.
They will destroy a garden. If you have a small residential lot and have visions of letting them roam your yard, you may want to consider what they will do to your landscaping and garden. Unless, its mint or large squash plants my chickens will wreak havoc all over. You can’t lay down mulch materials, they scratch that all over the place. If you grow lettuce and they find it, you will never see it again.
Now, if you are good with all that then wonderful, chickens are an awesome small farm animal to have. I love never buying eggs at the grocery store. Their fluffy bums chasing you down for some scratch feels like chicken love.
With your commitment to being a good chicken tender here are some beginner tips to chicks.
Products you should have on hand to start.
1. Fireproof container or caged breeder box. A good holding space with adequate space and the ability to allow for a heat lamp to be applied safely.
2. A heat lamp. You want a heat lamp that can stay securely in it’s place and is safe enough to be used without constant supervision. Chickens flutter about, the last thing you need is one knocking off the lamp and burning your barn or house down.
Not the one we use but fancy as it has a thermometer.
Chicken heat lamp
Simple Deluxe 150W Reptile Heat Bulb & 150W Clamp Light with 8.5" Reflector & Digital Thermostat Controller Combo Set
3. A water dish. Water dish needs to be no spill. Chicks stand on their disches and flutter about. Water will make your chicks space much messier when spilt. Also, chicks cannot swim and likely would drown in a large bowl.
Here is one we use:
M.Z.A Poultry Water Jug Automatic Poultry Waterer Small Poultry Water Containers Drinkers for Chickens Birds Pigeon Quail 1L (Red and White)
4. Feed dish. You can most certainly use just about anything as a feed dish but the one designed for chicks work well for two reasons. One, they are less likely to stand in them resulting in bird poop in their food. Two, they prevent the chicken from trying to scratch in their food spilling it.
This is the one we use:
Little Giant Plastic Feeder Base (1 Quart) Heavy Duty Plastic Water Tray Base for Container (Yellow) (Item No. 806YELLOW)
5. A poop screen. If your chicks are in a container with a solid bottom, I highly recommend a poop screen. This screen will keep the chicks cage smelling a lot better a lot longer.. See our video on the poop screen here.
6. Wood shavings, newspaper and/or straw. Shavings have to be used with caution. Pine & cedar shavings can be toxic but the real silent killer is in the dust that shavings can kick up. This is another reason why I love a poop screen. With a poop screen we have newspaper and shavings below the chickens collect their poop nuggets. But the chicks cannot scratch or play in the shavings. This prevents the dust coming up.
7. Medicated chick feed. Chicks are susceptible to a coccidiosis. This is a parasite in the gut of birds. Full grown unvaccinated chickens can also be impacted by this. Feeding your chicks medicated chick food will prevent your flock from getting this common chick killing disease. You can also put your full grown chickens on a rotation of medicated chick feed for 6 weeks as part of a health routine. It will not harm your chickens to consume medicated chick feed but it likely will not have as much calcium as laying feed. If you do feed your chickens medicated chick feed for 6 weeks, then I would recommend providing extra calcium such as oyster shells or our farm favourite cottage cheese.
Here is what we use:
Purina Start & Grow Starter/Grower Medicated Feed Crumbles, 5 lb bag
Bonus beneficial items:
8. Chicken dust. Chickens dust bathe to prevent and get rid of mites. Now, I have not typically provided this to any of my chicks just because it had not occurred to me. But after seeing a post from someone on Facebook showing their chicks dusting in it, I think I would. I am all about happy chicks and her chicks looked happy being able to dust in it.
Recommended on Facebook:
Lixit Chicken Dust Bath 5.5 lb
9. Chicken Vitamins. I have not used this out of desperation but mearly used it as a preventative to health problems. We have never lost a chick yet so either we are very lucky or our preventative measures work. This vitamin helps with a chickens overall health and heat stress.
Chicken Vitamins - Rooster Booster Poultry Cell, 16-Ounce
10. VetRx Poultry Aid. This is another preventative health measure for chicks and chickens. We have never lost a chicken to illness (just a hawk and a possum) so I do feel these preventative measures do seem to help along with roaming and good pen cleanliness.
VetRx - Vetrx Poultry Aid, 2 fl.oz
Ok so you are now fully stocked with all the goods for a happy healthy flock.
Their temperature matters. Pay attention to how many weeks your new chicks are. When you purchase them, a reputable seller they will let you know how many weeks old they are. This is important as the younger they are, the warmer they need to be. Now, I have not measured the temperature with my chicks but I have things that I do to ensure they are at the right temp.
First is the set up. Have a space that is large enough for the number of chicks. They need to be able to flutter about and get away from the heat if needed. If the space below the heat lamp is too hot they need to be able to get out of the heat.
Listen to your chicks. You will know if they are not content. If they are happy you will hear constant chatter. Happy trills and chirps. If they are not happy there will be a short chirp over and over. A call for help. If you want to know what that sounds like, remove one chick from the group and place it outside the box. It will chirp to tell you it wants to be back with the flock. That is the same chirp that happens when there's a problem.
Look at your chicks. If they are trying to lay on top of each other all in a bunch under the heat lamp, chances are they are cold. If they lay slightly scattered about but still under the heat lamp they are ok. If they are all staying out from under the heat lamp, chances are the lamp is too low and it’s too hot. You want to see them flow throughout the box happily and sleep comfortably near their heat source.
Keep babies inside for 6 weeks. I know this is not possible for everyone but I have found that it works well as an added layer of temperature protection. Do be extra careful operating a heat lamp though. I have seen people clip them onto a paper box and that is such a big fire risk. Keep it only against non flammable materials and under regular supervision. Even inside chicks will require a heatlamp.
At about 6 weeks the chicks will have their adult feathers and will be more adapted for being outside and with less heating support. I would not rip off the bandaid for chics though. Start by putting them outside (if they started inside) with a heat lamp. Then turn off the lamp during the day for a day or two, keeping it on at night. Then move to turning it off at night.
Be mindful of your location. If you live in a cold climate, you will need to take into account your temps. I introduce my chicks to the outside in Mississippi in April which is significantly warmer than my home province of Alberta, Canada in April.
Chickens are actually better in colder temperatures as adults than hot temps, but the key difference we are being mindful of, is that chicks do not have their adult feathers and cannot “fluff” for heat yet. Fluffing up is when a chicken fluffs up their feathers, capturing air in between their feathers to stay warm.
In colder climates, I would not introduce your chicks to living outdoors without a heat source until it will be 50f/10c at night.
Check for pasty chicken butts. When we shifted to the poop screen we did not have any issues with a messy chick butts. But with our first batch of chicks, before we had a poop screen we had one chicken who got “pasty butt”. This can actually kill the chick, making them sick. Unfortunately, your chick will not like having their butt washed either. Every day inspect your chickens fuzzy butts to ensure they have a clean bottom. If they are messy work off the pasty butt with warm water and a cloth.
Clean water daily, for life! The best way to have a chicken get ill is through its food and water sources. So ensuring you clean their water dish daily will help that. Make sure to scrub your waterer to get the film build up off of it.
Feed crushed medicated chick feed. As mentioned above, medicated chick feed helps to prevent parasites in the chicks. Crushed feed is better suited for the small chicks as well. Keep your chicks on medicated chick feed until about 18 weeks (4 months). After you will want them on laying pellets for the extra nutrients to support a good egg.
Keep their spaces clean. Chickens and chicks are dirty smelly and yet lovable fuzzy butted creatures. But they need your help to ensure that their living spaces are kept clean. They are constant poopers and they eat and peck where they poop. That poop can contain bacteria. If they are outside other birds can poop and they too leave their bacteria behind. So ensure you allow for ample space and regular cleaning will really help reduce their ingestion of bacteria. It’s almost impossible to avoid entirely as these are birds who roam and peck in the dirt but you can prevent a fair bit by being on top of their cleanliness.
Well that covers the basics of chicks. There are many one-offs so Google is your friend. Caring for chickens is also another level of learning with many commonalities too. More on that later.
I honestly love my chickens (except when they raid my garden) and find they are worth every bit of this effort.
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