In three rounds of bringing chicks home, and a total of 20 chicks bought, we have only lost one as a baby. I believe that it didn’t get the water that it needed to recoup after a long drive home in cold maine spring. It was a hard lesson, and one I hope to not repeat. But basically, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the what, where and how of raising baby chicks.
So, I’m going to share my tips for optimal chick rearing, starting at the most important step- Setting up your brooder area.
These are the steps I follow in the days before my chicks arrive, in order to assure they come into a safe home.
Step 1- choosing a brooder box – There are a couple of options here that are simple and quick to access. You can use a cardboard box, a plastic tote, a dog crate, an old tub…. None of these things are going to fit your chickies for long but they all have a certain amount of usefulness for the first 4 to 6 weeks of life. We use a big 45 gallon tote that is fairly heavy duty. The walls are pretty high and after they learn to jump out, we cover it with bird netting and it keeps them in until they need more space. We then move them into a bigger cage we made ourselves for the remainder of their brooding time. This time, with 15 chicks, we’ll probably have to use our dog crate too. The important thing to remember tho, use something that is easily cleaned, or easily replaced. Chicks are messy and need to be cleaned out often or you’ll end up with a big stinky problem on your hands and fast.
Step 2 – Choosing a watering system- We use a standard 1 gallon drinker fount. The smaller one, the one made especially for chicks, just gets knocked over and is essentially useless. The wide base on this type of drinking setup keeps it from getting knocked over by curious and active birds.
step 3 – choosing a litter – For the first few days to week, we use paper towels. This is for a couple reasons. One, you can watch for any odd poop. Two, if an accidental water spill happens, its a lot easier to clean up. Three, there is nothing for the little ones to choke on. We introduce pine shavings, the same litter we use in our coop, as they get older. Lastly, it’s easy for them to walk on, and they wont end up with splayed/spraddled foot/leg syndrome, which is a killer in most cases.
step 4 – choosing a feed and feeder – we order chicks that have been un-medicated for Coccidiosis, but HAVE been vaccinated for Marek’s, so we use a standard medicated growers feed. THIS IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW. Please find out the details behind your chicks before purchasing their food. Whatever decision you make regarding your chicken’s feed, just please be informed.
step 5 – choosing a heat source and monitoring system – we use a brooder lamp with porcelain base with a red bulb and a safety thermometer that we bought at walmart for 97 cents. The red bulb is supposed to be easier on the girls and reduce pecking and fighting and we have had great luck with it over the years. In fact, we are still on the first bulb we ever bought and we have run that sucker a lot.
step 6 – to supplement, or to not – We supplement our chicks diet with a ultrakibble and chick grit. Also we buy a babycake for them to peck at for a hour or so a day after they are a few days old. Lastly, when we first bring them home, we put Braggs apple cider vinegar (the good kind with the mother in it) in their water.. just a little tho. This year, we’ll be adding a bit of homemade electrolytes as well because they’ll be coming directly from the post office. This is a call you have to make for your situation. I figure, the better a start you give them, the better a life they will live.
Homemade Electrolytes (not just for chicks!)
Step 7 – choosing your chick dealer – We have always bought our chickens thru stores in the past, and this has always worked fairly well for us. This year tho, we decided to try ordering from a hatchery directly. After lots of looking around, we decided to go with Hoover’s Hatchery for a couple different reasons. They offer a pretty good variety of birds and they have FREE SHIPPING on all orders. Also, their vaccination prices are excellent- super cheap per bird, not 2 or 3 bucks per bird, like some hatcheries I looked at.
So that’s about that for now… a brooder all set up with no chicks to live in it for about another week… my future girls haven’t even been hatched yet, and I am practically DYING. But I guess I’ll just have to contain myself….
Until next time, have a wicked good day.