I was more nervous anticipating my first chicks' arrival than my first child's birth. I read everything I could find, only to learn after having raising my first peepers that caring for baby chicks just isn't complicated. All chicks need to thrive is a caring chicken-keeper with safe, warm housing, food and clean water. There is no need to over-think baby chick care.
|Baby chicks grow at an astonishing rate, an important consideration when planning brooder set-up.|
It's important to prepare before chicks arrive. Having housing set up and supplies on-hand makes for a stress-free, enjoyable experience for everyone. Their immediate needs will be water and heat (food, a little later).
|Ask the post office to call you as soon as|
they arrive for immediate pickup.
|My chicks arrived at 6:00 am and I was there to meet them.|
|My first chicks arrived in perfect condition from My Pet Chcken. |
Mailing chicks is possible because the last thing a chick does before hatching is absorb the egg yolk. This first meal supplies nutrition for up to 3 days. Shipping is hard on chicks, some will not survive the trip. It may be best
not to open the shipping box in front of small children.
|Happy, warm newbies do not huddle together.|
All brooders should be capable of being covered to keep chicks inside and unwanted guests (like well-intentioned family pets) out. Even very young chicks can escape from an uncovered brooder. I rest a spare piece of hardware cloth on top of my brooders beginning in week two. While this is adequate to keep chicks in, a more secure method will be needed to keep pets out.
|This is a Happy Hen Treats Deluxe Chick Corral that I bought online|
for $19.99. It's has a wonderful, lightweight design, easy set up and break-down
and has a handy L shaped arm for hanging things (heat lamp/treats, etc.)
Location: The brooder must be in a draft-free location where a heat lamp can be hung safely or an alternative heating device plugged in; ideally the brooder will be located in a room with a window to allow chicks the benefit of natural day/night conditions.
Bedding: Chicks require a flooring surface that is safe for walking on and absorbent. I recommend paper towels over puppy training pad for the first 5-7 days.
|Tiny feet require traction.|
The puppy pad keeps the brooder protected from water spills and the paper towels provide traction for stable footing. Paper towels should be changed frequently. Newspaper should never be used as flooring; it is not absorbent and it is very slippery, which can cause spraddle leg.
Hardware cloth riser helps keep water clean.
To avoid the risk of drowning, it's best to use a commercial waterer or poultry nipple waterer versus a shallow dish. Elevating the waterer will help keep shavings out of it but it must be changed regularly, particularly if they have pooped in it. Coccidiosis, which is spread in droppings, breeds in wet, warm conditions and can very quickly kill baby chicks. Use of a poultry nipple waterer eliminates all concerns about dirty water. I use the Brooder Bottle Cap, which actually costs less than a traditional chick waterer.
|Poultry nipple wateers are a superior way to deliver clean water to chicks.|
Feed- Chicks should have access to starter feed at all times. It is nutritionally complete and specially prepared to be easily digested without grit.
Chicks do not require access to grit if their diet consists solely of starter feed, but as soon as they are given treats, grit is necessary to aid in digestion.
|Check & tighten wing nut often.|
Heat: A heat lamp with a red, 250 watt bulb is inexpensive and the most commonly used heat source. It is also the most dangerous. Red is preferred as it is less harsh than white, allowing chicks to rest better and is thought to reduce picking.
If using a heat lamp, the brooder should be be kept between 90-95° F for the first week of the chicks' lives. A thermometer located approximately 2-4 inches from the brooder floor will indicate whether the lamp needs to be raised or lowered to achieve the target temperature. Each week after the first, the temperature should be reduced by five degrees. That's what I call "The Formula.*"
Week 1= 90-95°
Week 2= 85-90°
Week 3= 80-85°
Week 3= 75-80°
Week 4= 70-75° etc
The Formula is a general guideline, the behavior of chicks is a much better indicator of their true comfort level. Happy chicks are quiet chicks. Content chicks will be dispersed throughout the brooder, happily going about their business. When they are too warm, they will pant and stay far away from the light, when they huddle together or cheep noisily like the one in this video, they are not warm enough. Simply adjust the lamp in either case.
|This barn fire was the result of a heat lamp that fell. Had someone not |
discovered it in time, baby chicks, goats and ducks would have perished.
HEAT LAMP ALTERNATIVES
There are much safer alternatives to heat lamps and I encourage chicken-keepers to consider them. I have written about the potential hazards of heat lamps in my blog post here as well as explored an alternative heat source, the EcoGlo Brooder. I own two EcoGlow brooders and will never again brood chicks with a heat lamp. The EcoGlow is infinitely safer and more energy efficient than a heat lamp and performs more like a mother hen. The chicks spend remarkably little time underneath the EcoGlow after the first few days, which indicates to me that we routinely overheat our chicks with heat lamps, the warmth of which they cannot fully escape. The EcoGlow must be used in a space with an ambient temperature of 60°F.
THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR AND GUARD AGAINST
There are two fairly common conditions to be on the lookout for: spraddle leg and pasty butt.
Spraddle leg: also known as 'splay leg,' is a deformity of the legs, characterized by feet pointing to the side, instead of forward, making walking difficult, if not impossible. The most common cause is slippery brooder flooring. The deformity can be permanent if unaddressed and is easily fixed, I discuss how to fix spraddle leg here.
|Normal looking vents like these will not have poop caked on them. |
Belly button area beneath vent may have residual umbilical cord
attached & should not be pulled or removed.
Pasty Butt: is a condition where loose droppings stick to the down surrounding a chick's vent, building up to form a blockage that can be fatal unless removed. Pasty butt can be caused by stress from shipping, being overheated, too cold or from something they have eaten. All chicks should be checked for pasty butt upon arrival. If droppings are caked onto the vent area, they can be loosened with a dip in warm water or a damp washcloth or paper towel and gently removed, being careful not to pull as the skin can tear. After cleaning and drying the vent area, the application of petroleum jelly or triple antibiotic ointment can prevent the droppings from sticking to the down.
If several chicks develop pasty butt after a few days in the brooder, it may be too hot and the temperature should be adjusted. According to Gail Damerow's Chicken Health Handbook, to remedy pasty butt, feed scrambled eggs with some of their starter feed and if it clears things up, switch brands of feed after that. Always provide grit to baby chicks when supplementing their diet with any food other than starter ration. Grit can be sand, a clump of weeds with the root ball/dirt attached or grit that is sold in the feed store near the poultry feed bags.
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