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Ultimate Guide to Welcoming Baby Chicks: Setup, Care, and Tips for First-Timers

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The journey into homesteading often begins with a leisurely walk down the lanes of a local feed store, where one stumbles upon irresistible tubs brimming with soft, peeping chicks. It’s quite the captivating scene.

As many of us have discovered, Chickens serve as an introductory experience to the deeper, more intense aspects of rural living, such as managing goats, cows, and pigs. It’s a familiar pathway for many.

Despite my near seven-year tenure in the homesteading realm, the arrival of chick season still sparks a wave of excitement within me.

Admittedly, my organization skills regarding chick acquisitions have waned over the past few years, thanks to family expansions and significant home renovations. However, I’m back on track this year, having placed my orders early.

We’ve recently welcomed 15 Silver-Laced Wyandottes and 30 Cornish cross birds for meat into our fold. A

fter experimenting with various layer breeds, I’ve opted for a more streamlined approach, focusing on a single breed to enhance through selective breeding for specific qualities. It marks a strategic advancement in our poultry management endeavors.

Embarking on raising our meat birds last year proved immensely rewarding, prompting an eager anticipation to repeat the process. We’ve secured another batch of 30 meat birds and plan to add 30 more later in the season.

Setting up for new chicks is a straightforward process, provided you bear in mind several key considerations.

I understand the apprehension first-timers might feel, given the chicks’ delicate nature and the desire to ensure their well-being. By adhering to these guidelines, you can rest assured of their care:

The anticipation for their arrival grows after selecting your preferred chicken breeds and placing your orders.

What’s next, you may wonder?

Rather than merely waiting, it’s wise to proactively prepare, ensuring everything is in place and functioning well before your chicks arrive. There are specific necessities unique to young chickens that require readiness and testing.

Let’s review a prepared checklist to guarantee you’ve covered all bases.

Welcoming Spring: Starting New with Baby Chicks

As spring unfolds, it brings a season of renewal and the beginning of new journeys. This is when numerous individuals decide to expand their homesteads by welcoming baby chicks into their homes, sourced from either local agricultural outlets or directly through incubators.

These young birds are fragile in their initial days and necessitate careful nurturing. Drawing on insights from the Michigan State University Extension, we offer guidance to ensure you provide an optimal beginning for these new members of your household.

The initial abode for your chicks is the brooder, a crucial setup designed to offer warmth to the chicks who cannot maintain their body heat until they reach the age of approximately 12 to 14 days. They are particularly sensitive to changes in temperature during this period.

Crafting a brooder doesn’t adhere to a strict blueprint; options range from repurposing a spacious cardboard box to utilizing a plastic container, or even partitioning a section of your floor space.

The key considerations for a brooder include ensuring it is protected from drafts, capable of maintaining a steady temperature, and spacious enough for the chicks. If you need to use additional heating, choosing a safe heating source is vital.

To achieve a seamless transition for your chicks, prepare your brooder at least a full day in advance. This preparation time allows for stabilizing the environment’s temperature and for any bedding moisture to evaporate.

Effective brooder setup tips include:

  • Allocating roughly 0.5 to 1 square foot of space per chick.
  • Laying down 3-4 inches of absorbent, odorless bedding, with pinewood shavings or chopped straw being ideal choices.
  • Maintaining a temperature range of 92-95 degrees Fahrenheit using a securely fastened heat lamp to prevent any fire hazards.

Once your brooder is ready and the chicks are settled in, vigilant management and regular observation are key to their growth and wellbeing.

Monitoring the chicks frequently ensures they remain healthy and comfortable, have access to sufficient food and water – the most crucial aspect of their care. Observing their behavior about the heat source can indicate if adjustments are needed to maintain the ideal temperature.

Always ensure clean, fresh water is available, placing feeders and waterers safely from the heat source. A daily cleaning routine for waterers and choosing shallow designs can ease access for the chicks.

Unrestricted access to fresh chick starter feed is essential, with various brands and price points available, including options for medicated feed to guard against diseases like coccidiosis.

As the chicks grow, their dietary needs will evolve, so adjusting their feed accordingly is important.

Gradually decrease the brooder’s temperature by 5 degrees Fahrenheit weekly until it aligns with 55 degrees or the outdoor ambient temperature.

Maintaining strict biosecurity measures, such as washing hands before and after handling the chicks, avoiding eating or drinking around them, limiting visitors, and consistent cleaning and disinfecting of their feeders and waterers, are paramount practices.

By adhering to these foundational tips, you’re ensuring your chicks have the strongest start possible, paving the way for them to become thriving additions to your homestead.

Preparing For New Baby Chicks

Choosing the Right Brooder: Simple vs. Fancy

Crafting a home for your newborn chicks doesn’t have to break the bank or require a design degree. Essentially, they need a safe enclosure to call their first home.

Placing them directly into a spacious coop could lead to them getting trapped in tight spots or corners, a situation that’s particularly dangerous in cooler weather.

A wide array of brooder options are available, ranging from store-bought models to DIY solutions using items you already own.

For years, my go-to has been sizable galvanized metal tubs. Their height prevents the chicks from escaping, and their rounded edges eliminate the danger of getting stuck.

Choosing the Right Brooder
Credit: Mason Dixon Acres

You could also consider using plastic containers, crates, cardboard boxes, or repurposed playpens as viable alternatives.

A brooder’s complexity can vary; even a simple cardboard box can suffice, provided it’s placed in a secure, sheltered location away from drafts. It’s crucial that while fresh air circulates above, the interior maintains a steady, warm temperature.

I chose a plastic storage bin, perfect for housing 5-10 chicks during their initial weeks. They’ll require more space as they grow, so it’s wise to anticipate this need early on to avoid frequent upgrades.

If possible, situate the brooder within an unoccupied coop for an easy transition by removing the brooder and letting the chicks stay put.

The floor of the brooder should be covered with a non-slip material; I’ve found pine shavings effective, though puppy pads, paper towels, or sand are also good options.

Regular maintenance, including spot cleaning every few days, is essential to keep the environment clean and comfortable.

I’ve never covered my brooders, but in households with potential predators, including curious pets, securing the top with chicken wire or mesh is advisable—just ensure it doesn’t impede airflow.

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Starting with a smaller brooder is feasible, but be prepared to expand as your flock grows. These chicks will sprout up quicker than you might expect, necessitating a spacious environment for their development.

From Heat Lamps to Heating Plates: Choosing the Right Heat Source

While I’m hesitant to employ heat lamps for my larger poultry due to their potential as fire risks, providing warmth for the fledgling chicks is crucial.

During the initial week of their lives, it’s essential to maintain an environment for the chicks between 95 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, slowly reducing the temperature by their development.

Constant vigilance over the brooder is necessary for me, as baby chicks cannot regulate their body heat during the initial, pivotal days, often clustering together in search of warmth.

As a caregiver, you must ensure they receive the necessary heat, starting with an ambient temperature of about 95 degrees Fahrenheit during their first week, and decreasing it by 5 degrees each week after that.

By the time they reach the ninth week, the environment should be no cooler than 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

After their second molting phase, which occurs between 7 to 12 weeks, they typically acquire mature feathers and can regulate their body temperature, barring unusually cold conditions.

Although the traditional heat lamp stands out as a straight forward heating solution, its use demands extreme caution due to the significant fire risk it poses.

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A preferable alternative is a heating plate, which, despite its higher cost—especially for those raising numerous chicks—offers greater peace of mind by minimizing fire risk.

I use a brooder that efficiently caters to small groups of chicks. For larger groups, however, I still resort to heat lamps.

Rather than relying on a thermometer, I observe the chicks’ behavior to gauge if the temperature needs adjusting—if they’re avoiding the lamp, it’s too warm; if they’re huddled beneath it, they need more warmth.

This intuitive approach underscores the convenience of heating plates, allowing chicks to self-regulate their exposure to heat.

It’s worth noting that heat lamps, while effective in keeping chicks warm and preventing pecking using an infra-red bulb, cause coop fires and fatalities annually.

If a heat lamp is your choice, ensure it’s securely fastened at the desired height, perhaps with a chain for hanging.

Secure the setup further with a beam or hook, a sturdy plastic tie, and additional duct tape for clamp-on models, as a fire can ignite in less than two minutes under these conditions.

Organizing all necessary supplies in one place before the chicks arrive ensures a smooth setup. If that’s not feasible, keeping everything consolidated will prevent any last-minute scrambles to prepare everything for their arrival.

Choosing the Right Heat Source
Credit: Pets on Mom

Ideal Bedding Choices for Chicks

The optimal bedding for young chicks is undeniably pine shavings, offering comfort and practicality. Introducing paper towels beneath these shavings is a clever hack for those utilizing a smooth-surfaced enclosure, such as a plastic tote.

This layer acts as a stabilizing mat, aiding the chicks in maintaining their footing during their initial days.

Pine shavings are cost-effective and present various alternative bedding options, including peat moss, crushed corn cobs, finely shredded paper, or neatly chopped straw, catering to different preferences and needs.

Ensuring the bedding maintains a depth of approximately 1 to 2 inches is crucial, and daily refreshment is necessary to uphold a clean and healthy environment.

It’s imperative to promptly remove any damp or soiled bedding to prevent mold growth, which poses a significant risk of respiratory issues, such as pneumonia, in young chicks.

Choosing the Right Feeders and Waterers for Chicks

You might be wondering if it’s okay to repurpose your existing adult chicken feeders and waterers for chicks, but unfortunately, that’s not advisable. The equipment for feeding and watering needs to be appropriately sized for young chicks.

Regarding feeders, you have a couple of choices: the trough variety or small plastic containers that are readily available in most homes. However, avoid using large pie dishes because they allow chicks to trample through the feed, contaminating it with their droppings.

For watering, chick waterers are designed with shallow basins to prevent a tragic but all too common occurrence: chicks drowning. A helpful tip is to place small stones or marbles in the water tray.

This prevents the chicks from accidentally sleeping with their faces submerged in water – a real risk, believe it or not – and ensures their safety as they hydrate. After the initial few weeks, you can remove these marbles.

The waterer shown in the example is equipped with glass beads at its base, a feature included to prevent chicks from tumbling into the water.

Alternatively, you could introduce them to using ‘chicken nipples’ for drinking from an early age. If you opt for the nipple system, it’s crucial to ensure that every chick can access the water freely, preventing any from being left out.

Essential Watering Practices and Nutritional Needs

Water plays a crucial role in the well-being of newly hatched chicks, akin to its importance for all living creatures.

Upon their arrival, I ensure their first interaction with water involves a gentle introduction, where I carefully dip their beaks into the waterer to acquaint them with its location.

Opting for a designated chick waterer is a wise choice to prevent the dangers of using an open bowl, which could lead to potential drowning hazards for your fledgling brood.

While I previously crafted a guide on creating your chick waterer, these days, I lean towards the convenience of purchasing affordable, plastic waterers from the local farm supply store. Keeping the water warm and replenishing it consistently is vital to meet the chicks’ needs.

chick waterer
Credit: amazon

Regarding their diet, layer pellets are not suitable for chicks. Instead, they require a starter feed, available in both medicated and non-medicated formulations. The medicated option aids in fortifying their defense against coccidiosis, a common threat.

This feed, rich in protein to support their swift growth, is presented in very fine crumbles, making it easy for them to consume without difficulty. Depending on your preference, you can serve it dry or as a wet mash, akin to the creamy oatmeal texture.

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The selection of feeders and waterers should align with the size of your chick group. For smaller numbers, a simple round feeder made of plastic or metal suffices, but a trough-style feeder might be better for larger groups, ensuring ample space for all, including the more reserved chicks.

Testing these feeding and watering devices beforehand is crucial to avoid any last-minute issues upon the chicks’ arrival.

Although there are DIY options for chick feed, I find it most straightforward to purchase pre-made chick starter feed from a feed store, despite seeming unconventional.

Given the precise nutritional needs of chicks during their rapid growth phase, store-bought feed guarantees they receive all necessary nutrients without the hassle.

Plus, they quickly progress to either meat bird feed or layer feed, at this point, you could explore more creative feeding options if desired.

I use an adorable, small chick feeder for the initial weeks, which they soon outgrow due to their rapid growth and somewhat messy eating habits.

They tend to scatter feed everywhere, often walking through it, highlighting the need for a larger feeder as they grow.

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Springtime Chickens: Planning for Arrival

Springtime ushers in the delightful tradition of welcoming baby chicks, yet the groundwork for their arrival is laid well in advance. Here’s a guide to ensure your fledgling brood flourishes in health and happiness.

Start Your Hatchery Orders Early

The quest for specific chicken breeds, driven by aesthetics, egg production, or distinct meat flavors, demands early action. With the burgeoning popularity of poultry rearing, sought-after breeds sell out swiftly.

To secure your preferred varieties, place your orders at the earliest opportunity. Opting for a hatchery within your locale minimizes stress for the chicks during shipping—a crucial factor given the expedited yet costly nature of live animal delivery by the U.S. Postal Service.

Shorter journeys reduce stress and enhance the survival prospects of these fragile beings right from their arrival.

Pre-assemble Your Brooder Sanctuary

Whether DIY or store-bought, a brooder acts as a safe haven for your young chickens, and it should be operational from the moment they arrive.

  • Ensure it’s secure from household pets and designed to prevent the chicks from wandering off.
  • Equip a section with a warm heat source and cooler zones for comfort regulation.
  • Opt for cozy, absorbent bedding such as straw or poplar shavings to prevent leg issues, steering clear of slick surfaces like newspaper.
  • Maintain a constant supply of clean food and water to nurture their growth.

Instruct Children on Gentle Handling

Children’s enthusiasm for chicks often leads to unintentional roughness. Teach them the art of gentle handling using objects like hard-boiled eggs or nectarines to mimic the fragility of chicks.

Emphasize a light yet secure grip, underscoring that a chick should wriggle free than to be harmed by squeezing.

Unbox the Chicks Privately

The excitement of a chirping box is undeniable, yet it’s wise to inspect the contents privately. This precaution allows you to sensitively manage any unfortunate losses before involving young children.

Transition to the Brooder Without Delay

While the allure of interacting with new arrivals is strong, prioritize relocating them to the brooder for immediate access to food and water, crucial within the first 72 hours post-hatch. This step is essential for their wellbeing, especially after the stresses of shipping.

Vigilance Against Pasty Butt

Monitor for pasty butt—a condition where droppings block the vent, posing a fatal risk if not addressed. Gently cleanse affected chicks with warm water to remove the obstruction, taking care not to harm their delicate skin. Remain attentive to this condition, especially in the initial week.

Prepare the Coop in Advance

Chicks grow rapidly and will soon require a larger dwelling. Whether you’re constructing or purchasing a coop, have it ready well before the need to transition arises, ensuring a seamless move and protection against predators.

Acknowledge the Commitment

Raising chickens is a long-term commitment, akin to adopting a pet. With proper care, chickens can live a decade or more. Before embarking on this journey, educate yourself about their needs and consider the commitment seriously, similar to welcoming any new pet into your home.

By embracing these practices, you set the stage for a rewarding experience with your new feathered friends, ensuring they thrive under your care and enrich your life with their presence.

Ensuring a Warm Welcome

Before your new chicks make their grand entrance, ensure their new home is cozy and warm by activating the heat lamp a few hours in advance.

Aim to keep the ground temperature at a snug 95°F to encourage them to explore their surroundings comfortably, starting from the warmth and moving outward.

As you gently introduce them to their new environment, it’s crucial to guide each chick to the water by lightly dipping their beak. This simple act is their first lesson in hydration – showing them where and how to drink.

To spark their curiosity in feeding, a soft scratch at their feed with your finger will do the trick, enticing them to mimic the action.

Position the water source close enough to the heat to avoid it being too cold, yet not so near that it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria due to excessive warmth.

Following their journey, the chicks will naturally cycle through eating, drinking, and resting phases. Keep an eye on their behavior to gauge the comfort level the heat source provides.

A spread-out group indicates the right temperature, whereas clustering or avoidance suggests adjustments are needed.

Regarding the cleanliness of the brooder and accessories, perspectives vary. Drawing from Harvey Useery’s insights on the potential benefits of exposing chicks to healthy bacteria and microorganisms, a shift from stringent sanitization to simple, thorough cleaning with water and a touch of natural soap might be beneficial.

This approach fosters a more natural environment conducive to building resilience. However, a thorough disinfection is advisable in cases of previous disease or sickness.

It’s feasible in the initial stages when it comes to housing different poultry species together. Mixing species like chickens and waterfowl can work well initially, though eventual separation may be necessary due to differing habits and dietary needs.

Additionally, the mix of more fragile and robust birds requires vigilant monitoring to prevent injuries.

The topic of electrolytes for new chicks is another area where opinions diverge. While some advocate for their regular inclusion, others suggest using them selectively, based on the chicks’ health and stress levels.

Ensuring a Warm Welcome
Credit: theprairiehomestead

Personal experience has shown that a homemade electrolyte solution can particularly benefit stressed or injured chicks, significantly boosting their recovery and overall well-being.

By adopting these practices, you’re not just ensuring the physical health of your chicks but also laying the foundation for a robust and resilient flock.

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