Spring is in the air and if you have visited any of your local feed stores lately I’m sure you have noticed the adorable, baby chicks just waiting to come home with you.
Resisting those cheeping, fluffy balls of fuzz is almost impossible. Like, really, almost impossible. Ask me how I know?
So, what happens when the temptation becomes too much, and you find yourself heading home with 5 or 10 or 15 of those adorable fluffy babies? What’s the best way to keep them happy and healthy and most importantly, alive?
Follow the simple tips and easy weekly guide below on raising chickens for beginners and put your chicken worries to rest.
For more information on the equipment you need to raise your chickens visit our post on Everything You Need to have before you bring your Chicks home.
If you have everything you need ready to go let’s get started!
The First Twelve Hours
Provide water and a chick starter supplement*.
The first thing I do before putting chicks into their brooder is dip their beaks in their water. Dip, don’t hold them under. You want to encourage them to drink and let them know that water is readily available.
Hydration is critical. If chicks have been shipped in the mail they may have gone 12-24 hours without water. This is less of an issue with store-bought chicks but depending on store policies and frequency of water changes chicks may still go several hours without water.
Keep clean fresh water in the brooder at all times.
If the chicks have come by mail, the second thing I do is dip the chicks’ beaks into a chick supplement* called GroGel Plus-B. I love this stuff. First off, it’s cheap. On average about $4 for 100 doses. Secondly, the human kid loves to mix it up. It starts as a powder and when you add water it turns into bright green, bite-sized gel pieces perfect for chicks. Per the label, it provides hydration, concentrated nutrients, and beneficial bacteria. Our chicks have done great on it. After I finish dipping beaks, I sprinkle the GroGel on the paper towels and leave it for the chicks to eat for the first twelve hours. I don’t offer food for the first twelve hours. And I don’t offer the GroGel again after the first twelve hours.
If your chicks are from a store, chances are they will already be eating chick crumbles. Don’t give them the GroGel if they have already been eating crumbles. I’m not sure what happens but has anyone seen Gremlins? *
*not everyone uses a chick starter supplement, so if you already have your chicks in hand but no supplement available, don’t worry, plenty of folks raise healthy chicks without it. I have just had good luck with it and for 100 doses at $4, you really can’t go wrong.
Place all the chicks in the brooder with their heat lamp and allow them to rest and recuperate. Moving is a stressful business for baby chicks.
Remember that chicks need warmth. They need an average temperature of 90-95 degrees F for the first two weeks after they hatch. After that you can slowly decrease temperatures by about 5 degrees per week until their brooder temperature matches the environmental temperature. If temperatures are going to be below 70 degrees F continue providing an extra heat source.
Don’t have a thermometer? Use the illustration below to help decide if your chicks are warm enough.
You can raise and lower your heat source to increase or decrease the temperature. Just remember to make sure that chicks can’t reach the lamp if that’s what you are using.
Monitor the chicks for any that appear weak or listless. Separate weak chicks and give them an electrolyte boost if necessary. Chick starter electrolytes are available from most feed stores and online retailers.
I also suggest separating large breed chicks from small breeds. The larger breeds will often trample or peck the smaller chicks.
The Second Twelve Hours to Three Weeks
Congratulations! You and your chicks have survived the first twelve hours.
Keep reading to find out what you need to do to make it through the next three weeks.
Provide water and chick starter feed.
After 12 hours with the Gro-gel remember to give your chicks a chick starter feed. If they are not on the Gro-gel you can give them chick starter as soon as you place them in the brooder.
It’s important to keep the chick’s water and feed clean and full. They are growing babies and will need to eat and drink often.
Keep the brooder clean
It is also very important to keep the brooder as clean as possible. Depending on the size of the brooder and the number of chicks, this may involve daily bedding changes. Remember to keep the chicks on paper towels or pads for the first 3-5 days until they are eating and drinking and getting around really well. During this time, you should change towels once or twice a day. Once I move them to shavings I usually only change the bedding every other day.
Make sure they are staying the right temperature.
If the chicks are too hot they will be as far from the heat source as possible, if they are too cold they will gather as close as possible to the heat source. Both are bad. A correct temperature will have the chicks evenly scattered across the brooder. You can check out the diagram above.
Three to Six Weeks
By now you probably have this chick care thing figured out.
Water and food – check.
Heat source – check.
Clean brooder – check.
Your chicks should be looking more like mini chickens and less like adorable fuzzballs.
Now is the time to begin introducing them in a controlled way to the rest of your flock if you have other chickens. Or taking them out for ‘scruffle-time’ as I like to call it.
Scruffling is a combination of scratching and scuffling. Other folks’ chickens may scratch, ours scruffle.
If you have an open bottom dog kennel or a small pen in the yard your chicks will love the opportunity to get out of the brooder, stretch their legs and wings and practice their scruffling.
When the weather is warm enough and if the pen is secure from predators, you can move the chicks to this intermediate enclosure until they are big enough to go to the big house.
If weather or predators don’t permit, give the chickens frequent scruffle time but return them to the brooder after.
Just remember that the same basics still apply. Clean fresh water, food and a clean enclosure are all still required. Heat may also be necessary if temperatures are cool. And if the new enclosure isn’t covered they will need some form of shelter to feel secure. A wooden box with a couple of perches works well.
Six Weeks to Eight Weeks
At this point you are going to be as excited as the chicks to get rid of the brooder.
By now your chicks are eating, scruffling and generally being adult chickens and they are ready to move to the chicken pen.
If you will be adding the chicks to an existing flock, you should make sure to watch them for evidence of bullying and pecking. Introduce slowly if you can, either by dividing the pen or using the playpen for a while. Doing so will help cut down on the drama of reestablishing the pecking order.
I continue to feed chick starter to my chicks until they are around 4-5 months old at which point I switch them to laying mash and consider them to be grown-up fully functioning members of the flock. If they are being added to an existing flock I add the chick starter to the laying mash until 4-5 months old. The extra protein is good for all the girls.
Are you second guessing your decision to bring home those adorable, peeping fuzzballs?
Don’t worry, you’ve got this under control. Raising chicks isn’t rocket science. But they can be fragile, and their health can deteriorate rapidly. Stick to the tips above, keep an eye on your chicks and you should have a happy, healthy flock in just six short weeks.
*Fun Fact – chickens are considered the gateway animal to all other farm and homestead livestock rearing. Don’t believe me? Look up gateway livestock on the internet or just wait until the feed store has piglets.
*Quick tip – be watchful of Pasty Butt in your chicks, particularly the first couple of days after you get them home. Pasty Butt (that’s the real name, I’m not kidding you) happens when poop hardens and clogs up the chick’s vent. Carefully washing with warm water is the only way to remove it. Making sure chicks are eating only chick starter, are staying warm, and dosing them with a probiotic can help prevent it.