Caring for Baby Chicks
How do you take care of baby chicks? Find out the best ways to care for your small flock from dropping in and having a chat with our staff! We always recommend being prepared when it comes to chicks.
Incubate Eggs or Buy Chicks?
Many people who are interested in breeding their own chickens or raising egg layers decide to buy pullets or even point-of-lay chickens. This is largely due to the fact that many feel they are simply not set up for hatching eggs or raising young chicks. The process can seem impossibly complicated and time-consuming, but we’re here to simplify it for you.
Breeding chickens can be relatively easy, and there are lots of small incubators on the market now, so you can incubate seven eggs or less. There are a few reasons why you might want to try your hand at incubating eggs, with the main one being the rewarding experience you and your family can go through together.
Children especially love watching chicks hatch and then the following experience of raising baby chicks. It can be an educational process as well, and the memories they make will stay with them for a lifetime.
The incubation period is usually 21 days for chicken eggs, and you can refer to your incubator user manual for more information regarding that process. Chicks need basic care like heat, food, and water for the first six weeks of their life. After that point they will be feathered out and ready to live in a coop.
Housing for New Chicks
Whether you opt to incubate eggs or buy chicks, you will need a brooder set up for when the chicks arrive. Depending on how many chicks you end up with (please account for chicken math), your container size can vary from small to large. Cardboard boxes, wooden crates, plastic bins, and pet enclosures make for perfect brooders.
Make sure you line the inside with paper towels and bedding that is suitable for baby chicks. You can use something like wood shavings. We recommend Chaff to give the chicks stable, firm ground to stand on. A slippery surface can result in injury or developmental issues.
Give your chicks enough space that their heat source is well away from their food and water. The chicks need to be able to cool off when necessary, and the chicks will start to require more space as they grow. Decide on the heat source you want to go with.
Heat lamps are a common choice, but they also can present a fire hazard and are not energy efficient. Heat plates, on the other hand, like our EcoGlow brooders, are extremely safe and use very little energy to keep your chicks warm. An EcoGlow also gives older chicks a nice place to roost. You will also need a feeder and a waterer, which will we cover later on.
Bedding for the Brooder
As mentioned above, chaff makes for great bedding for chicks. oaten and lucerne mix are recommended, but do not use cedar shavings. Woodshavings can be ingested which may cause issues to the young chicks. Newspaper can also be a problem because of potentially toxic ink that the chicks will peck at.
Chicks can contract a number of diseases at this early stage, most of which can be avoided with proper sanitation. This means the bedding has to be changed regularly, at least every couple of days. Damp bedding should be changed more often.
If you’re hatching your own chicks they can be moved from the incubator to the brooder once they are completely dry, which means nice and fluffy. Until they have feathers, however, they will still need a heat source in order to stay alive.
As mentioned above, EcoGlow brooders are a much safer option than heat lamps. This is largely due to the way the brooder warms the chicks. EcoGlows use radiant heat, which passes through the air without warming it. Solid objects, like chicks, will absorb the heat, but a thermometer underneath the brooder will not register heat.
If operating properly, the heat plate on the brooder will not get hot enough to burn the chicks. This means you can put the brooder on a low height setting and the chicks can nestle up to it like they would a mother hen. Heat plates are a more natural way to brood chicks, and they do not provide a light source so the chicks can experience day and night the same as they would in nature.
If you are unsure whether your brooder is warm enough simply observe the chicks’ behavior. Chicks will naturally move away from the heat source as they are comfortable, but if you notice them spread out and always away from the brooder they may be too hot. Panting also indicates overheating. Conversely, chicks that are huddled together underneath the heat source may be too cold. Shivering is another indicator of this.
Six weeks is typically the age at which chicks can be acclimatized to the outdoors. This, of course, depends on your local outdoor temperature. If it is winter or particularly cold outside then you may need to acclimate the chicks gradually.
When hatching your own chicks, remember that they will absorb the yolk for nutrition.
This means they won’t need food or water for the first few days after hatching, which gives them plenty of time to dry off in the incubator.
Once they are placed in the brooder set up they will immediately need fresh water. The waterer should be placed away from the heat source and should be cleaned regularly. Chicks will push bedding into the water and poop in it.
If you are using a fountain waterer (as pictured) you will only need to worry about keeping it full and cleaning it. If you are using a saucer or a deeper waterer you will need to place marbles in the bottom to safeguard against drowning.
Chicks instinctively scratch for food, which means they can make a mess if your feeder does not have a lid. A feeder like the one pictured to the side is a good option to save space in your brooder and to keep the mess down.
Chicks may eat cooked egg yolk for a short time before you get chick crumbs. This is feed that is specially formulated for chicks and contains all of the nutrients they need. You can choose between medicated, or non-medicated.
You can also give your chicks treats, which can be fun for you as well as the chicks! After they are a week or so old you can give them worms from the garden. Greens are not recommended at this age because it can cause diarrhea. Adult chickens can feed on certain vegetation without issue.
If diarrhea does occur, pasting up can happen over the vent area. This is also known as “pasty butt” and can prevent the chick from pooping if left untreated. Clean the vent area with a moist towel or some mineral oil and watch to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Play Time with Chicks
If the temperature is warm enough, week-old chicks can be taken out of the brooder. They are extremely curious at this age and can sometimes move quickly and get stuck in small spaces. Household pets like cats and dogs need to be monitored around the chicks to ensure safety. Some chicks may imprint or bond with their “mama,” and they may even follow you around. Chickens can become much like any other pet, and they can be trained to come when called.
Beyond the Brooder
Once the chicks are old enough they will need to be moved to a coop with a run. Their outdoor housing will need to be planned carefully to protect against predators, and inclement weather, but that’s a topic for a different blog