Raising Chicks 101

As I write this, I am listening to the peep-peep for the chicks and the whistle-whistle of the turkey day olds, you can tell by their sounds that they are content, its a soft sound, I had my hatching numbers for the year, and was short in the turkey and chicken area. So brought in 12 mixed run dual purpose meat birds, 12 sexed bard rock laying hens to be, and six mixed run white meat turkeys. That is what I ordered but that is not what I got.. I got 15 mixed run dual, 14 bard Rock and 7 turkey, now I normally get at least one extra chick but after checking, they had lots hatched and not enough orders so everyone got extra’s, sweet!

Now, about four years ago, I got into a tiny bit of trouble when I was talking to a older gentleman that informed me that I would have at least 25 percent loss on the turkey day old’s I was getting from him and I was like.. ah, no, I won’t have that many losted, unless there is something wrong with the stock I am getting, I explained that I had gotten turkey babies for meat for the past three years and had not lost one, he said, that was not possable, and for some pesky reason, when I am telling the truth and someone does not believe me,  I tend to get stubborn and grumpy, finally DH, touched my arm and gave me the head bob, that said, Hon, Shut UP!

I shut, I went home and started asking friends who raised chicks, what their rates were and realized that yes, I was having a very high success rate compared to others, so for what its worth, I am going to try and share my typical raising steps, and perhaps it will help those that are considering getting a few yard chickens for eggs and are new to chickens, or those that are like me, each chick is being raised for either egg or meat or both for your family and you want them to have the best starts possable.

Now, I highly recommend Storey’s guide to raising chickens, or Barnyard in your Backyard as two good solid basic books on your average chicken care, coop requirements, feed etc.

So you have picked up your chicks and get to have your first look at them, they should all look bight eyed and perky, they will be hungry and thirsty, so do your best to pick them up right when they are dropped off at your local feed store, and get them home as soon as possable, if its cool or damp, remember to cover their box with a light blanket to get them from the store to your vehicle and same to get them into the house..

Yup, you read that right, into the house if possable for the first 72 hours for sure and a week is even better, now I have used both the heat lamps that is recommended or I have used my old fashioned hanging wool strips, or I have used in floor heating, or if life is really good, I can slip some chicks under a broody hen.

The current chicks are in their homemade brooder, with 3/4 on their in floor heating and 1/4 off it, the chicks are not huddled, and are moving around eating and drinking and the sound is soft coming from the brooder so I know they are doing good, if huddled, they are cold, if all apart they are to hot, they do like to sleep in chick piles but they should not be piled on each other.

So once you get them in the house, take each one out and look it over, have a bottle of food coloring handy with a q-tip, and if any chick seems smaller or weaker, put a tiny bit of color on their back or top of head, it won’t hurt them, but it will make them stand out, into the brooder they go, lots of soft pine shavings underfoot, no slippery newspaper, you can use old towels, or in a pinch straw but honestly the best is shavings, they are easy to remove any that are damp around the water dish and you will need to clean and add a bit more a couple times a day for the first days. As you put each chick in, gently dip their beaks into the water, and make sure they all get their first drink.

So put in their chick feed, now I buy mine at the same feed store I get the chicks from, I am not going to get into the debate on if it should be medicated or not, that is up to you and what you know about your area and the way they will be raised, but if its in your buildings or your soil and you don’t treat for it, you will feel the effect in dead or sick chicks.

For the first feeding, I put the feed out in their little silver chick feeders and water ones, but if you only have a few chicks, you don’t need to spend on that, just use a low dish and put a couple nickels in the bottom and the shine will get the chicks all interested. sprinkle their food lightly over the shavings and then have a full small dish for them where the regular feedings will go.

If you have ever watched a momma hen with chicks, she shows them how its done, and she has a sound that says come here, grub is ready, try and do the same with your chicks, make whatever sound you want, I cluck for the chicks and we whistle for the turkeys, they learn and figure it out very quickly and it will be very helpful as they become adults and you want to move them around.

So the main four things chicks need are

  • Heat- most folks use heat bulbs to make this happen, red seems to be the color of choose on this , but I can honestly say that the infloor heating works well for when they are in their brooder box’s and the wool hanging strips* work very well for when they are bigger and moved into their first out of the house pen if you don’t have power there.

* This tip came from a old homesteading book, find a worn wool coat of blanket and cut it up into stripes at least a foot long, hang them off wooden dowls in at least three to eight rows, about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch off the ground, and the chicks will move into the wool stripes and it will retain their body warmth, I have done this a number of times and if I ever had to go to raising chicks without a mom or power or the warmth of a wood stove to put the box by, this would be the ideal choice for me.

  • Food- I buy chick starter but soon enough I will be adding in extra’s, bits of fresh greens, as these are fall chicks, the greens will be soon hard to come by outside, no worries there, I have lots and lots of seed saved that will be used for sprouting, and these chicks will get fresh sprouted greens a couple times a week to make sure they grow big and strong. They will also get a feeding at least once a week of finely mashed up shelled hardboiled egg, and a couple times a month, I will raid my worm box’s and they will get some nice small fresh red wigglers to fight over.
  • Water-Right now the chicks are on filtered water, once they are at least a week old and well started, I will move them over to straight well water, when it comes to water, room temp is best, but in time, they will get luke warm water a couple times a day as will the laying hens, with just a touch of apple cider vinager added to the water during the winter. The key to water is that its cleaned often, and that the dish is washed inbetween.
  • Shelter/Bedding- It is very important to have a clean shelter and if you have had bird in it before its very important that it was cleaned between, it should be both draft free and at the same time have a good exchange of fresh air, the bedding was touched on above, it needs to be non-slipper or you will often end up with leg issues on the chicks, you need to keep a couple inchs of bedding , remove the damp or dirty bedding, you can use a cat litter scoop or on a bigger floor once they are bigger, you can use the stall bedding forks an then put down fresh bedding. Straw compacts and smells alot more then the cidar chips do.

Extra’s little perches or items to jump up and off, just for playing really, and soon a tiny bowl of grit will be need to be available to them.

Now once they are started, you need to listen to them, you will quickly hear be able to figure out a few different sounds, the most basic are

  • I’m content -This is the sound you want
  • Excited about food/water or you coming to visit
  • Wrong- Regardless of what is wrong, the sound is the same.
  • Fighting-Someone got peeked or a leg got grabbed, even at this young of age, they are figuring out who is boss chick, vs who is lower ranked.

Now, each time you check on them, and watch them for at least a min or two, take the time after just watching them, to check on your food colored chicks, gentle cup them and give them a check over, are they bright eyed, are they clean eyed and clean beaked, is they bottom clean and dry? Do they feel full in body? If you need to, pick up a unmarked chick and compare how they feel to you in weight, hopefully close yes? If the above is all good, then back into the bunch they go, but if any of the above are showing, time to move them to a clean empty fish tank set up, with a heating lamp on it, half screen, half light, and they get the same treatment as above till they are well and growing just great and then can be moved back into the baby flock, its not a good idea to keep a “off” chick or chicken with the main group.

I think I have covered my chick raising basics, got any questions? or comments? please feel free to ask..

This is a Homestead Barn Hop Post.

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12 Responses to Raising Chicks 101

  1. Daisy says:

    Here’s a question for you, how old / feathered do they have to be before they don’t need a supplimental heat source? I’ve never really been able to find a straight answer on that. Do you have to acclimate them to cooler temps? My problem is that I want to put them in my old milk house, which has no hydro running to it and is too far away to even run an extention cord. I want to get them earlier in the spring, so night time temps will still be chilly. I know I am making it more complicated than it needs to be by over thinking it, but I don’t want to do something wrong and hurt/kill them. Neat idea about the wool strips, that would be easy enough to do.

    • Hi Daisy,

      Well that depends on the outside temps to a large part, it will be weeks earlier in summer time then in winter time, yes, you do acclimate them to cooler temps, and you do this by raising the heat lamps, if they are cool, and all under the lamp light, you might have moved it up a bit to soon, if you had two lamps and thought you could go to one, and then find they are huddled and under the one it might have been to soon. You can also see if they comfortable with how the feathers sit on the body, are they trying to fluffy themselves up to stay warmer etc. The wool strips make a big difference and allow them to help control their own temps, but I do find its a good idea to have enough that you can take one batch down and wash them while hanging the second batch.

  2. Rhoda says:

    good article…. I too have never lost a baby chick yet…… Of course it may help that i was raised on a farm when I was a kid…. I always get my chicks in the spring. However, just last week, I found a good deal on baby guinia keets (only 2 days old) so, I went ahead and got some. So far, they two are doing great! – visiting from the Barn Hop. http://www.srkindredspirits.blogspot.com

    • Hi Rhoda,

      Thanks for stopping by, I really like that barn hop, its great.. I keep looking for Guinia keets in our area but so far they are very hard to find and the ones that are available, they want to much for, but there were alot of breeding sets sold at the one sale this year, perhaps that means this coming spring, they will be available for a more reasonable price, and none of our hatchery’s carry them. Good luck on your little ones!

  3. Paula says:

    Thanks for all the tips. We had a mama turkey hatch out 4 chicks in the spring. One was weak. He didn’t make it past day two. It was cold outside and she wouldn’t cover him up and he was too weak to get under her feathers. One got eaten by a snake, one got lost in the woods when she took them out. One survived. She’s the one we are going to eat for Thanksgiving. She’s actually very amusing and when she flies, she looks like an eagle….then she lands LOL.

    I got some day old chicks on 8/8/11. The temps during the day were over 100 and the night time temps were in the high 80s. I didn’t even require a heat lamp. I put one in their brooder, but they were just too hot.

    • Glad you enjoyed reading the article, yup be it turkey, chicken or duck, the momma’s and little ones need to be in lock down for at least the first couple weeks if you want to raise the little ones to age. I can believe you on those temps, no heat lamp would be needed.. Enjoy your turkey for thanksgiving.

  4. Deb W says:

    So is this an actual photo of your babies? If so, who’s who? I can still remember the cedar-y smell and downy softness (OhMyGod, I sound like a commercial; ) of the babies my parents raised in the 70’s… How’s that for dating yourself?? :D:D:D

    • Hi Deb, yup, those are my little ones, just after I got them home, so the little black chicks are the bark rock hens to be, the dark reddish/golden color chicks are the baby boy meat boys to be, the yellow chicks are the double purpose meat/layer hens, and at the far right corner, the little white baby is one of the turkey pullets wee ones.

      They are so amazingly cute, and sometimes you just hold them to cuddle, the chicks are always interesting in everything around them but you got to watch those little turkey babies cause they are always after anything that is shiny, kinda like ravens or crows, they love the bling LOL

  5. Great post on raising chicks I will refer to this when I order mine early next spring. Thanks again!

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