Ideally, if you already have chickens you are going to let your broody hen do all this work for you. You can help pick the eggs she is sitting on but its just so much easier to let the hen do the work if you are only wanting a smaller amount of chicks to add to your flock in the year.
However if you are wanting to bring in chicks for meat or for same aged layers ( I really recommend a mixed aged flock) then you are most likely going to be ordering from a hatchery or you are going to be buying new chicks from a local who is hatching to sell.
Both can be good sources, research both, join your local facebook chicken group and read some posts, ask who is local to you and watch for those that post chicks for sale.
Do NOT expect any more help from the person who hatched the chicks then from the Hatchery.. they are not your new best friend in this.. they did their job..
If you got healthy chicks on pickup.. the rest is on you!
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.
Some of these checks will have been done already if you bought from a local chicken breeder.. but I am going to assume you ordered in from a hatchery or that you picked up chicks from the local feed store.
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.
Now if you ordered in a 100 chicks, you might want them out in a pen with multi lamps, but you still need to spend those times with them and listen.. pull the babies that need it and bring them in the house for care till they are ready for the bigger pen/larger group.
Move a chick or two over to the now well baby for a few hours and then do a fresh feeding for the whole gang and move the two or three back at the same time.. this is the easiest way to re-introduce your chick back to the group.
I think I have covered my chick raising basics, got any questions? or comments? please feel free to ask..
This re-work of my chick care 101 is part of the 31 day Self-Reliance Challenge. There is a link on the sidebar on the main website page to take you to a list of all the other bloggers that are part of this challenge. Don’t forget to check them out and see what they are doing!