Raising Baby Chicks
~Raising Chicks 101~
Ever just git the baby chick bug after you see those adorable fluffy balls of cuteness at the farm store? And you just have to have one... or maybe five?!? Well if that's you, I've got you covered! I'm gonna tell you just how to raise chicks from little's to laying!
First off, when you set out to buy baby chicks at the store, you will want to choose what type of chicken you are wanting, whether you are wanting meat chickens, laying hens or a dual purpose chicken. Then you will want to pick the breed that best suites your wants. There are all types of laying breeds, meat breeds and even adorable bantam breeds.
Sometimes the store will have "Pullets" which means all the baby chicks will be hens, and sometimes they are all mixed in and you just take a chance on getting some roosters. One time we ended up with four roosters! lol But usually you will get mostly hens and a rooster or two.
You will need some supplies before bringing your chicks home. You can usually get them all from your local farm store when you pick up your chicks. The list is below:
- Heat Lamp and Bulb
- Brooder Box - this can be a small animal cage, a storage tub, etc.
- Chick Waterer
- Chick Feeder
- Chick Starter (baby chicken food)
- Pine shavings
So what do I do when I get my chicks home?
Well the first thing to do is set up your brooder. Your brooder will need to be fairly roomy to fit the amount of chicks you have. You will also want some form of lid on top if you are using an open tub, so nothing (cats, dogs, etc) can get into your chicks for a tasty meal! It will need to be made of chicen wire or some other form of cage material that has lots of breathability. You can also use a small animal cage (rabbit cage) etc.
You'll want to put a layer of pine shavings in the floor of the brooder. These will soak up the urine and also help the chicks stay warm. Then you'll need to fix up their food and water. Make sure you either use a chick waterer or a water dish that is very shallow. Chicks are very messy, so you will probably need to get them fresh water a couple times a day. They also eat a TON! lol
The little chicks we are raising right now are "Sex Links" which are a type of cross breed known to be excellent layers. They have been very peppy since day 1 and LOVE their food! They eat like theres no tomorrow. Ok, I actually only fill the bowl twice a day, but it seems like they eat a lot. They are growing like weeds! I buy "Chick Starter" from our local CO-OP in a 50lb bag and it last forever it seems, so it's a good deal.Ok, so back to it. The most important thing you need to set up will be the "Heat Lamp." It is vital that the chicks stay warm, but not too hot! If they get cold...... and if they get to hot...... well let's just say they might be flying over the rainbow bridge:(
How often should I feed the chicks?
At this age till they are full grown they really need unlimited food! Use a chick feeder for the first few weeks. Pretty soon they will be eating it so fast that they will be eating the feed out of the little feeder faster than you can fill it. (I feed them twice a day). When they are between 4 & 5 weeks old or sooner, I switch to using a good size bowl to put their food in, so it last through the day and again through the night. They grow so fast that they need to have food available at all times.
So how do I set up the Heat Lamp, so it's not too cold and not too hot, but just right?
You will need something to hang it on so that it's right above the brooder. I like to put the heat on one side of the brooder, so the other side has some shade. This way if they get to hot, they can move to a cooler spot. Turn the heat lamp on and put your hand in the brooder close to the floor where the chicks will be. If your hand is burning, it is too hot. If you can hardly feel the warmth, move the heat lamp closer. You want your hand to be nice and cozy warm. After you get the chicks in there, for the next so many hours, keep a close eye on them. If they are huddled up really close together, they are too cold and you need to move the heat lamp closer.
What about the Nasty Brooder?
Yup! Poo happens and the brooder can get stinky pretty quickly!
The easiest way to clean it, is take all the chicks out and put them in a separate box or carrier. Then strip the brooder clean and put a clean layer of shavings down. Then it will be good to go again!
How long do I need to keep them in the brooder?
At about 6 weeks or so, if the chicks have all their feathers and if it is warm outside, you can move them outside into a small pen by themselves. They shouldn't need a heat lamp at this point, as long as it is staying in the 70's. If there is any chance of rain, you will either need to bring them inside or make sure they can get where it's dry. Even though they are looking pretty big now, they are very vulnerable at this age and a change of temp or wetness can cause you to be less a few chickens. So just watch them, they should be fine as long as it's nice and sunny!
When can the new chicks go in with the older chickens?
Older chickens will generally pick on the smaller ones and this can also leave you with fewer chickens. So it's best to wait till the new chicks are the same size as the older ones.
When you finally put the new chicks with the older chickens, make a couple feeding spots so they don't have to fight for the food. Also make sure you have enough nest boxes. They should become one big happy flock in no time!
When will we start getting eggs?
The most exciting part! Getting your very first eggs out of the coop, from the chickens you raised from chicks! How exciting! The first few eggs will be like little mini egss, but pretty soon you will be getting nice big eggs, perfect for breakfast! Most hens start laying at 6 months old. Certain breeds will start laying earlier such as Sex Links and some breeds such as Orpingtons will lay between 6 and 8 months. It is so rewarding and so worth the time and effort, to get your own eggs! Before you know it you will have eggs running out your ears!