Garden Topics: Birds & Pets
Raising Baby Chicks
Who can resist cute little fuzzy baby chickens? They look so sweet and innocent and are just begging for you to take them home. Even though raising baby chickens seems easy enough, it's a little more complicated than it appears. Thankfully once you have a few tips and tricks it will be a breeze to keep your chicks happy and healthy.
Plan to Be Home and Available.
Baby chicks require daily care and monitoring, so make sure you will be home and available for the first 4 weeks! Don't plan on vacations or even day trips unless you have a substitute care giver ready to take over.
Where do I Keep My Chickens?
You can keep young chicks almost anywhere: their small size makes them easy to handle! They grow quickly, though, and by the time they're three or four weeks old they'll be taking up a lot of space, so giving extra thought to their living space is quite important. (Chickens can be moved to their outside coop at 4-5 weeks of age). Ideally you'll have a garage, workshop, basement or another predator-proof and draft-proof environment that's not in your main living space. Such places are easy to clean up.
Creating a Suitable Living Environment.
Baby chicks need to be protected from drafts but still have adequate ventilation. This can be in the form of a cardboard box with several holes for ventilation, a rabbit cage, a large plastic storage bin, or even a plastic tub! Whatever housing solution you go with, make sure it provides 2 square feet per chick. If that is not convenient, a smaller space is OK for a couple of weeks.
Baby chicks need to be kept quite warm. During the
first week of their lives they require an air
temperature of 95 degrees, the second week 90 degrees,
and so on - going down by 5 degrees per week until
they're ready to transition to "outside". A 250-watt red
infrared heat lamp is the best way to achieve this,
placed right in the middle of their living area and
suspended off the ground. The height of the light will
depend on what it takes to achieve your target
Pay close attention to how your chicks behave. If they're all crowded together directly under the heat source, they're cold. Lower the heat lamp, if they're positioned around the edges of their enclosure, (avoiding the heat), they're too hot! Raise the heat lamp. Make sure you always cooler spots in the brooder (the place you raise your chicks) where the chicks can cool down if they feel the need to.
Baby chicks leave droppings, so make sure to line the floor of their brooder with an absorbent material. We recommend spreading 1 inch of ‘Eco Flakes’ pine shavings for sanitary purposes and to keep their area from smelling. Change their bedding at least once a week. It can be composted and turned into rich earth.
Always have fresh, clean water available for your chicks. Place the waterer as far as possible away from the heat lamp. A dish or rabbit waterer in not advised. Even with the best waterer, they'll still kick bedding materials into it and find ways to poop in it from time to time. Raising the waterer off the ground somewhat will help (starting their second week of life), Plan on changing the water a couple times a day.
Once again, resist the temptation to use a dish or bowl for feeding your chicks. They will jump in, kick the feed out, and even poop in it.
Chickens love to roost on poles or branches when they're resting. You don't have to provide your brood roosting poles, but they'll be even happier if you do. We like half inch diameter wooden dowels. Try placing them about 3-5 inches off the ground.
Start your chicks off with Walnut Grove Chick Starter/Grower; it is complete with everything baby chicks need through the age of 16 weeks. Don't ration it. Give your birds 24/7 access to all the food they can eat. We recommend switching to Chicken Layer Pellets after 16 weeks. You may add small amounts of vegetable/dairy scraps to their diets. (They’ll love it!), and the same goes with bugs and worms. But consider those like dessert, not the main course. Starter/Grower feeds contain everything chicks need to survive and thrive.
Chickens don’t have teeth so they require grit in their diet. They eat tiny stones and store them in their "crop". When the food enters their crop, the pebbles grind it up to make digestion easier. Buy a small bag of Poultry Grit and either sprinkle this in their feed or provide it in a small bowl.
Netting for the top.
Although most grown chickens are pretty pathetic flyers, young chicks are much more capable. If your brooder is only 12 inches high, don't be surprised if you find your week-old chicks perching on top of it! To prevent this, we recommend you cut a section of chicken wire just big enough to drape over your brooder, or use a 2-foot-high brooder box to increase the length of time before they're able to "fly the coop".
Growing Older and Larger!
As your chicks get older you'll understand the importance of the minimum of 2 square feet of living space per bird. If you provided them less than that and your older chicks are picking at one another, do expand their living quarters.
After the chicks are 2-3 weeks old, if it's warm outside (65-70 degrees at least) and sunny, feel free to let them have a little "outdoor time". Put them in a wire cage or erect some other temporary housing and place it in the sun, making sure they have access to water and shade if they need it. But don't leave them unattended for too long! Protect against predators.
Moving to a Chicken Coop.
Once the birds have feathers that cover their bodies, 6-8 weeks, and they are starting to fly out of the starter pen that you had for them...it's time to move them into their new outdoor chicken coop, and we would recommend getting a new, larger water and feeder at that time. You can expect them to start laying eggs about four months later; they typically start laying at six months. Protection from the Cold. Only on the coldest days will you need supplemental [outdoor] heat for adult chickens. They’re hearty in a coop overnight, and they’ll huddle together for warmth. The temperature can go down to 15 to 20 degrees without any concern.
Danger from Other Pets.
Cats are not a problem at all for a full-grown chicken. When they’re chicks, they’re certainly endangered, but the time they’re three months old, they’ve got enough size and savvy to intimidate a cat. Dogs are a greater danger. It depends on the personality of your dog. If you have any doubts at all about it, you need to keep them away from your dogs when they’re in the house and outside. Young chickens can also fall prey to raccoons and possums. Foxes are a threat to chickens of all ages.
Day to Day Chores.
These are minimal, but you’ll need to clean out the coop about once every two months, keep the chickens stocked with food and water every day, and add a new layer of litter every week if inside an enclosed coop.