Baby chicks are just like puppies or kittens, they are simply cute, lovable and very adorable! The initial time spent in bringing up your chicks is time well spent in getting to know them better and will certainly provide you and your family with memorable fun time.
During the first 4 weeks, baby chicks require care and monitoring, which means you have to check on them about 5 times a day or have somebody monitor their daily progress.
Where to Put the Baby Chicks
Since they are still quite small, they are easy to handle! However, they grow very quickly and when they reach 3 or 4 weeks old, they would definitely need a lot of space and would start making a big mess and clutter. This means you have to make sure that their coop is ready within this period so that you can transfer them to their new home.
During the initial four week period of taking care of the baby chicks it is best to put them in the garage, workshop, basement or an area that is both predator-proof and draft-proof environment. If none of the above are available, you can put them in a spare bedroom making sure to cover the floor as baby chicks love to scratch too but the topmost considerations are wherever you put the baby chicks, the area should be predator and draft proof.
Baby chicks need protection from drafts but should have sufficient ventilation. You can put them in a big carton box with holes or a plastic storage bin with walls at least 12” high making sure that each baby chick has ample space (at least 2 square feet) to move around.
During the first week of their lives, baby chicks need an air temperature of 95 degrees, 90 degrees on the second week, 85 degrees on the third, going down by 5 degrees weekly until the time they are ready to be transferred outside to their coop. Heating can best be provided by using a 250-watt infrared heat lamp positioned in the middle of their living area and suspended at a height that depends on your target temperature.
The use of a red heat bulb provides a darker environment as compared to white light. This provides chicks with respite from the glare, makes them fall asleep faster as well as preventing them from pecking one another.
Closely monitor how the chicks behave – if they crowd directly under the heat source, it is an indication that they are cold. You should lower the heat lamp or add another one. On the other hand if they go to the edges of their living area that means they are avoiding the heat, you should raise the heat lamp higher. Remember, a happy and contented flock will explore all around the brooder every chance they get.
Make sure that the flooring of the baby chicks housing is covered with absorbent material since they are big poopers. It is recommended to cover the floor with 1” thick wood shavings (pine is recommended) instead of newspaper or carton. Some people use paper towels but this requires changing often because they get soggy within a day or two.
To keep their house from stinking, it is wise to replace their bedding once a week. You can throw it in a compost pile where it will decay naturally and turn into fertilized earth.
Waterers and Feeders
Your baby chicks will need water right away as soon as you’ve put them in their new home. Observe them carefully and make sure that they find where the waterer is. You can teach your baby chicks to drink from the waterer by gently dipping their beaks in the water.
It is not recommended to use just any water container for your baby chicks. For best results, health reasons and safety, it is best to use a chick waterer. Using an open container like a dish or bowl would just invite the chicks to wade in the water which can be a cause of drowning. They will certainly enjoy playing in it, making it dirty which means you need to change it constantly during the day.
Using a chick waterer is no guarantee that it would be kept clean, baby chicks will always find a way to play with the water from time to time which may require periodic replenishment and/or change of water in the course of the day.
Just like the waterer, resist the temptation to use a regular dish or bowl. Buy a baby chick feeder so that they can not play in it and kick the feed out of the feeder and all over their house. Never underestimate baby chicks, they will surely find a way to play with whatever is inside their house!
For one reason or another, chickens love to roost when they’re resting. One way to prevent them from playing with their waterer and feeder is to provide roosting poles about 5 inches off the ground to prevent them from roosting on the waterer and the feeder.
The most common question of newbies is how much food they should give their birds. The answer: as much as they want! Give your chickens 24/7 access to all the food they can eat since they can regulate themselves unlike other pets.
Buying chicken feed is pretty straightforward. Feed suppliers manufacture special baby chicks feed complete with everything they need. If you have had your baby chicks vaccinated against Coccidiosis, they you have to give them un-medicated feed. If not, or if they have only been vaccinated for Marek’s Disease, medicated feed is the surest way to keep them healthy during the first few months.
Depending on the formulation of the feeds, baby chicks can be on starter feed for about 4 weeks before moving on to a combination of starter/grower for the next 16 weeks. Read the manufacturer’s recommendations on the feed bag to be on the safe side.
You can also give your baby chicks food scraps, worms, bugs including small amounts of vegetable and dairy. Do this only as a treat and not on a regular basis. They need all the nutrients they can get from the starter feed and giving them treats can jeopardize their health and nutritional balance.
Since chickens don’t have teeth they need something else to help them grind the food they eat for easier digestion. They need tiny pebbles which they store in their crop to grind their food. You need to give your baby chicks sand, parakeet or canary gravel which is available from your local pet store. You can either provide this in a different bowl or mix it with their feed.
If you use a 12” high carton or box to house your baby chicks in, make sure to cover it with netting to prevent young chicks from flying out of their box. One week old chicks can literally fly out of the coop if the box is only a foot high; you can either use a 24” high box or drape netting on top to prevent from flying out.
Important Health Notes
One of the important inspections you have to perform on your baby chicks when you get home from the supplier is to check each one for pasting up, a circumstance wherein their droppings cake up and block their vent opening which prevents them from passing any droppings. The dried poo is stuck to their outside, totally or partially covering or blocking their vent. This must be resolved immediately by means of applying a warm, wet paper towel to the area and clearing the blockage with a toothpick or plastic spatula. If the situation warrants, it may be necessary to dunk the chick’s rear in warm water to loosen and soften up the gunk to remove it easily. You have to do this otherwise there is a possibility your baby chick will die. After treating the baby chick, dry her off with a hair dryer and return her to the box with the other members of the flock. In the first week, you have to inspect birds that presented this situation as it often recurs but eventually goes away.
When the baby chicks reach 2 to 3 weeks old, it’s time to allow them some time outside if it is sunny and the weather is warm (at least between 65 to 70 degrees).
When you put them out for their time in the sun, make sure they are secure and have access to water and shade. Never leave them unattended because they are very good at flying by this age. Your baby chicks would definitely enjoy their time outside as they love digging around in the grass. If they encounter any problems are unhappy about their situations, they’d surely let you know with their incessant chirping!
When your baby chicks are between 4 to 5 weeks of age, they should be about ready to outside to their chicken coop. This is the time frame you should allow yourself to build their chicken coop from the time you get your baby chicks otherwise you would have some pretty smelly boarders if you let them stay in their temporary housing beyond 5 weeks!