Purchasing day-old chicks and raising them yourself can be an entertaining and rewarding endeavor. There’s a great deal of work and time commitment involved to raising day-old chicks; however, with the right information and tools, you’ll be enjoying the sight of growing chicks and fresh eggs/meat in no time.
The basics and what you need to know
Chick care involves very frequent monitoring and care for the first 5-6 weeks, which means someone has to be available every day to check on them and to make sure they have everything they need. The first couple of weeks are crucial to the chicks’ health and safety as weather, predators, and a lack of food and water can all devastate your brand new chicks.
Where to raise chicks
Chicks need warmth in a draft-free environment, and they also need protection from predators. With that in mind, you have to find a good place for them that can help you manage these factors. We recommend a garage, basement or draft free area in the barn.
Using a brooder to raise the chicks
After deciding where to keep the chicks, you’ll need a container that offers adequate ventilation (i.e. brooder). In the beginning you’ll need .45 sq ft per chick but after 4 weeks you’ll have to provide at least 2 sq. ft. per chick. You’ll also need to give some consideration to the wall height of the brooder you use as baby chicks will be able to jump fairly high the second or third week. This means the brooder should be high enough to give them room and still keep them inside.
Brooders can be made out of anything from plastic containers to cardboard boxes can do the trick so long as they meet all the right size requirements. If you’re planning on raising day-old chicks as an annual thing, you could always upgrade and invest in something like a small coop to act as your brooder (again, so long as it is big enough and is predator-proof). At Freedom Ranger, a personal preference is the Ohio Brooder.
Growing chicks will create a ton of waste, so it’s important to provide them with absorbent bedding. Many people opt to use pine shavings spread to a 1-inch thickness. Some suggest paper towels as a short-term option until after the chicks know what food is (they’ve been known to eat their bedding), at least for the first couple of days.
Bedding material to avoid: cedar shavings (bad for chicks’ respiratory systems), fine sawdust (the chicks will eat a lot of the sawdust), newspaper (not absorbent enough and too slippery), shavings that are not properly dried, (mold tends to grow and is very harmful to the chicks) and sand (gets extremely hot under light and chicks will try to eat it).
How to keep your chicks warm
For the first week of their lives, chicks should be kept at a steady 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The second week it should be lowered to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and then lowered by 5 degrees each week thereafter until the chicks are 5-6 weeks old. 250-watt, red infrared head lamps suspended 18-24 inches above the brooder floor near the center is a very common setup. People choose red lights over white because they are less stressful for the chicks.
Placing thermometers inside the brooder can keep you apprised of the current temperature at different parts of the container so you can adjust your heat lamps as needed. Having one near the center and one at the edge of the box will give the chicks a chance to choose where they’re more comfortable, allowing you to manage the temperature in both areas. Simply watching your chicks is a good indicator. Are the chicks gasping and trying to get away from a heat source? That means they’re too hot. Are all the chicks all huddled together they may be too cold. Are the chicks huddled together? That will mean they’re cold. Once you know what to look for, you can adjust your heating setup accordingly.
Feeding and watering your chicks
Watering your chicks is one of the first things you should do once they arrive. To keep the chicks happy and healthy, the water should be kept clean. The chicks will get dust and pieces of bedding (if you’re using pine shavings) in their water, so it’s important to check on it throughout the day and clean/refill as needed. To prevent the baby chicks from drowning or injuring themselves, avoid using complex waterers or anything they can climb inside or fall into.
As for feedings, you can find different kinds of feeders designed for baby chicks. You can choose between medicated or unmedicated starter feed, which has been formulated specifically for baby chicks.
Prepping for the baby chicks
Having everything set up and ready to go before the chicks arrive is a great way to get them acclimated to their new home. Make sure all the chicks have easy access to feed and water.
Remember: there are three critical things to keep in mind when it comes to the needs of a baby chick. These include…
If your chicks are comfortable, fed, and given ample water, you’ll have an enjoyable experience raising them.
One of the most important things to remember is to buy the proper equipment. Accidents can happen if you use the wrong equipment, so do your research and talk to those who have experience raising baby chicks and you should be fine. The variety in chicks means there’s a chicken for every occasion and temperament. Have fun shopping for your next (or first) batch of day-old chicks. The experience of raising them and watching them grow may be even more rewarding than the eggs or meat they have to offer!