You are planning on buying some adorable mail order baby chicks but are wondering, where do I begin? I’ll run through the basics with you. Here we go!
Preparation for Chicks:
Clean and disinfect your chicken coop! As your chicks grow, they build immunity to common diseases found in any farmyard. Your new chicks are just starting out and have weak immune systems. You don’t want them catching anything your old flock was immune to. Disinfect the waterers, the feeders, and the coop from to top to bottom! Give yourself time to do this properly and then let it dry out completely. You can try spreading some hydrated lime on the floor to aid in dryness. Disease loves damp, dark places to hide!
Typically, however, you don’t put day old chicks right into a coop, instead you would use a brooder. Brooders are any small, dedicated pen with a heat source used specifically to start chicks. You may want to build one out of a plastic tub, plywood, or even cardboard (check out some examples of brooders here on BackyardChickens.com). Whatever it is, make sure it’s high enough that your pet dog or cat can’t climb in, make sure the walls are solid so it’s not drafty, and make sure it’s big enough for all your chicks! Once you have the brooder, continue…
Put down new bedding. Don’t use newspaper, cardboard, or anything that is smooth in texture. This will cause deformity in the chick’s legs since their little muscles aren’t developed yet and they’ll end up doing splits. Instead, lay down 2-3″ of pine (not cedar) shavings or straw. Be careful not to use any bedding with creosote in. This is a preservative commonly found in treated lumber like railroad ties.
Now that you have all that set up, heat the brooder up 24 hours in advance to your chicks arriving in the mail. This will heat up the bedding and help the chicks adjust quicker. The most common source of heat used in a brooder is a red heat lamp hung about 18″ from the bottom of the brooder. It’s a good idea to hang it with a hook on a chain so you can easily adjust the height of the lamp. Some people have had good experiences with an Ecoglow brooder (more details here).
Set out the water and let it heat up to room temperature since cold water can chill the chicks. Mix in some multi-vitamins or electrolytes (Like the Sav-A-Chick electrolytes – pictured on left – available at Tractor Supply or on Amazon.com) in their water to help them stay healthy as they transition to their new home. Also, you can add sugar to their water for their first drink to help their metabolism pick up. Figure about 1 cup of sugar per gallon of water. Don’t continue to give them sugar beyond their first drink.
Yea! The chicks have arrived!
The post office will typically call you when your chicks arrive. However, you may call them and let them know to expect them (Click here to get your local post office phone number). This may help everything flow a little better. You don’t want them sitting at the post office any longer than necessary!
When your chicks arrive, they will be thirsty. Make sure they can find the sugar water you set out the night before by dipping just the tips of their beaks in the water. Hopefully they’ll get the idea! Make their food available to them about an hour or so after they have had something to drink. There should be enough room at the feeder so that they won’t have to fight to get food. Use one 24″ feeder for every 25 birds and 1 one gallon fount for every 50 birds.
TIP: Put marbles in the drinking water dish so the chicks can’t fall into the water dish and drown.
The first several hours they are in your brooder are critical. Keep an eye on them. Put a thermometer in the brooder so you can keep tabs on the temperature. Seriously! It’s easy to do and your chicks are very sensitive to temperature. The temperature should be 90-95 degrees for the first week. (more details below). You can tell by the way your chicks are acting how cold or hot they are. If they are all huddled underneath the heat lamp, the brooder is too cold. Move the lamp closer. (If the lamp is very close to the floor of the brooder, consider buying another lamp. Of course, if you buy another one you have to reset the heights.) If they are all huddled in the corners as far away from the heat lamp as possible, it’s too hot. Move the lamp up. Don’t adjust the lamp too quickly. Move it an inch or two at a time and wait fifteen minutes or so between changes. You want them nonchalantly wandering around the pen. It generally takes the chicks 2-3 hours to adjust to the temperature in the brooder.
GOOD TO KNOW: Mail order chicks can sometimes suffer from a buildup of fecal matter generally referred to as “Pasty Butt.” This is because of the stress of mailing and varying temperatures. Find treatment and prevention tips by clicking here.
As your fine flock grows…
Don’t change the brooder bedding. Just put fresh bedding on top or replace small patches of bedding at a time. You can thoroughly clean the brooder once the chicks are moved to a bigger pen.
General brooding temperature guidelines:
General Brooding Temperatures
|Age (in weeks)||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|Brooder Temperature (Fahrenheit)||90-95||85||80||75||70||65|
Measure the brooder or coop temperature at the backs of the chicks under the heat source. It’s ok if there are cooler corners of the coop or brooder because this will give a place for the chicks to go if they get too hot. Decrease the temperature five degrees a week until about 70 degrees or until the temperature in the coop is the same as the temperature outside the coop. Make sure your chicks are protected from predators, including your family dog or cat. Many chickens are cold hardy once they are fully feathered which is usually around 6 weeks of age. If the outside temperature stays above 65 degrees and your chicks are fully feathered, you can most likely move them into the coop without supplemental heat.
Learn more about buying & getting ready to raise baby chicks…
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