Baby chicks need close attention, especially for the first several weeks. There are three things chicks need: heat, food, & water.
Chicks need to be kept at 90 – 95 degrees on a consistent basis. The most common heating method is an infrared bulb in a metal shield (very commonly sold at hardware stores, farm supply stores, and even Wal-Mart). As a general rule of thumb, start with the light about 18″ off the floor of your brooder (the term brooder is used to describe any pen specifically designed to house baby chicks). Put a thermometer on the floor of the brooder. Start warming the brooder 24 hours before the chicks arrive. If the chicks huddle right underneath the lamp, it’s too cold. If they hang out on the far edges of the pen, it’s too hot. Adjust the height of the lamp accordingly. Depending on the amount of chicks you have, or the power of the bulb, you may need more than 1 light. Be sure to have an extra infrared bulb in case your bulb fails. Your chicks will die if they do not stay warm enough. Lethargic chicks or chicks with diarrhea may be a sign they are not the proper temperature.
The first question that will arise when you go to buy baby chick feed is medicated or non-medicated? There is a simple difference. Medicated feed, as the name implies, has medication in it designed to prevent coccidiosis (a deadly disease common among chickens). Many folks use medicated feed as a pre-caution to prevent disease rather than using to treat sick chicks. However, others prefer to avoid medication when possible. It’s up to you. If you got chicks vaccinated for coccidiosis, do NOT feed them medicated feed as this will counteract the medication in the feed and render both useless. We don’t offer coccidiosis vaccines so if you got your chicks from us, you are safe to give them medicated feed.
Buying chick starter is pretty straight forward. You want about a 18 – 20% protein feed (protein content is usually prominently displayed on the packaging) for most chicken breeds. If you are raising broilers, or meat chickens, you may want a higher protein feed designed for fast growing chickens with a higher protein content like 21 – 24% Guinea fowl keets should be fed a wild game starter or a chick starter with around 24% protein.
Scratch A Little Deeper: Click here for more details on feeding poultry through all stages of life
Water is pretty simple. Give your chicks room temperature water (cold water will lower their body temperature). Right after your chicks arrive, it’s a good idea to put some electrolytes in their water to help them recover from dehydration or stress from shipping. A common brand is Sav-A-Chik (sold at Tractor Supply Stores and on Amazon) but people have used Gatorade, Pedialyte, and more with success (although dosage amounts come down to some guess work). Water should be given free choice 24/7 to your young chicks.
Scratch A Little Deeper: Preparing for, raising, & releasing chicks