Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Raising Chicks

I never tire of all the amazing things that Spring brings. Especially the excitement of hatching chicks.

Chicks require very little to keep them happy. A draft free area or container, bedding, fresh water, grower/starter feed, chick grit, thermometer and a heat lamp.

Depending on the amount of chicks you have, any assortment of containers will do. Something as simple as a large cardboard box works very nice. As the chicks get older and their feathers develop, they will attempt to fly. We place a square of garden fencing on top to prevent escapee's.
The bedding we use is pine flakes, but you can use newspaper. Just don't use cedar, it's not good for their lungs or eyes. I prefer pine chips to newspaper because the oils in the pine keep down on the odors, (chickens aren't real stinky, but they are in the house after all) They also love to scratch in it and take "sand/pine" baths. Adult chickens don't take baths in water, they'll dig in an area to get to clean sand below the surface and fluff their feathers full of dirt. The first time I saw a chicken do this I thought she was having a seizure. I've seen a chicken get so much sand in it's feathers that it has a hard time standing due to the extra weight. Then they shake it off and the grains of dirt take all the grime with them. Chicks have this same instinct and will bathe in what ever is available, pine chips, spilled food etc.
One of the most important factors in raising chicks is keeping them warm and draft free. You will need a brooding lamp and a red heat bulb. The reason for the red bulb is that chickens are attracted to the color red. That's why most plastic feeders/waterers are red. Chicks naturally pick on each other. They instinctively establish pecking order which will tell each chicken where it belongs in the flock. If a chick was to scratch itself and bleed, the other chicks will pick on it relentlessly. The red light makes everything red so that they can't pick out any one red object. The rule of thumb on temperature that I use is, the first week keep them between 95 and 100 degrees. Do this by lowering the heat lamp over a thermometer in the bottom of one side of the cage until it reaches 95. (You might want to do this before the chicks arrive) Make sure your container is large enough so that the heat lamp is on one side and there is an area that is cooler for their food, water and for the chicks to get away from the heat. If the chicks are huddled under the heat lamp consistently they might be too cold, if they huddle away, they might be too warm, raise or lower the lamp accordingly until the chicks move freely back and forth. After that, I decrease the temperature by 5 degrees each week, by raising the lamp a few inches. When the inside temperature matches the average outside temperature, they're ready to go outside.
Chicks also need a good quality feed. We feed Purina grower starter crumbles. Then we mix in chick grit at a 1 to 20 ratio. The grit helps in their digestion, it's usually crushed granite, sometimes you can find it flavored with anise, which they enjoy. Make sure it's a grit designed especially for chicks, as adult chicken grit would be too large and could cause choking. At around 2 weeks you can throw in fresh handfuls of grass, they will go crazy with excitement.

Fresh water is a must. Chicks will scratch and throw things in their water. This must be cleaned on a regular basis. I've seen chicks fill their waterer with so many pine chips that they absorb all the water in the container. As they get a little bigger you can raise the water up a bit.

Many times chicks need help finding their water dish. If you get a day old chick from a store, chances are, it has never taken a drink in its short life. We take all our chicks in hand and dip their beaks in their waterer. Many times the chick will stand and drink and drink. The other thing you need to look for is pasting up. Chicks have feathery down around their bottom. When they go to the bathroom it can stick to this fluff. If it's not removed it will continue to collect until their bottom is completely pasted up. This can kill the chick. We take some warm damp paper towel and hold it on the chicks bottom until the waste releases. If the chick gets too wet, dry it with a hair dryer on low. This doesn't happen a lot, of the 18 chicks we're brooding, only one had a problem with pasting, and we only had to clean it twice.

We try to handle our chicks as much as possible so they get to know us. If they are small enough when you get them, gaze into their eyes as soon as possible and many times they will imprint on you. A chick assumes the first thing it sees is its mother. If you imprint on them, they will follow you everywhere. Even if you don't imprint on all of them, chickens tend to follow one another. We imprinted on our little Cochin Bantam and she follows us, and the rest follow her. When we walk around the yard it looks like a chicken parade.

Always practice good sanitation. Wash hands before and after handling chicks. Keep exotic birds like pet parrots and parakeets away from chickens as these animals carry diseases that chickens aren't immune to. Never handle a chick or it's bedding/waterers etc. after handling exotic birds. Keep dogs and cats away from your brooder box. Even if your dog/cat has no intention of hurting your chicks, it's presence can stress them out. 


Anonymous said...

excellent information for the novice (me)

Fontenot Farms said...

very informative for the beginner like me

Anonymous said...

You make it sound so easy...i might give it a try

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