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So now you
have a bunch of little fuzzy balls of energy to take care of. Congratulations!
- Baby chicks will need constant care for the next 4 weeks.
They will need to be taken care of and looked after very well if they are to mature. Unless they are in
the house where you can see them most of the time, they will need to be checked up on at least 5 times a
day. You'll need to make sure this can be accomplished by setting aside the time. And I whole heartedly
recommend it to anyone!
- You can keep new chicks almost anywhere. They are small
enough to fit in the kitchen, a spare room, or out in the garage or shed. There are a few things to
consider before placing. In order to raise happy healthy chicks they will need warmth, food, water, and
- At first the chicks are just a bit more than cute little
fuzzy balls of down – but they grow very quckly. By the time they are 4 weeks old they will be taking up
a considerable amount of space, be noisy and making a bit of a mess.
- A brooder is simply a safe environment for the chicks. It
must provide a place where they have food and water, warmth and protection from drafts/predators. The
simplest brooder is a cardboard box. Just make it big enough for the chicks to be able to get under the
heat source comfortably and room to run around. For example, our brooder is a glass case I made that is
420mm wide x 650mm long x 400mm high. We often have up to 20 chicks at a time. There is also a 'yard' we
use after they reach age two weeks, which is placed outside in the grass. This gives them plenty of room
to explore. They play during the day and return (with my daughters help and a couple buckets) to the
brooder at night.
- Baby chicks poop a lot so the bottom of the brooder must
have an absorbent coating. Straw, hay, grass clippings, a couple layers of Hessian (Burlap) material will
all work. The best I have found is pine wood shavings. Straw and hay will matt pretty quickly. Hessian
will have to be taken out, washed and dried before returning.
- Do not use cedar shavings as they are toxic to the chicks.
In Australia, do not use Blackwood shavings either. Chicks have delicate respiratory systems. Newspaper
is not good either. Even shredded, the surface is slick and they will end up hurting
- Be prepared to change flooring material every other day or
so, depending on the number of chicks and space available. The second you smell ammonia change right away
– you have waited too long! It's not that the ammonia smell will hurt them – it's just that the flooring
has become unhealthy. Keep your chicks happy and healthy!
- A good reliable heat source is paramount. The chicks need
to be kept at 35C (95F) at first entering the brooder. Every week the temperature can be dropped 3C (5F).
Some use one or two 100 watt light bulbs for heat, however a red infrared / heat lamp is much
better. The heat they produce is much more efficient and the red light doesn't keep the chicks awake.
There is evidence that under a red light they don't peck at each other as much,
- Place the light in the middle of the brooder or towards one
end so that the chicks can all get under the heat produced. The temperature under the light should be 35C
(95F) for the first week.
- It's pretty easy to know whether the heat is right. If the
chicks are huddled together under the light, then it is too cold. When too cold they usually have little
interest in water or food. Lower the lamp a bit more and watch what happens. If they are outside the
directly lit area, then they are too warm. When this is the case, the chicks will be going to water more
frequently also. Raise the bulb away just a little and watch.
- If the chicks are huddled to one side or the other, it
usually means they are trying to stay out of a draft. The easiest way I have found to locate a draft is
to light a piece of straw so that is smolders and move it around inside the brooder till located. Be
- Ideally, the chicks will be spread out fairly evenly
through out the brooder over a five minute period.When temperatures outside are around 20C (68F) they can
go out into the coop.
- Food and water
- It is not uncommon to dip a chicks beak into the water and
food container so they know where it is. After coming out of the incubator, they have enough sustenance
from the egg yolk to survive for a couple days. They will start to get hungry pretty quickly, though, so
keep an eye on them and if they need a little help try the dip method.
- With their food it is important that they are provided a
healthy diet. Most major manufacturers of animal feed will have a 'chick starter' which is formulated to
give them all the things they need in their diet. We always start our chicks, at least for the first few
days, on cooked rice and finely chopped egg yolk. They love it! Replace this mixture with chick starter
over the next 5 or 6 days. And for dessert – don't be afraid to give them a bit of greens; lettuce,
spinach, peas, corn, etc. Found a worm or nice juicy bug? They'll love it!
- Water should always be available. Clean and cool – room
temperature. Never put refrigerated water in for them, it is just too cold.
- With both waterer and feeder, if the chicks can walk in it,
kick bedding in it, or poop in it they will. There are special waterers and feeders for chicks which are
suited to the task, but you can work this out for yourself if you like.
See our DIY section for a Great Non Messy Watering System and Auto Feeder, too!
- If you decide to make your own water and feeder take into
consideration the sloppyness of the chicks. They have no table manners whatsoever! No sharp edges, not
too deep, and enough area for several chicks at one time.
- When feeding – this will need to be done 3 to 5 times a day
– feed only as much as they will eat at a time. After feed time there might be just a bit left in the
container. Keep an eye on them and make sure they are getting enough food. Chickens are not over eaters,
they only eat what they need.
- The water is a different story. It must be available at all
times. If using some sort of dish or lid, be aware that unless you can keep the chicks out of it, it is
very easy for them to drown. One way is to place a large rock or two in the lid so that the water is only
reachable around the edge and there is no room for the chick to walk in. The rock should be tall and
uncomfortable to keep the chicks from climbing on it also. That way they are less likely to soil the
water. Remember, clean and fresh is the key. Check water often. You will get a feel for how much they
drink after awhile and have to check less often.
- After the second week it helps to raise the waterer off the
floor a little bit to cut down on the soiling from them kicking bedding or pooping in it but it only
helps a bit. Even with the best waterers the chicks will soil it so plan on changing water regularly.
That is, unless you use our DIY waterer!
- Grit is what chickens eat to aid the digestion of food. It
goes into the chicks 'crop' and helps grind up the food they eat. Chicks need it, too. You can purchase
grit from your local feed store, or you can use sand or parakeet grit
- In conclusion, chicks need a lot of care. Without your
daily attention they will not survive.
- Even with all the work involved I have no qualms in
recommending this adventure to everyone! And after all the handling there are always a couple that remain
pets - and have a name other than "Freezer".