Ok so I DO have some experience with chickens so it is more like my first animal husbandry experience in our NEW home (and in MANY years) but raising chicks is totally new to me! I have only ever had full grown hens. So bringing these girls home was a new experience, and one I didn’t have much help with since I don’t know many people locally who have raised chicks.
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Raising Chicks – What You Need
If you are going to be raising chicks without a brooding hen, in other words you are bringing them home to care for yourself, you will definitely need a few things.
First, baby chicks need heat. They begin their first two weeks needing 90-95 degree temps, then reduce by 5 degrees each week until they are fully feathered. This can be achieved in a couple of ways.
You could use a heat lamp, but I would not recommend it especially if it is going to be in your house. Heat lamps can be VERY dangerous and I personally know a couple of people who had barns or homes catch fire due to these lamps. Also, they are very artificial and don’t mimic the way a chick would receive heat from a hen.
I recommend a heating plate for your brooder. I use the K&H Thermo-Poultry Brooder.
It is not a fire hazard as there is no heating of the air so I use mine with shavings and there have been no problems at all. The chicks love it, although they do spend most of their time out from under it due to the warming temps this time of year. But it is always fun to watch them all head under it together at bedtime.
Which is the other nice thing about this heating plate versus the heat lamp; they get to have night and day without a light going all the time. Mine have adjusted perfectly and they know once it gets dark out, it’s bedtime!
There is another plate like mine that I have heard wonderful things about and that is the Premier Chick Heating Plate Kit – Includes Cover
What is nice about this one is the cover! The chicks won’t mess on it as much as the one from K&H. However I did come up with a solution to that problem. I place some Glad Press and Seal on the top and then, when it gets messy, I just pull it off and put a new one on.
Chicks love to roost so they will literally hop up on anything!!
Keep in mind, these heating plates only work well if temperatures are not cold. If the temperature is under 50 degrees where you are keeping your chicks, these won’t offer enough warmth for them. As always, please read the manufacturer’s recommendations for temperatures before purchasing.
A Tote will work early on but I found my chicks quickly got bored in it because it doesn’t give them much room. So I bought this Galvanized Stock Tank at Tractor Supply and it has been amazing!
They HAVE started to hop up on the sides so you can cover it with some chicken wire or a couple of screens, which is what I did.
If you use a tote, you can cut out a big section of the cover and place chicken wire over it so they get plenty of air but can’t hop out. This might be helpful too if your home is particularly cold.
They don’t need anything elaborate. Mine do extremely well in the tank and have plenty of room.
As with any animal, clean food and water is a must for raising new chicks.
They WILL roost on their food and water containers and they are most likely going to mess in them as well.
After cleaning their water about 6 times a day, I finally went out and bought this Cup Poultry Drinker! It has two small cups that will fill with water as the yellow nipple is pressed. This keeps the cups clean and fresh water always coming out as they will only release enough water for the chick at each time so you won’t have water standing.
This IS a little hard for them to figure out at first. They do have to move the nipple for the water to be released. But they soon figure it out. What I recommend is that you press the nipple for them to fill the cups for the first couple of days and keep an eye on them to see if they are doing it themselves. I wouldn’t put another water source in there for them unless you see they are not using it. Just fill the cups for them. They will eventually get it. Or you could put a little treat on the nipple to encourage them to hit it.
If you put another water source in there while they learn, they won’t bother with it. So just watch them and fill it for them. Keep in mind the cups will stay fairly dry, that is the point. So don’t go by water in the cup. Actually watch them use it to be sure.
If they aren’t using it after a couple of days, maybe put a different waterer in there and try again in a week. But usually they DO catch on pretty quick. The nipple is a bright yellow so they are sort of enticed to peck at it.
I also put some Glad Press and Seal on top of this as well since they do like to fly up there and roost on it. If the cups do get dirty, they are easily removed without taking out the whole container. Just turn the cup and slide off (not the whole screw on attachment, just the cup or else water will come out!), wash it and reattach.
A good feed for chicks is necessary for healthy growth. I use DuMOR Chick Starter/Grower from Tractor Supply but you can use whatever food you prefer as long as it is meant for chicks.
For a food container, I prefer a feeder base jar with holes where the chicks can feed. I just find it minimizes them messing in their food.
Shavings or Litter
I personally like pine shavings (never use cedar!). I know some people use sand and seem to have success with it but I was told that chicks may swallow some while they peck at the bottom and it is unsure how their body handles it. So to be safe I stuck with shavings.
To reduce odor, I add a thin layer of horse stall deodorizer to the bottom of the tank and then cover with shavings. Works like a charm!
I know they also sell some made for coops but the horse stall one was recommended by many so I went with that.
Raising New Chicks – When Can They Go Outside
Chicks can go outside full time at around 6 weeks or when they are fully feathered (no down remains on them). If they are 6 weeks and there’s still down, I would wait.
Of course, this all depends on the temperatures where you live. If it is 90 degrees outside during the day, put them in the coop during the day but be sure to bring them in at night if the temperature drops below what they need for their age.
You need to calculate what heat they need against what temps you have. So there is no definitive answer. But when they are fully feathered they can be outside even if cold out.
If you take them out in the yard for little “field trips” outside the coop, make sure you stay with them as hawks and other predators will be nearby. Also, provide a safe place for them to run if they get frightened. They will feel more secure in that big old world out there if you stay right by them. And it is the safest thing too.
But they will LOVE pecking at the ground and exploring. Again, just keep their needs in mind.
They dont need to be at their heat requirement ALL the time (as evidenced by the fact that they don’t stay under the heat all the time) but you do have to keep them at at least 70 degrees and without winds or drafts. Same as you would in the house when they are not under the heating plate or lamps.
Raising New Chicks – Are They Happy?
At times you may hear your chicks make a noise like a smoke detector when the battery is low. That is a sign of distress. They may be too warm under the heating plate. I have never had mine do this because the plate wasn’t warm enough. They DID do it once when it was too warm, so I raised it up a notch and they all happily went under it.
If you hear them sounding like peeps and trills then they are happy. You really will know the difference. One is loud and shrill and sharp and they just seem to not settle down. So trust your instincts!
At the end of the day, chicks really are easy to raise. I have not had any issues but if you do see any of your chicks seem to have a respiratory issue or have diarrhea for some time, call your vet. They may need to be treated!
I wish you the best as you happily raise up your flock and I would love to hear about your experiences raising new chicks!!