We recently received our mail order chicks.
When I say that statement out loud I shake my head a little. “Chicks in the mail?” Really Emily? That does not sound like a good idea.
But at the time the excitement of raising my own meat birds and laying hens blinded me from what I knew. I am often re-taught the things I know, each time with a bit more depth and clarity.
Below are 6 important things I learned from raising chicks. In about a month, I will be doing this again but with birds from a local hatchery. I hope these lessons make me more successful as well as guide you through your experience.
Are there elements of animal husbandry you can share with the community? Please comment below.
6 Things to Consider When Raising Healthy Chicks
1. Time of Year
When you order your birds, take into consideration the time of year you will be receiving them. At the age of 2 to 3 weeks the meat birds are ready to move outside. Once outside, you can more easily regulate their food intake. This forces them to forage, strengthening their legs and slowing their growth rate, reducing the risk of overall problems.
The baby birds need enough space to thermoregulate. Their brood box needs to be large enough so they can either lay underneath the heat lamp if they are cold, or move elsewhere if they are warm. This reduces stress and lowers the chance of dehydration, a surprisingly swift killer.
When constructing your brood box air on the side that bigger is better – providing them with enough space to run around without running over one another.
- 0-4 weeks – 1/2 square foot per bird
- 4 – 8 weeks – 1 square foot per bird
Purchase a thermometer from your local farm store so that you ALWAYS know the temperature in your brood box. Place the thermometer in the halo of the heat lamp. If you have a large enough space, you can have the temperature directly under the light be a bit warmer then recommended since the chicks have the ability to move into cooler areas if needed. They can always cool off, but if the box is cold, they cannot warm up.
When the babies are 0-1 week old start with a minimum temperature of 90F. Over the course of the next four weeks, lower the temperature about 5F every week until it is 70F. At this point the birds should no longer need additional heat.
If, however, you started them early or they are being kept in a place with little or no insulation you may need to continue providing additional heat in either the form of a space heater or red heat bulbs.
4. Check their Butts
Pasting up occurs when fecal matter sticks to their vents preventing them from eliminating waste. It occurs often, without any real notice, and can kill them. I pick up my girls once a day and check to make sure their rear ends are clear. If they have a little fecal matter stuck in their feathers I take a warm paper towel and gently clean them. If it is really bad, they get a little bath. Make sure you completely dry them before they go back into their brood box.
There are diseases and parasites that can kill these little guys fast. Work with a preventative mindset and do what you can to establish healthy baby birds. Keep their brood box dry and clean by removing dirty litter frequently. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar to their water to help eliminate parasites and keep it clean of fecal matter.
6. Baby proof the brooder
These are babies. Day old, week old, babies. Similar to real babies they do silly things that can result in death. Avoid drowning by putting marbles in the tray of their water dish. For the first week use an old blanket or larger wood shavings to prevent them from eating something they shouldn’t. After the first week begin to give them grit so they can more easily digest their food. Make sure the walls are high enough that they cannot escape.
Raising your own laying hens can be fun and rewarding. Gardening while my older girls curiously dig beside or get chased around the yard by a butterfly is my favorite form of entertainment. I can’t wait to introduce them to their new sisters in a few short months.