Raising baby chicks is a fun process. If you've ever held a baby chick, you know they're super soft and super cute. In order to raise them to be happy healthy chickens, you need to be prepared.
One of the most important things that you'll need is a brooder. A brooder is simply a box of some sort that holds bedding, food, water and heat for the baby chicks. Brooders also prevent the chicks from being exposed to drafts or predators, both which can be deadly to chicks. You can create a homemade brooder from boxes, old livestock water troughs or large plastic totes.
The sides of the brooder should be tall enough to prevent drafts. They should also be tall enough that your chicks cannot easily jump out. The brooder floor should allow the chicks ample space to move around. You don't want them to be crowded around their food, water or heat. If chicks are overcrowded, they will trample one another.
You'll need a chick feeder with multiple holes. When starting young chicks, I prefer the long feeders. These long feeders have more holes for the chicks to access feed than the upright feeders. The chicks lower on the pecking order don't have to wait as long to eat from the long feeder. You'll also need a waterer. Elevate the food and water for the chicks if you can. If you can keep the food and water off of the bedding then they will stay clean longer.
Young chicks need ample heat. Day old chicks require their brooder to be around 90 degrees. A heat lamp or brooder heater can be used to keep the chicks warm. I recommend a heat lamp. They are cheaper, found easily in stores and they can be moved slowly out of the brooder to reduce the amount of heat.
Feeding the Chicks
You can purchase chick crumbles at most feed stores, especially in the spring and summer months when chicks are found in stores. Chicks cannot swallow the larger pellets that adult chickens eat. If you're in a pinch and cannot find chick feed, you can feed chicks layer crumbles. Pelleted feed can also be ground up to give to chicks. I've used my kitchen blender in the past to grind up pelleted feed.
Make sure that the chicks have constant access to feed. Plan on checking their feed 3 times per day. It helps if you put out an extra feeder. You always want to have feed available. If you feed once or even twice a day, the dominant chicks will eat and the more submissive or smaller chicks may not get their fill. If you notice their feeders are empty, refill them.
Once the chicks have their adult feathers, you can start offering them pelleted feed or scratch grains as a treat. If they seem uninterested, remove the feed and continue feeding the crumbled feed.
Eventually, the chicks will require grit. Chicken stomachs use small rocks and hard materials to grind up their food. Oyster shell can be found in feed stores. Oyster shell provides grit and calcium, which is necessary for egg production.
Plan on spending about $2.00 per chick. Rare breeds or heritage breeds will cost more. You can purchase day old chicks through the mail from several large hatcheries in the U.S. If you want purebred chickens, consider ordering them.
Feed stores usually carry chicks in the spring and early summer. You can usually purchase purebred chicks from feed stores as well. You can also find chicks at local farms. Many people that raise chickens hatch their own eggs and sell chicks. Depending on the farm, the chicks may or may not be purebred. If you're simply raising them for eggs, the breed doesn't matter.
When buying chicks, keep in mind the chicken's purpose. Do you just want eggs and pest control for your yard? Any chicken breed will do. If you want to raise chickens for meat, then you'll want to look at heritage or dual purpose breeds. Chickens like the Cornish cross make excellent meat birds. If you want chickens that are friendly and cute to look at, consider silkie breeds or Cochins.
Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. You can read her most recent posts on Farminence.com or follow Farminence on Pinterest and Twitter.
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