No, this is not dating advice (sorry). Rather, it’s a warning. This is what happens when you go to the store to see the baby chicks six weeks before you’re planning to actually bring any home:
Who could resist those sweet little babies? Of course I have spent months researching chickens and pretty much knew what I was doing, even if I wasn’t expecting to do it quite so soon. One thing that really concerns me is when people buy chicks on a whim (like for Easter) and have no idea how to care for them. Chicks themselves do not require much, but remember that they will turn into full size chickens in the blink of an eye! If you’re prepared for that, great! You, too, can be enjoying “the pet that poops breakfast” soon. Here’s how to get started.
What you will need for baby chicks:
- A brooder – This is a fancy word for the box you will put them in.
- A feeder
- A waterer
- A heat lamp and bulb
- Chick starter food
Helpful but not necessary:
- A thermometer
- A platform of sorts for the water
- Marbles for the water (more on that later)
- Apple cider vinegar or probiotics formulated for chickens
Before you bring your baby chicks home, get their brooder set up. It can be a cardboard box, a plastic tub, or a store-bought brooder. Make sure it has fairly tall sides or a lid – they can already fly several inches within the first week or two, and they will grow very quickly (I taped the flaps of a cardboard box together on the sides to make it taller). You don’t want to switch brooders four times before they can go outside!
For bedding I used paper towels, with a thin layer of pine shavings on top. I probably should have gotten the smaller “fine” pine shavings, but I was afraid they would try to eat it! I found that this system worked well however, the brooder stays fairly clean and I can just roll up the towels and replace them every few days. Easy peasy.
You will also need a heat lamp, including a bulb. Red bulbs seem to have a calming effect on chicks, which is strange because chicks will naturally peck at anything red (if you need to mark your chicks to tell them apart you can use non-toxic markers to put a dot on their heads or backs – just don’t use a red one). A thermometer can be helpful if you’re very rule-oriented like I am, but I’ve found that really it doesn’t tell you much. Your chicks are the best indicator of the temperature; if they huddle together or under the lamp, they’re cold and you need to move it down a little. If they move away from the light, spread out their wings and pant, they’re too hot and you need to move it up.
Technically you are supposed to keep the brooder temp around 90-95° for the first week, 85-90° the second week, 80-85° the third, and 75-80° the fourth. After that they should have their feathers in and won’t need the lamp anymore. At about a week old mine already get hot when my thermometer reads anything over 85°, so again – chicks are the best indicator. (Tip: you can see that the heat lamp turns everything red for the camera. Turn your flash on and your chick pics will turn out great!)
Food and Water
Plastic one-quart feeders and waterers can be bought for only a few dollars each. For food, it’s helpful to know if your chicks have been vaccinated for coccidiosis or not. If they have, you will need un-medicated starter feed. Giving medicated feed to vaccinated chicks will reverse the effect of their vaccines. If they weren’t vaccinated, or you don’t know, go with medicated feed to help prevent coccidiosis. You can also purchase chicken probiotics to add to their water, or add a small amount of apple cider vinegar (I do about 1/4 teaspoon per quart). This will help with gut health.
You will want to place your water on a small platform (around an inch high), to keep it cleaner. Those pine shavings make a mess in water! I also added marbles to the water for the first couple days, as I had read somewhere that this would prevent chicks from drowning. I wasn’t completely convinced – what chick wouldn’t just remove their head? But while watching them on the second day I saw one of them slowly fall asleep, finally plopping her head directly into the water dish – and she stayed there! The marbles held her up so her beak was out, and I was sold. They are little narcoleptics sometimes! 😊
Choosing Your Chicks
Last but certainly not least, your chicks themselves! You want chicks that are alert and bright-eyed, not sleepy (she says, right after telling you about her sleepy chick!). Running from you is actually a good sign that they will also run from danger. They should be able to stand upright with no problems, not with legs splayed or walking with a limp. Check their little tushies for any dried poop; this is called pasty butt, and it’s not a good sign. (If your chick does develop pasty butt at home you will need to gently clean it and possibly soak her behind with a warm, wet paper towel.) Chicks usually arrive at stores at one day old. If you can, talk to an employee and find out how old your chicks are and if they have been vaccinated.
If you follow the above advice you should be well-prepared for bringing home your chicks. We spent a total of about $44 on our chicks and supplies, having borrowed a heat lamp without bulb from a friend. We have had them for three days and they have been so fun already! I’m so excited to finally have “my girls” home!
How about you? Do you have chickens, or are they a dream you haven’t taken the leap on yet?