So You Want To Raise Chickens.......Part 2: Bringing Home Chicks


In my previous "So You Want To Raise Chickens..." post, I discussed making the decision to raise chickens.  Once you've decided chicken-keeping is for you, now you have to bring them home.  If you've decided to purchase day-old chicks {as opposed to pullets or grown chickens}, these are some lessons we learned along the way of raising our first 3 batches.

Typically chick raising posts are found in Spring, but with more people starting new flocks in Fall, I thought it could possibly be perfect timing for someone.

Chick Preparation
If you are already raising chickens and are adding to your flock, if you happen to have a broody hen you may be able to get her to raise the chicks for you.

Mama Claire with Sam and Renee
Try putting a couple of them in the nesting box with her to see how she'll respond.  If she nestles them underneath her, chances are good her mothering instinct has kicked in.  If she's upset and continues to reject them, chances are she's just broody and has no desire to raise you're newly purchased chicks.  Remove them before she harms them.  If you're able to get the hen to raise the chicks, you'll need to move her and the chicks to a safe place, away from the other birds.  Make sure Mama Hen is able to have some privacy away from the very nosy ladies, and that the chicks can't get through the cage/box/pen.  If they get into the main pen with the other chickens, they likely will kill the chicks.


If you are going to be "Mama Hen" you'll need a brooder.  A brooder is a heated space or structure in which you raise young fowl.  A large box works great as a makeshift brooder.  You could also try a tote, galvanized tub, or whatever else you have laying around.  The main thing is you want something you can get into easily, can clip a heat lamp to, and is tall enough the little chicks won't escape.  An alternate idea is to lay an old screen over the top, as long as the heat lamp can stay intact, in order to keep any potential escapees in.

A chick should have at least 1/2 square foot of space from age 1 day to about 4 weeks and then 1 square foot of space from age 4 weeks to 8 weeks.

Here's a basic shopping list to prepare for the arrival of the chicks:
  • Brooder {again, if you have a box, tote, etc. that you can use, by all means re-purpose that}
  • Liner for the brooder {non-glossy newspaper sections}
  • Wood Shavings
  • Heat Lamp and bulb {they are likely sold separately}
  • Chick Feeder {could be something re-purposed such as a box lid, tupperware, etc. as long as it's shallow enough for chicks to get to}
  • Chick Waterer {it's best to use a commercial chick waterer so you don't risk them getting in it and drowning}
  • Chick Feed
  • Chick Grit {mix with the feed - read the package for amount}
Place your makeshift brooder in a safe place and away from drafts.  Cats, dogs, children, and others are all things to consider.  You don't want anyone accidentally letting the chicks out and you certainly don't want a dog or cat getting at them.  I'm sure they would look like fun squeaky play toys.

Inside your brooder you'll need wood shavings, cut straw, or some other type of chicken-approved litter.  For the first day or two I like to lay newspaper on top of the litter to discourage the chicks from eating the litter.  After that, I put the newspaper in first, then about 2 inches of wood shavings laying on top of that.  This will make it much easier to keep clean.  The day before the chicks arrive get everything ready - food and grit, the waterer full of water and placed in the brooder, and make sure the heat lamp is working.  If the waterer you've purchased is more than 1 1/2 inches deep, you may want to consider adding marbles to it for the first week so the chicks don't drown in it.

Chick Arrival
If you've mail-ordered your chicks, the post office will call you as soon as they arrive {I would advise letting them know ahead of time and giving them your phone number(s).  They will very much appreciate the "heads up"}.  You'll hear them as soon as you get there as your package will likely be the only package making a lot of noise. 

When you get them home, open your box carefully and assess the health of each.  There is a chance one or two may have perished during transit.  Hopefully this won't be the case.  They will likely be huddled together in the corner, making it difficult to look at each, so you can remove them, one at a time and place them in their brooder once you've checked them over.

If the vent area has any pasty or crusty poop on it, remove it with a wet paper towel.  Carefully rub away the poop with the paper towel, working it between two fingers, until it comes loose.  Simply pulling it off will possibly injure the tiny chicks.  The poop must be removed in order for the chicken to continue to produce excrement.  I like to add a dab of neosporin once I've removed the poop.  The chicks vents must be checked daily for the next few weeks.

Plug in the heat lamp.  The heat lamp will get very hot.  Make sure it's secure on the brooder and away from the chicks.  The lamp will start out fairly close to them, and as they grow, you'll adjust it further and further away.  The lamp will most likely start out around 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and you should be able to raise the lamp to reduce the heat about 5 degrees per week.

As you move each chick from their shipping box to their new home, dip their beak in water.  Each chick will need their beak dipped and you should watch to make sure they drink.  Next, dip each chick's beak in the food so they know where to find it.  They may start pecking at the shavings but you can re-direct them to the food and they'll catch on.

Keep on eye on the chicks for the next 2 days watching for signs of illness as well as watching them waddle.  You'll also need to keep a close eye on them for the purposes of monitoring the heat.  Cold chicks will huddle and chirp loudly and hot chicks will look agitated and pant.  Content chicks will spread out and enjoy their full surroundings.  Adjust the heat as needed.

Keep a good eye on their food and water.  They should never run out of either.  You'll be cleaning their feeder and waterer daily  and disinfecting both weekly with either white vinegar and water or an ounce of bleach and water.  Rinse thoroughly after cleaning before filling them up again.  Their pen will need to be cleaned daily as they will spill their water, leave you lots of little "packages" and just plain make a mess.  They love to play and scratch and will do so quite happily.


Moving The Chicks Outside
Chickens produce a lot of dust, so it's easy to look forward to the day when they move to their new home.....outside of the house or garage.

A few things to keep in mind prior to transitioning the little ones from the artificially heated pen to the outside.  First, wait until the chicks have developed feathers both on their wings and backs.  These are typically developed around 3 weeks of age, but could take longer. If they are moved this early on, make sure the temp's stay consistently above 60 degrees Fahrenheit {this includes nighttime}.  I like to wait until mine are a little older to ensure they remain healthy.


Second, transition the chicks when the weather is nice {not rainy, windy, etc.}.  Chickens are not big on change, so making the transition as easy as possible is a big benefit.

Third, if you're adding them to an existing flock, you likely will need to wait until the chicks reach 6 weeks or older.  They need to be old enough to fight for themselves when bullied.  The way we've transitioned ours, is from the house they go to a pen within the coop.  The holes of the pen are small enough that they can't get out, but the existing flock can check them out. {because all chickens are always in each others' business}  The pen needs to be cleaned daily, and we daily close the flock outside and let the chicks run around the indoor pen to get some exercise. They enjoy trying out their newly discovered wings.  Eventually, they are released to mix in with the rest of the flock and the pecking order gets re-established.

Enjoy watching their crazy antics as they learn their new surroundings and find new things to get excited about.  Don't get the egg cartons ready just yet, as you won't see your first egg until the chicks are 21 - 24 weeks old.

Additional Chicken-Keeping Posts:When Will My Chickens Start Laying?
Using Diatomaceous Earth For Chicken Health
Supplementing A Chicken's Diet
Chicken Water
Chicken Coop 101:  13 Lessons We Learned Building Our Coop
The Chicken Coop at Cobble Hill Farm
All You Need To Know About Chicken Roosts
All You Need To Know About Nesting Boxes

4 comments:

Courtney said...

I've been appreciating your chicken posts. Just got 3 hens and it's been a learning curve! My blog is Maui Jungalow.

Lifebythe Handful said...

We have 15 chicks coming this week. Thanks for the great info!

Vt Mama said...

Thanks so much for this!
We have 8 chicks arriving the week of May 6 and 7 more arriving 2 weeks later. How do we introduce them to one another? Do they need to be kept in separate brooders?

Any advice is greatly appreciated!
warmly,
VT Mama

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

VT Mama - hooray for the chicks! If you're introducing them as chicks, I would wait a few weeks since they'll be about 2 weeks apart in age they may accidentally kill one another because of size and ability so yes, you will likely need 2 brooders. As far as introductions, I would do it fairly young, so maybe once you've had the youngest ones a few weeks and just watch them closely. They'll appear to be mean to each other, of course, as they re-establish their pecking order, but at least the youngest ones will have the ability to stand up for themselves. I hope this helps!!