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Small farmer in a big city

Crash Course On Raising Baby Chicks

Crash Course On Raising Baby Chicks

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Are you thinking about getting new chicks? Well, you have a few options: you can hatch these birds out of an incubator, order and have them shipped from a hatchery, or you can go to your local feed store, and purchase some there.  

What do you need to do next? Well, you're going to need a brooder box. The brooder box is just a box with four sides that are 12 inches or higher. The box will hold water, a feeder, and attach a heat lamp to simulate the chicks natural environment.

Let me tell you that a brooder box can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want; it's all up to you. Here's a list of things that you are going to need to set up your brooder box:

  • A container or crate with 12” sides or higher

  • Bedding

  • Heat source

  • Location

  • Waterer

  • Feeder and food

Container

Please do not overthink this box! It does not need to be anything extravagant; it can be as simple as a cardboard box, an old dresser, any Rubbermaid tote or anything similar. What matters is that the container can withstand the heat output from the heat lamp, and has sides at least 12 inches high.

The chickens need to protection from predators, so your container is going to need to have a lid on with some ventilation. You should not plan on leaving the top on all the times-your cover is going to need ventilation holes. The hole(s) will give the chicks fresh air. If you cut a hole in a Rubbermaid bin, cut out the inner rectangle on the lid. You should also think about using hardware cloth attached to the covering with a hot glue gun to keep predators out.

The brooders I have built have always had a hinged top that was screened entirely and attached with a staple gun to the hinged door frame.

Bedding

Like I stated before do not overthink this. Depending on who you’re asking you will get different recommendations. Here is a list of a few options all easily obtainable. Choose what works best for you:

Pine Shavings-  Relatively inexpensive and found everywhere ( Big box hardware stores, feed stores, and even Walmart).  Pine shavings are easy to clean, absorb moisture, and help combat the odor. When you first add the baby chicks to the brooder, they may eat the pine shavings until they realize where their feed is. The shavings can also be placed in garden or compost when removed from brooder.

Hay-  Also relatively inexpensive. This dried grass is available at all feed stores. It provides excellent drainage and is superb for deep litter method. However, hay does tend to mold which can lead to respiratory problems with birds. It can be placed in your garden or compost when removed from brooder.

Sand- More expensive than hay or pine shavings.  Available from soil suppliers and box stores.  Similar to kitty litter, bedding scoops up quickly and makes cleaning up a breeze.  Unfortunately, it gets sweltering. Baby chicks will be tempted to eat the sand which can cause them to eat less feed, meaning they are not getting the necessary nutrients to grow into that fantastic egg laying bird. The beige shore cannot be composted but can be added to garden soil to help improve the drainage.

Newspaper - Free.  Hard on baby chicks feet.  They cannot walk on this can lead to a splayed legs.  Perfect to put in a top of sand or pine shavings.  Can be added directly to compost bin when finished.

Cedar Shaving- Do not use. Toxic to baby chicks

Plastic Shelf Liner-

Old Leaves- 

My preferred bedding material is pine shavings.

Location

The brooder needs shelter from rain and high winds.  Many people like to keep their brooders indoors in a laundry room or guest bathroom, but I prefer to locate my brooder outside.  Chicks create a lot of dust and dander, and no matter how cute they are I want no parts of that in my house.  When placed outside the brooder should be located where it will receive a few hours of sunlight.  The season will dictate whether I want full sun or filtered partial sun.  The brooder can be in a quiet location not easily accessible by cat, rats, dogs, or opossums.  Remember, baby chicks can get startled which can lead to stress, that's why a quiet location is best.

Heat Source

Baby chicks need a heat source of some sort.  In their natural setting, a mother hen/ broody hen would provide all the necessary heat for the baby chicks during their first weeks of growth.  It is our job to recreate that.  For the first week of their life baby chicks need to keep at 90- 95 F.  Every week after you, can reduce the temperature by 5 degrees. Temperature reduction can be achieved by raising the light fixture or using a lower wattage bulb.

Light fixture

Like I have stated before there is no need to overthink this situation.  You need a light fixture or socket that can house a bulb and not get hot enough to become a fire hazard.  That is it.  Most people use Clamping work or shop light and either affixed to the side of the brooder box or suspended above.  Personally, I do not use the clamp lights.  After being told a couple of stories, from friends,  about barns being burned down from the clamp light becoming loose, falling onto the hay and starting a fire, I have promised myself I will never use them.  I will, however, remove the clamp and vinyl sleeve and just use the socket though.  Since I keep my brooders outside, I prefer an outdoor safe porcelain socket like this one( http://www.homedepot.com/p/Leviton-Rubber-Weatherproof-Outdoor-Light-Socket-for-Medium-Base-Incandescent-Bulbs-124-D/301667507)

It is not as simple as using a clamp light; this will require minimum electrical knowledge to wire this bad boy to an extension cord.

Bulbs-  Many choices and many options here. Base your decision on a few things:  the time of year you will be raising chicks,  your brooder location and what the temperature of your area is is.

Incandescent

Heat Lamps

Halogen

Ceramic

Water

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As soon as the baby chicks arrive, they will need water.  We are trying to make sure that they are not dehydrated.  That is why it is vital to have the waterer already in the brooder waiting for the chicks.  There are different options for the waterer available.  A plastic bottom that attached to a plastic quart jar or a metal bottom that threads onto a mason jar.  I do not have a preference because they both get the job done.  Think twice before using a waterer made for an adult hen.  The small chicks could fall into the water becoming soaked.  If the brooder is not outside in the sun, this could cause the baby chickens to become cold and have a higher risk of dying from becoming chilled.

Placing the waterer on the bottom of the brooder almost guarantees that the chicks are going to get whatever bedding material you choose to use into the waterer.  Take it out and clean it daily.  Do not let the birds run out of drinking water!

A lot of people dip chicks beaks in the waterer as they are placing them in the brooder.  This way the chicks will become familiar with the location of the waterer and to help alleviate the problem of dehydration.

Food and Feeder

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We know the importance of water to the baby chicks well feed is just as important. Baby chickens scratch at the ground just like hens and rooster.  So place feeders directly on the ground helping them to locate it.  They should get raised as the chicks get older and even hung from the ceiling of the brooder.  Two options for feeders Trough or Tube, pick a style, a size that suits your needs. The number of chickens you have at the time determines the feeder size. Running out of feed can cause the chicks to rummage through the litter looking for food.  Doing this the little balls of cuteness will inevitably intake feces which can lead to an outbreak of coccidiosis.

Feed comes in either medicated or non-medicated.

Medicated- Contains Coccidiosis. This drug helps prevent chicks from contracting coccidiosis.  Those started on medicated feed and then switched to non medicated variety will have a lesser chance of contracting Coccidiosis.

I have used both.  If you refresh the bedding on a regular basis, then this will help eliminate the need for medicated feed.  I have started chicks on medicated feed for 12-16 weeks and then switched to non-medicated.  I have also raised entirely healthy coccidiosis free chickens without it.

PASTING UP

During the first week Be on the lookout for “pasting up.”  It happens when chickens waste blocks their hole making it impossible to relieve anymore waste from their body.  Chickens are sure to die if you do not get a handle on this situation.  To clear up wipe the chicks butt with warm water and a paper towel.  If that does not remove the waste, then hold the chicks butt in warm water until the debris is soft enough to be removed.

Chicks grow damn quickly. Before you know it, they will out to the coop.  Wait you do have a coop and enclosed run built for them right.  IF not you better get on that. Depending on what breed of chicken and type( egg vs. meat birds) you may only have 2 -6 weeks before it is time to get them into their permanent home.

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