It’s that magical time of year when flowers bloom, trees begin to bud and if you plan your trip to the local feed or farm and home store you will hear that familiar “chirp, chirp, chirp” coming from the back of the store. Chick days are here, and you’ve decided it’s time to invest in some of these cute, little fuzz balls. But you will need more than just a few baby chicks to get started in your new backyard farming venture.
Selecting the Right Chicks
Before you even go to the local farm store, conduct some research about what breed of chickens you are most interested in. The farm store in your area will likely order in the breeds that thrive best in that specific area, are hearty and good layers. Contact your local store to find out which breeds they do carry. Often times, if you are looking for a more exotic breed like an Easter Egger or Silkie, the store might have the ability to order those if you agree to purchase a pre-specified amount.
Once you have decided on a breed or breeds, it’s time to go to the store and make your selection. Most hatcheries will only ship females or hens, but if you see a group of chicks labeled “straight run,” that means that the hens and roosters were not separated, and there is a mixture in that group.
Take time to observe the chicks before making your selection. Yes, chicks do take naps; they are babies after all, but you want to choose a bird that shows some aggressiveness, is walking around, chirping and active. Once you have selected your chick(s) and the store employee has picked them up, do a close inspection on them. Make sure their eyes are clear and bright. The chick should look you in the eye if you catch its attention. Make sure the nostrils are clean, the beak is straight, and when the bird stands up, its feet and legs are straight, so it won’t have problems walking. Finally, check its bottom or vent to make sure no fecal matter is caked on – a sign of an unhealthy bird.
Stocking up on Supplies
While you are at the store getting your chicks, you will want to be sure to get any supplies you need to make their lives comfortable and ensure they thrive. There are lots of options in the poultry aisle for your birds, but when it comes to raising chickens, the essentials include shelter, heat, bedding, feed and water.
Baby chicks initially need a small area to live in that will keep them contained and keep them safe from predators, called a brooder. A brooder is basically a contained area that can range from a galvanized metal tank, wooden box, plastic tote or kiddie swimming pool. At first, your chicks will need about a half-square foot of space, however as they grow and mature, that will increase to about one square foot of space. Once they outgrown their brooder and the weather is consistently warmer you will want to move them to a coop with an outside pen.
Keeping your baby chicks warm is of upmost importance when they are little, as their little bodies have not learned how to regulate their own body temperatures. Provide a heat lamp or heat bar that is close enough to provide them warmth, yet far enough away they won’t try to jump up at it, causing themselves harm or to get burned. Only heat one area of the brooder so they have both a place to go for warmth and an area to go to cool off.
Bedding is another important aspect to keeping your chicks warm and healthy. Especially if using a plastic brooder, you will want to provide some bedding, so the chicks don’t slip and slide, causing harm to their legs. Bedding varieties include pine shavings, clean sand, paper towels, shredded newspaper and burlap. You should avoid cedar chips or other aromatic wood chips that can be toxic to chicks.
Feeding your baby chicks is simple as you will need a chick starter feed and a chick feeder. Most chick feeders come with a divided trough to keep chicks from walking or playing in the food or kicking it out into the bedding. Raising the feeder just slightly will help reduce contamination of the feed by the chickens messing in it and leaving behind feathers, dirt or feces. Once your birds are starting to grow and transition to a bigger size food, offer them Backyard Boost® Daily Essentials, a pelleted, natural protein supplement for all classes of poultry fully fortified with a prebiotic, vitamins, minerals and organic trace minerals to maximize growth and egg production and support overall flock health.
Water is the most essential nutrient for animals, and your new chicks are no exception. Make sure you are providing your chicks with clean fresh water each day. And keep the waterer clean each day to make sure it is free of dirt and waste. The water dish should not be very deep, or your chicks could accidentally drown. If the water dish is deeper, add a layer of pebbles to the bottom to keep it shallow enough to be safe and will also weight the dish down so it does not easily move or tip.
Making the Transition
Making the transition from brooder to coop could be like sending your first-born to college. It is quite the change for your chicks and you. If your chicks are all one group and you don’t have older chickens, the transition is easier because you don’t have to worry about the older chickens bullying the younger chicks. Like anything, a gradual transition is best. So, when you first get your chicks the brooder should be a cozy 95 degrees. Each week lower the temperature by 5 degrees, so when it is about 70 degrees, the chicks are acclimated to that temperature.
Make sure the coop is accessible to smaller birds. Are the perches, roosting boxes and any feeders and waterers low enough for the young chickens to use them? If not, a simple ramp is a quick fix.
As you transition your chicks, let them outside for a little while each day – an hour to start with and work up to 5 or 6 hours each day in a run that is enclosed and will keep them safe. Once they are used to being outside for most of the day, they will be ready to overnight in their coop; however, you still might need to provide a safe heat source, depending on how cool the nights get in your specific area.
One way to help make the transition smoother from the store to the brooder and brooder to the coop is to supplement your birds with Backyard Boost® Defense. This liquid supplement promotes feed and water intake during times of stress and recovery to help support digestive health and a healthy inflammatory response. Add it to the water daily for best results. Backyard Boost Defense contains Amaferm®, a precision-based prebiotic that helps combat the negative effects of stress and restores digestive health, MOS, a prebiotic, to trap and expel pathogens, limiting their ability to do harm, electrolytes to support proper hydration and phytogenics that support the animal’s immune system and a healthy inflammatory response.
There’s more to chick days than simply picking up your chicks. Know what to look for in a healthy chick, make sure you have adequate supplies and transition your chicks properly to keep them healthy and thriving.