American novelist Paul Theroux once said, “Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.” If you are an avid backyard chicken collector, winter is also a great season to start preparing for baby chicks to arrive on chick days.
Although it might seem a little early, depending on your geographic location, baby chicks will soon be hatching. It is best to prepare for chick days now to ensure your chicks thrive and survive.
Prepare for Chick Days with a Brooder Box
A brooder box could be the second-best thing to a broody mother hen for a group of chicks that just hatched or have been purchased. The brooder box is a small, protective place with all the comforts of a mother hen – warmth, shelter and food.
Brooder boxes can be simple – a cardboard box – or complex – a store-purchased, multi-material housing unit. Basically, a brooder box is a small box that has three primary jobs functions:
- Contains your baby chicks
- Protects them from the elements and predators (never trust a smiling cat)
- Keeps them and their feed and water safe and in one temperature-controlled place
A brooder box should have four walls and a floor. If you are worried about baby chicks flying away, you might want to put a mesh wire or some other breathable material over the top. However, you would typically only keep the chicks in the brooder box until they develop their juvenile feathers, about six weeks old. The only time you might keep them in longer is in winter if it is too cold to transfer them to their coop.
Making a Brooder Box
A brooder box can be anything from a cardboard box (although it might start to smell after a few weeks) to a plastic tote or a wooden box. You can make your own out of any of the mentioned materials, or purchase a ready-made or easy-to-assemble brooder box at a farm store or online.
Inside the brooder box, you will want to put some soft bedding like white shavings, shredded paper or straw that will absorb waste material while keeping them warm. Try to avoid cedar shavings or other scented wood shavings that could interfere with their respiratory system. You will also need shallow containers for food and water and a heat source on one side of the box.
Heating is Critical
You will want to have a heat light on one side of your box, but make sure it isn’t too close to the box. You don’t want to accidentally melt the box or catch it or the bedding on fire. Also, if it is too hot, the chicks will get too hot and could die of heat stress.
Likewise, if the chicks get too cold, they will cuddle together to keep warm, and the cold can prove fatal as well, particularly in the first week. If you can put your hand in a place in the box that is comfortably warm without getting burned, then it is likely warm enough for the chicks.
Once you get your chicks settled into their new “home,” you will want to ensure their brooder is clean by removing any waste and wet bedding every few days. As the chicks grow, you will need to clean the box more regularly. Also, be sure the chicks’ vent—the place where their waste and eggs come out—stays clean to help them stay healthy. Clean the vent area by gently wiping any feces off with a wet paper towel.
Get your brooder box prepared so it is ready when your chicks arrive. The brooder box will help keep them safe and secure and help you know that your chicks are in the best place possible during their first few weeks of life!
Home Sweet Coop
Although your baby chicks will likely stay in their brooder box for a while, you will want to have their next home sweet home prepared. Take the time to prepare their coop so it isn’t a scramble when it is time to transition them.
Coops provide shelter from the weather and its extreme elements and protection from predators. There are several considerations to securing a coop for your birds, and we’ll explore them here.
Just how much room does a chicken need? A chicken needs about 4 square feet per bird inside the coop. That means a 10×10 coop would comfortably hold 25 birds.
(10 x 10 = 100 feet / 4 feet = 25 chickens)
Remember, they also need about 10-12 inches per bird to roost on at night. Wood is ideal for roosting, so they have a good grip and don’t slip. Finally, you will want to have enough room to have adequate nesting boxes for laying eggs. You should plan for about 4 hens per box for egg laying.
Build or Buy?
When prepping for chick days, it’s important to plan ahead. Your resource bank of time, tools and talent will help you determine if you should build your own coop or buy a ready-made or easy-to-assemble coop. However, the first thing you need to do is check with your city ordinances or homeowners association for any regulations on structures in your backyard. If there are no regulations, you are set. If there are regulations, be sure to follow them.
Building gives you the satisfaction of making a coop to your specifications and knowing that you put your own sweat equity into your beautiful birds’ home. However, you also need to consider if you have the time and tools needed, the skills required and the financial wherewithal. If you are not sure you have the proper tools or the time to construct your own coop, buying a coop is a wise alternative.
Purchasing a Coop
There are multiple outlets where you can purchase a brand-new chicken coop. Most farm stores have several coop options to choose from, and if not readily assembled they can do so for a minimal fee. Some lumberyards also build chicken coops to sell during chick days, as do 4-H and FFA members looking for building and marketing experience.
In addition, we’ve provided a list of places where you can buy chicken coops. We do not endorse these companies; we’re just trying to give you all the information you need to be successful.
Although you might find used chicken coops for sale on a local marketplace, be cautious about purchasing a used coop for fear of disease transmission. Unless you trust the seller will totally clean and disinfect the coop before it is transported to your property, you are likely better off buying a new coop to keep diseases away from your chickens early on.
Keep it Clean
Chickens can be messy but are not as messy as ducks or other birds. What you have as the flooring of your coop will determine how often you need to tidy up. If it is a dirt floor, just “picking” any wet or nasty waste should be done weekly; otherwise, it will decompose into the soil. If you have a wooden or plastic floor with shavings, you will want to “pick” waste and shavings and rebed weekly.
You will want to check the roosting bar and knock off any feces from it during your weekly cleaning. Also, make sure the nesting boxes are free from any waste, cracked egg remains or shells. Provide them with fresh bedding as needed.
Many backyard bird enthusiasts recommend a deep cleaning of the coop once or twice a year – once before you get new chicks during chick days in the spring and once again in the fall. Deep cleanings can involve hosing down or power washing, using a safe cleaner or disinfectant and making sure all boxes, roosting bars, doors and hinges are in proper working order.
Dining In or Going Out?
There seem to be some mixed opinions about keeping feed and water in the coop or not. Many say the coop is their home, and chickens deserve to have their food and water readily accessible; however, the coop should be used predominately for roosting (sleeping) and laying.
The chickens should remain outside the rest of their day, and therefore the food and water should be left outside in their run, as well. The exception would be during inclement weather, when the water might freeze or during rain when the food could get wet and mold.
Keeping the food and water in the coop promotes the chickens being in the coop, which leads to a larger mess inside for you to clean up. The food could also attract mice and rats, both of which carry disease. Water can easily spill, making a mess and adding to the cleanup and cost of bedding. Chickens typically sleep at night, so if you lock them in their coop to protect them from predators, they will be sleeping, not eating.
You’ve successfully prepared the first two residences for your new baby chicks. Let’s explore what other supplies and feed you will need for chick days.
Stocking up on Supplies
Before you even get your baby chicks during chick days, you will want to be sure to get any supplies you need to ensure they thrive. There are lots of options in the poultry aisle, but when it comes to raising chickens, the essentials include shelter, heat, bedding, feed and water.
Keeping your baby chicks warm is of utmost 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 that they won’t try to jump up at it, potentially harming or burning themselves. 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 of 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.
What To Consider When Feeding
Feeding your baby chicks is simple—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.
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 water 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, adding a layer of pebbles to the bottom will keep it shallow enough to be safe and also weigh the dish down so it doesn’t tip over.
Keep Baby Chicks Healthy
It’s pretty simple when you think about it: chick days are an investment in your flock. So, naturally, keeping your baby chicks healthy should be your ultimate goal. You can achieve this goal by providing them with Backyard Boost®, a line of products purposefully crafted to support the well-being of birds. Stock up on two products before you get your baby chicks.
Backyard Boost® Defense is a liquid supplement for poultry designed to support digestion and a healthy immune response. Backyard Boost Defense contains AO-Biotics® Amaferm®, a prebiotic research-proven to enhance digestibility and provide nutrients needed in times of stress. By adding this green liquid to their fresh water daily, you will promote water intake and hydration.
Once your birds start to grow and transition to bigger food, offer them Backyard Boost® Daily Essentials, a pelleted protein supplement for poultry designed to maximize digestibility and egg production. Daily Essentials also contains Amaferm. It also contains AO-Biotics® EQE, a postbiotic research proven to enhance egg quality. This supplement also provides nutrients needed for overall well-being.
There’s more to chick days than simply picking up your chicks. Use this downtime to prepare for those chicks that will be coming your way soon. Get their living spaces ready. Stock up on the supplies you will need. Study and know how to take care of your baby chicks. Would you like more information? Sign up for our monthly newsletter to receive timely information