Raising Chicks . . .


Photo of "Powder Blue" courtesy of Bill and Sue Tivol

Without Their Mom

Spring is here, and it's the time that we start thinking of ordering some new chicks from the hatchery and raising them up. For those who don't have much experience at this, here's a general overview of the process.

Or, perhaps you've had your chicken eggs in the incubator for the required 21 days, and now they're pipping and you don't know what to do next.

If you have any questions that aren't covered here, contact me at FeatherSite -- questions and comments and I'll be glad to try and answer them. I'll also post that information here to help the next person.

For more extensive information see the General Resources and Specific Resources sections of my Poultry Sites page.

Turkey poults, guinea keets and peachicks are raised roughly the same as chicks, but require a different feed.

Ducklings and goslings need different care. I'll try to get something up on them soon. Whew, finally, about time, huh?

Identification

Often when you buy chicks from a hatchery you get several kinds. I'm trying to add pictures of purebred chicks to help people identify these. If you have any photos of known pure breed baby chicks, and would be willing to share them with the world, please contact me at FeatherSite -- questions and comments.

Pasty Butt

Shipping can be hard on some chicks and a sign of that stress is that they get their butts pasted up with loose droppings. Keep a close eye on them for the first 5-6 days. If this happens, you must clean it up or they'll die. There are 2 methods: A -- you can softly moisten the plug with a warm moist cloth until you can pick it off, this being easier on the chick, or B -- you can simply pluck it off with the down it is stuck to. This is more painful to the chick, like having some hairs pulled, but has the advantage that without the down to stick to the problem will not repeat itself.

Brooding

Have your housing prepared before the chicks arrive. You'll need a brooder to keep them in, its size depending on how many you're getting. If it's got wire sides it'll be drafty, so make a cardboard windbreak to keep around the chicks for the first week or so. If there are many chicks, it's best if this is circular so that they can't get stuck in the corners. If the area is large for the number of chicks, it's good to confine them this way near the heat so that they learn where the heat source is. I raise small numbers in old aquariums.

My own brooding methods
Left: How I usually set up an aquarium. Newspaper on bottom with a piece of plastic fencing or hardware cloth over it for traction. I usually use 2 lights (with 100 watt bulbs) above it, in case a bulb burns out at night. The towel can cover more or less, I use it to regulate the heat. Center: Another shot, plus one with a broody hen. I'll often keep the hen with her chicks this way for the first 2-3 days, and then move them to a large cage or a pen. Right: I use this box brooder for larger groups of chicks.

People often ask me if their chicks are OK, cause they're sleeping all the time. Be aware that chicks are babies . . . it is normal for them to sleep a lot.

Heat

For heat, be aware that chicks need 95 degrees for the first week. You can drop this by 5 degrees every week til they're 6 weeks old. Then they are fairly feathered out and unless you live in a very cold area, they are able to withstand normal temperatures. Note that only part of the brooder needs to be this temperature, as the chicks need to be able to cool off when their bodies need to.

If they are peeping a lot, and loudly, they are too cold!

If you don't have a formal brooder, your heat source is usually a lightbulb or heat-lamp. Be careful with these not to leave them low enough for the chicks to burn themselves. Also, especially with heat-lamps, be careful that the bedding can't catch fire.


Photo courtesy of Lisa B.
(The chick is a Turken or Naked Neck)

Bedding

Never start young chicks on a slippery surface such as newspaper. If you are using newspaper as bedding, for the first 4 days spread paper towels over it. Be careful using wood shavings on young chicks until they learn what their food is. They may start eating them, which will block them up and kill them. Once they're a couple weeks old, pine shavings are OK to use. Not cedar, it's toxic to them.

My favorite surface is wire! I take a piece of hardware cloth or an old window screen and cut it to the dimensions of the brooder. Then I put down a layer of newspaper and lay the wire on it. At cleaning time I just lift out the wire and hose it down, replacing a clean layer of newspaper beneath it. Be careful to make sure there are no sharp wires to hurt their feet. Either bend the edges under or tape them up.

If you can anchor the edges, old bath towels also make great brooder floors. Just shake 'em, wash 'em, and use 'em again. And for small groups of chicks you can even use topsoil - it absorbs droppings well and gives pretty good traction (plus you can compost it afterwards).

Spraddle Leg

Slippery surfaces can cause spraddle leg, where the legs slip out to the sides and the chick can't stand. If not cured quickly, the chick will die or need to be put down. Fix the surface to create good traction and hobble the chick, using yarn or pipe cleaners.

The left picture shows a hobbled pheasant chick -- the hobbles could bring the legs in a bit more than shown, so they go straight down from the body, like the Silver Polish chick on the right
Photos courtesy of Nancy's Hideaway (left) and Julie Bushnell

PoultryHelp.com on Spraddle Legs

Curled Toes

Another problem that can appear in new chicks is that of curled toes. Sometimes this is genetic, but often it's a result of some problem in incubation/hatching. In this case, if done in the first few days, before the bones harden, the toes can often be splinted and thereby straightened out.

Splinted toes (using pipe cleaners): Before (well, During) and After
Photos courtesy of James and Kathy Caldwell

This is another style of toe splint -- but I'd cut it to be smaller, more the size of the foot.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Rizzo

For the above problems, check out Orthopedics for Poultry Made Easy for Beginners.

Feed and Water

Fresh water should be available to the chicks at all times. As an energy supplement, I add one tablespoon of sugar per quart the first time I water newly hatched chicks. When you first get baby chicks, dip their beaks in the water so they learn what it is.

A chick starter feed should be fed to all chicks until they are 6 weeks of age. You can get this at your local feed store. After this time, feed them a pullet grower feed until about 20 weeks (25 weeks for heavy breeds like Cochins and Brahmas). Then they can be switched to a laying feed.

In an emergency you can feed them crushed hard-boiled egg yolk for the first few days.


Three-day-old chicks of various breeds
Photo of chicks courtesy of Donna West

Types of feeds

For chicks from 1 day to 6 weeks you need to feed a starter feed.

Feed comes in 3 forms: mash, crumbles and pellets. Mash is powdery, just as it sounds. Pellets are made of compressed mash, and crumbles of broken up pellets. I find mash wasteful and never use it. I use crumbles for my chicks and pellets for the older birds. Then when they kick it out of the feeders they can still pick it up.

Some feeds are medicated. Coccidiosis is a disease that can kill chicks that have not built up a resistance to it. They can pick it up outside from the droppings of other birds. If your chicks go outside you may want to give them a feed medicated with Amprolium, which controls the coccidiosis while allowing the birds to build up a resistance. Some medicated chick feeds are sold with antibiotics in them. Do NOT use one medicated with antibiotics! Antibiotics are only necessary in the case of certain diseases and free use of them builds up resistance in the "bugs" and then the meds become useless and the bugs stronger -- a bad thing.

Don't feed medicated feeds to ducklings. They eat much more than chicks and can overdose and die.

In my own flock, I raise all my young birds on either a turkey starter or a gamebird starter. These are higher in protein than chick starter, but as I raise all sorts of young birds, it works better for me and is fine for chickens (just more expensive).

If you're raising broilers, you'll want a feed that is created especially for them. If you can't get that, use the turkey or gamebird starter. Also, as they tend to grow too fast for their bones and can easily develop leg problems, it is a good idea not to keep feed in front of them all they time. It is better to feed them all they'll eat several times a day.

Peachicks, turkey poults and guinea keets all need the higher protein of a turkey or gamebird starter. Chicken chicks can eat this also, with no problems. If they don't seem to start eating, put some shiny marbles in the feed to attract their attention, or add a couple of chicken chicks of the same age, who tend to show them the feed.

If you're giving them any treats like greens, fruit, etc., you'll need:

Grit

What is grit? It is small stones that the bird stores in its gizzard, where they act like teeth and are used to grind up food. Grit is necessary only if the chicks have access to grain or other foodstuffs. Chicks on mash or crumbles don't need it. You can get a chick-sized granite grit through your feed store or use parakeet grit from the pet store. I sometimes use old aquarium gravel if it's small enough. Once the chicks are old enough to be running out on the ground, they don't need it supplied, as they can pick it up naturally.
Warning: Do NOT give chicks oystershell. It is not grit, it is used to give laying hens extra calcium for egg-shell production. This extra calcium will cause bone development problems in young birds.

Roosting

Chickens do better when they roost at night up off the ground. And they're happier, also. It is the natural way for a bird to sleep. It helps prevent external parasites and keeps them from lying in their own droppings. You also don't want them to start sleeping in the nest boxes. These are for egg-laying, and we really don't want to collect our eggs out of a nest that's been slept in by a chicken, do we? (Chickens aren't housetrainable!)

I introduce my chicks to roosting by placing a stick or narrow piece of wood several inches off the floor. I keep it placed so that it is under the heat source. They get used to hopping up and sitting on this. When I move them to larger quarters I raise up the roost and the heat source. Some of them will use it and usually some won't. Once they're 6 weeks old and out from under lights, I check at night and if any are not on the roost I place them there nightly. After a (short to long) while, they all learn.

Creep Feeders

For chicks over 6 weeks old!

If you're going to introduce your chicks to an older flock of birds, this is a good way to make sure they can get to enough feed. In your chicken yard or coop, construct an area in which you can keep a supply of grower feed and water. It should have entrance holes that are too small for the older birds to get through. Confine the young birds in there for a few days (at least during the day -- you could return them to the brooder at night). They'll learn where the food is and when you open the entrances they will soon start going out. The older birds will pick on them, but it should be fine as the chicks will have a safe refuge to which they can retreat.

PS - At six weeks switch the chicks to a grower feed.



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