The following tips and tidbits were gathered while we were doing our initial research. We spoke with experts and read tons of information before getting our very first flock. The chicks were a week old when we picked them up. Here is our “Getting Started” experience!
Tips and Tidbits – information we found out:
- If you order chicks, they will be shipped to you by mail, in a box with holes, with no food or water (the shipping usually takes a few days). Some may die from dehydration or because they are not thriving – apparently, chicks dying before reaching a mature age is quite common, for various reasons. We decided to find a local certified organic farm/ breeder, and picked up our chicks to bring them home ourselves – I couldn’t bare the thought of our little baby chicks, scared and crammed into a cardboard box for that long. However, if you choose to order your chicks, make sure you can pick them up as soon as they arrive. Have food and water ready for them.
- If you pick up your chicks from a certified organic farm, you can ask for a copy of their certification.
- If you buy from a hatchery, try to find one that doesn’t support the EXTREMELY CRUEL practice of chick shredding – this is a common practice around the world. They SHRED male chicks ALIVE after hatching, since most people want laying hens.
- Verify your local by-laws. How far from the house does your coop have to be, how far from your neighbour’s house, specifics on your chicken run/ free range/ pasture raised, how many hens and how many roosters are you allowed to have, etc.
- Get the brooder ready BEFORE you pick up your chicks.
- Make sure you have NO SQUARE corners. Chicks may pile up in a corner and suffocate the ones at the bottom. We used a large plastic pool (easy to clean and no square corners) and added cardboard around it to prevent drafts.
- The barrier around your brooder should be at least 2 feet tall to prevent drafts. You can choose to add chicken wire to cover the top. They will eventually be big enough to jump out.
- Use a red heating lamp, rather than white (this applies for your brooder and coop). Chickens are less likely to “attack” each other. If you have a white heating lamp, and a chicken gets injured/ is bleeding, other chickens can pick at it until death. The attack could be over before you even know your chicken is hurt (sometimes in a matter of minutes). Chickens are less likely to see blood under a red heating lamp.
- Chicks/ chickens WILL peck at each other a bit. Chickens do that to establish their “Pecking Order” – Yes! It’s apparently a thing – just like a wolf pack, they determine the “alpha” and other “roles”. HOWEVER, some chickens and/or roosters can be very aggressive. If an aggressive bird becomes a problem, you can usually ask the farmer to take that one back.
- You can use a gallon feeder or a chick feeder for your STARTER feed.
- We buy ORGANIC STARTER FEED – no antibiotics or medications added to the feed.
- Get a proper chick water dispenser (1 gallon). Keep the bigger one for later. You don’t want your chicks to get wet, cold and die. We put ours up higher to avoid getting wood shavings and chick poop in the water – give the chicks fresh water several times per day.
- Since chicks are vulnerable, we add vitamins to their water.
- Pine wood shavings – DO NOT USE CEDAR shaving. you may want to add paper towel on top of the wood shavings if your chicks are a few days old, or newly hatched. You don’t want them to confuse the wood shavings and food. The paper towels can be removed after 2-3 days. Some may suggest using newspapers however, I have read several times that newspaper is too slippery and chicks may injure their legs.
- Keep wood shavings VERY dry – moisture is your enemy! Moisture is the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of bad bacteria and could make your chicks sick.
- We clean the brooder every day, completely change the shavings every second day (controls moisture and smell).
- When you introduce the chicks to their new brooder, take them one-by-one, put their beak in the water. They will most likely be dehydrated from the trip (Remember, these are new babies, they have no idea what/ how to drink, and what to eat. You have to show them.)
- You can use a thermometer to monitor the temperature (from the heat lamp) or you can determine if the temperature is right by observing your chicks’ behaviour.
- Start with temperature around 90-95 degrees (under the heat lamp). Lower the heat by 5 degrees every week until the temperature is at 70 degrees.
- Don’t use chemicals to clean your brooder. Chickens, just like humans, shouldn’t be exposed to chemicals. You can use a spray bottle with water and vinegar. You may choose to add a few drops of citrus essential oils. You can also use Miessence BioPure. Keep in mind that they have a very sensitive respiratory system. Regardless of the reasons why you decided to have chickens (organic compost, eggs and/or meat), you will be ingesting all the chemicals to which they are exposed.
- Treat your chicks with love and respect. A happy chicken is a healthy chicken!
More Baby Chick Care Tips:
- Check your chicks’ bum daily. If they get “pasty butt”, get a warm, wet clothe and clean their little bums. Chicks can die as a result of “pasty butt”.
- If you suspect a chick could be sick, isolate the little one – you don’t want the others to get sick too. Care for the little one as best as you can. Contact a local expert or veterinarian, if you feel the need to do so (goopy/ foaming eyes, sneezing, mites, lice, raspy breathing). It is important to note that if you are introducing new chickens to an existing flock, chickens CAN be carriers of diseases without showing ANY symptoms.
- Like any baby, chicks need a lot of sleep. Don’t let the kids handle them too much.
- Change the food and water daily. Chicks (and chickens in general) are not the cleanest. They will poop in their food and water.
- Always leave CLEAN food and water accessible for the little ones (some suggest to limit meat birds – if you have meat birds, you might want to look further into it).
- Make sure that the family pet (cat or dog) can’t get the to chicks when you are not around. You never know what might happen. Even the best trained dogs can get overly excited when the chicks start playing, running, jumping and flopping their wings.
- Apple Cider Vinegar can be added to the water. Some studies suggest that ACV helps with balancing the good “gut bacteria” AKA friendly flora. It is thought to also help control Coccidiosis and Clostridium bacteria, which can be fatal, causing a disease called necrotic enteritis. Side note: I once had a cockatiel with a bacteria. I almost lost him, until we started giving him ACV daily, in his water. The little guy got his spunk back in no time! Check out what Dr. Mike Petrik, DMV has to say about ACV (via The Chicken Chick)
- Sit in the brooder, talk to your chicks, feed them and get to know each other. They are curious by nature, and will jump on you. It will make things easier if your flock knows and trusts you. For example, teaching them to go back in the coop at night will be a whole lot easier if you can pick them up without a fuss!
Introducing new chickens to older ones:
- I would suggest you research on this process. It’s very technical.
- Chicks grow fast. If you are introducing them to older chickens, I read 8 weeks is usually the magic number. If they are too young, they may get killed by older chickens. If they are too old, they may get rejected and killed by other chickens.
- It might take months before the new chicks are accepted by the rest of the flock.