Nothing can be more exciting than waiting for your baby chicks to arrive or hatch. Whether you only have one or two as pets, or you want several chickens for laying eggs, chicks’ survival depends on your preparation. Baby chicks are susceptible to infections, temperature fluctuations, dehydration, and even stress. So, it’s essential to take good care of baby chicks.
Many people new to raising livestock wonder how to care for baby chicks. Some preparation is needed to raise healthy chick during the critical first six weeks of their life.
What Do I Need to Take Care of Baby Chicks for the First Six Weeks
Getting ready to receive baby chicks means getting all the equipment and supplies beforehand. Because newly-hatched chicks are so delicate, you can’t afford for anything to fail or not work. For example, some experts recommend having at least one extra heat lamp in case one fails.
Equipment and Supplies to Take Care of Baby Chicks
- Brooder Area
- Heat lamp
- Chick Waterer
- Chick Feeder
- Feed for Baby Chicks
- Chick Bedding
During the crucial early stages of life, it’s important to keep the chicks in a safe environment where they are protected from predators and cold temperatures. The safest option is a chick brooder that can be in several locations, such as: a secure garage, a laundry room or other internal space with a tiled floor and limited access. Baby chicks enjoy scratching in the brooder which can be messy, and tiles are easier to clean.
An indoor space offers extra protection against the cold, but it’s important to have adequate ventilation because they need plenty of fresh air to thrive. A simple way to achieve this with an improvised chick brooder is to punch some small holes in the surface. Using an old plastic tote or thick cardboard box is viable, but you need a bare minimum of 40 square centimeter of space per chick.
Bedding for the Chick Brooder
Another consideration is bedding, it must be absorbent because chicks can poop a surprising volume of manure, and this will contaminant their living area. Hemp bedding is a good option, but it must be laid with a depth of at least 2 centimeters thick and wood pellets may be a better option. Avoid using newspaper because it lacks absorbency and cedar wood shavings can cause respiratory problems for the chicks.
Cleaning Chick Brooder
When it’s time to clean the brooder, it will be obvious because the odor is hard to ignore. With a few smaller chicks, it’s likely that you will need to clean the brooder once every few days. But, if you have more chicks or when they grow older, you may need to clean the brooder every day.
Size of Brooder
The walls of the brooder should be around two feet high and you may want to protect the environment with some netting on top. Many people new to raising chicks are surprised at their ability to escape the brooder, they are pretty good at jumping and rudimentary flying at a young age.
A chick can fly up to 30 centimeters in height when they are only a week old! A layer of small mesh wire can prevent escapes and keep the chicks safe from potential injuries and separation from drinking water and food supplies.
Maintaining the Optimum Temperature in the Chicken Brooder:
In nature, the baby chicks would cuddle up with their mother hen to stay warm. This means an important aspect of how to care for baby chicks is providing an even and reliable source of heat to keep them happy and healthy. During their first week of life, chicks require an air temperature of 35ºC to simulate the hen tucking them in their plumage.
As their growth continues, the chicks still need a warm environment that can be lowered by around 5ºC per week of life. This should continue until the age of 8 weeks when the chicks are robust enough to be moved outdoors.
Maintaining a consistent temperature can be tricky without a specially designed infrared heating lamp made specifically for brooders. Relying on heat pads, space heater and wood stoves is not recommended because they need constant attention and may have auto shut-off safety features.
The heating lamp should be positioned above the brooder, and it must be secured three ways to prevent falling. Some people use a standard heat lamp, but this creates a bright light, and it can interrupt the sleeping of your chicks.
Monitoring the Temperature for baby Chicks
Monitoring the progress of your chicks is important to understand their needs. As an example: if you notice crowding directly under the heat source it probably means that the chicks are too cold. In this case, you could lower the heat lamp a little or add a second lamp to heat a larger brooder. If the chick is sticking to the walls of the brooder, it means that the central area is too hot and they want to get away from the heat. In this case, you can simply lower the temperature or raise the heat lamp to give the chicks some relief. Close observations can tell you a lot about the health and happiness of your chicks.
Feeding Your Baby Chicks:
The baby chicks need constant access to fresh drinking water and food which may seem like a simple proposition. But it’s easy to get these basics wrong with devastating consequences for your chicks. Simply placing food and water into ceramic bowls and placing them in the brooder is not a good strategy. Chicks can drown in very small volumes of water and food can be contaminate when chicks scratch at their bedding.
Chicks Drinking Water
Let’s start with drinking water. You will need to change it frequently to keep it clean. As chicks tend to flip dishes and wastewater, the best solution is to invest in a chicken drinking system that you can place in the brooder. This dispenses smaller volumes of water with a reduced risk of contamination from poop. But the water should still be changed regularly to promote health in your chicks.
Feeding Baby Chicks
A baby chick feeder is also a great investment because it cannot be kicked over which makes feeding harder and a lot of food is wasted. In extreme cases, a chick can become trapped under a flipped feeding bowl, and they can suffocate. The chick feeder should be filled with a starter feed that’s been formulated to give your chicks everything that they need.
The feed may be a in a crumble or mashed format and the feed manufacturer guidelines should be followed carefully. Starter feed should be used for the first four weeks, but this can vary depending on the brand that you choose for your chicks. Certain feed manufacturers have a starter/grower feed that can be fed to chicks up to the age of 16 weeks. Some feeds are medicated to prevent illness, but you may choose a non-medicated alternative if your chicks are vaccinated.
Chicks can be fed as much food as they want to eat, and you don’t need to worry about overeating problems. Feeding chicks kitchen scraps, mealworms, garden bugs or other tasting chick treats should be treated as a supplement. Chicks, like all birds, don’t have teeth, if you want to feed them supplemental foods, they will need shell grit. This is available at pet stores, simply sprinkle it in the food and they will appreciate it.
Basic Steps to Take Care of Baby Chicks
The first six weeks of a newly-hatched chick is critical for their survival. Here is a week-by-week guide on how to look after your chirping furry balls of cuteness.
During their first few days in the brooding area, the chicks will get accustomed to their surroundings. It’s important to let them settle for a couple of days—so, avoid the temptation to pick them up all the time. The chicks don’t usually eat for up to 72 hours after hatching because they absorb the yolk sac.
Chicks need to learn how to drink from the trough. So, gently dip their beaks in water. This action shows them where to drink and how to drink. Do this with a few chicks, and the rest will learn.
Keep the temperature at 32°C to 35°C (90°F – 95°F) to make sure they get enough heat.
You can bring the temperature down a few degrees to between 29°C and 32°C (85°F – 90°F). To do this, all you have to do is raise the brooder heat lamp slightly.
Check that they have enough feed, water and that the bedding areas are clean. If needed, replace bedding with fresh material and also feed if there’s poop in it.
You can start spending some time interacting with the two-week-old chicks so that they learn to trust you.
During the third week, you should notice more feathers on the chicks. It is also time to reduce the temperature by a few degrees to 26°C (80°F).
As part of your weekly chick care, check that they’ve got enough food and water. Replace bedding material as needed.
If you notice that the growing chicks are lacking space, you may need to think about enlarging the brooder.
Every week, you can bring the temperature down by 3°C (5°F). So, the temperature for week four is 23°C (75°F).
Check water levels, that they’ve got enough food, and clean bedding.
During the fifth week, your chicks will now look more like adult hens. As long as the temperature doesn’t drop below 15°C (60°F), you can remove the heating lamp. Now is the time to introduce “finishing food.” So, start by mixing in finishing food with starter feed. By the end of the week, the chickens should be enjoying finishing food.
Because chickens love to perch, think about adding some perches in the brooding area.
At week six, it is time for your chickens to venture outside—as long as the weather permits. Make sure your “teenagers” are in a fenced area and return to the coop at night. If you teach them this habit, they will continue returning to the coop even when they are adults.
Now that you can have a better idea about how to care for baby chicks, it should be easier to avoid the potential pitfalls.