Bringing in a new peeping box with fluffy little chicks can be intimidating, but… Elizabeth Mac He has a lot of excellent tips to help you out. Pictures by the author.
For new chicken owners, nothing is more exciting—and more terrifying—than bringing home baby chicks for the first time. Hopefully, you’ve done a lot of advance planning, and have at least started building (or buying) their coop. While most new chicken owners focus their energy on the perfect coop, there are many other details to consider and decisions to make before the chicks arrive.
Many new chicken lovers buy a few chicks from a local farm or feed supply store. However, if you order your chicks from a hatchery, you will need to know the shipping date and delivery date so you can pick them up at your local post office.
Most large poultry hatcheries pack new chicks for shipment in a well-ventilated carton box with a hot gel pack to warm the chicks. Hatcheries ship chicks as soon as possible after hatching. Chicks can live off their yolk sac for up to 48 hours after they hatch, and hopefully your chicks will reach this window.
Small chicks cannot go directly to the coop, because they need special care and a very warm environment. Let’s say you don’t have a broody hen to keep your new chicks warm, you’ll need a brooder. The first time I kept chicks, I used a large, sturdy cardboard box. You can use a plastic bowl, a metal tub, or an enclosed space on a concrete floor. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just safe and cozy.
You’ll want to set up your brooder before the day of the delivery. Once the chicks are home, they will go directly to the brooder. They will need about a half square foot of floor space per chick for the first few weeks. Their space requirements will increase as they grow – and they do grow fast! New chicks will eventually need 2 to 3 square feet of brooding space before they move into the coop. It is convenient to have a brooder that can be increased in size as it grows. I use a piece of cardboard or wood to block off part of a large box, then tape the barrier as it grows. Lay some paper towels on the nursery floor, making it easier for struggling chicks to get their feet up.
One of the most important requirements of young chicks is a constant heat source. Chicks will not survive in a basement or garage at room temperature. New chicks should have an additional heat of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit at ground level. Hang the heat lamp securely above the floor of the nursery. Point it directly so that it leaves space in the brooder where the chicks can escape from the heat if it gets too warm. Invest in an inexpensive room thermometer and place it on the nursery floor. If the chicks huddle together under a heat lamp, they are too cold. If it spreads out and hugs the edges of the brooder walls, it’s too warm. Make sure to keep them away from drafts. If they are chirping loudly and seem restless, adjust the heat lamp. New chicks should tweet softly, drink little, eat little, and collapse into several power naps each day.
Young chicks will have a natural instinct to peck – at food, the ground and each other. Bright light stresses chicks and can cause them to peck, so use a red bulb for warmth. Every week or so, raise the heat lamp up so that the floor temperature gradually drops by about 3 to 5 degrees. after 8y or 9y In the week, they should be comfortable in room temperatures between 65 to 68 degrees. Make sure any overhead lights are turned off at night.
Check for problems
When she gets her young home and opens the box, she may find an extra chick or two. Some, if not all, hatcheries ship extra chicks. This is because it is not uncommon to find the death of a chick, or the loss of one in the first few hours. This happened to me for the first time, but I’ve had two more. However, I felt like I had made a mistake, but that is normal, and part of raising chickens.
You’ll want to check for a common chick disease known as “pie butt.” Sometimes, the opening or bottom of the chick becomes blocked with feces, preventing the chick from defecation. This can be fatal, so it is important that you check all bottoms immediately and for the first few days. If you find any dirty bottoms, gently wipe them off with a warm, wet paper towel. It is difficult for new owners of chicks to differentiate between a regular sloppy bottom and a pancake bottom. A little droppings at the bottom is normal, and the chick (or friend) will clean it up. The paste clogs their intestines and is fatal, so if you’re not sure, it’s best to clean them. They may cry and chill, so you can dry them with a hair dryer on a low setting. If you find a chick with a stye, watch it closely, as the disease could come back.
water and feed
When you place your baby chicks in their new home, they will need to find their bearings. Pick up the chicks, dip their beaks into the water and be sure to swallow them. Young chicks will drink a lot of water, so it’s a good idea to invest in a chick waterer. Avoid using open pots, as young chicks fall face first and sometimes don’t get out. They will also walk through open bowls and get wet, which will cause a cold, which is not good for them.
The chicken waterer is easy to refill and clean, which you’ll do a lot at first! You’ll find that baby chicks make a mess, and will defecate food and water, so you’ll need to clean up more often. You can raise the water a little off the ground to prevent a mess, but not so high that it can’t reach it. For the first few days, keep the water warm at about 98 degrees.
When I first bring home new chicks, I put their food in a small bowl. After they ate, they climbed up to take a nap. Needless to say, I had a constant mess. Use a chick feeder, which will make your life easier and cause less waste. I use a small gravity feeder, with several holes in a circle where the chicks congregate and eat. As they feed, gravity forces the grains out from the bottom. Feed trays are fine but require more work, as the chicks sit and poop on the trays, and you will need to constantly refill them as you eat.
Use only a starting feed for chicks that is about 18 percent protein, which promotes muscle development and growth. You can supplement the cereal with some crushed egg yolk. If they are not eating their own food, placing a few egg yolks on top of their feed will entice them to eat.
Handling new chicks
While the urge to hold and cuddle new chicks is understandable, avoid handling them for the first 24 hours. They will get nervous from the trip, and may appear clumsy and lethargic. Give them time to de-stress and strive. If they are chirping loudly, or if they seem frightened, leave them for a day or two.
Once they’ve settled into their new home, introduce yourself by placing your hand, palm down, on the floor of the brooder. Avoid reaching or standing on top of them. To a little chick, you are a giant predator.
If you want to get tamer birds, it is important that the chicks learn how to handle them regularly. They will grow up to be tame, and will be easy to handle when needed. Your kids may want to eventually show your chickens at the county fair, or you may have to treat them for mites or other parasites at some point. Taking some time to get them used to human touch and handling will pay off. Treatments, especially mealworms, work well. However, a lot of their attitude has to do with their breed, so choosing a breed that is more docile is essential if you hope to handle growing chicks.
Young chicks grow into adolescents and young adults in a matter of weeks. If they are in your basement, consider moving them from the indoor nursery to the garage or porch. This will help acclimatize her to the fluctuating temperatures, but keep increasing the heat, if necessary, until she is fully acclimated to the plumage.
Bringing home new chicks for the first time is one of the most fun aspects of raising chickens. Careful preparation will take the stress out of bringing the kids home, and make the transition to their new home a smoother one.
Freelance writer Elizabeth Mac He keeps a small flock of chickens on a 2-acre hobby farm outside of Omaha, Nebraska. Her work appeared in Capper FarmsAnd from hereAnd The first for womenAnd NebraskalandAnd many other print and electronic publications. her first book, Healing Springs and Other Stories, includes her introduction—and subsequent love affair—with raising chickens. Visit their website, Chickens in the Garden.