Raising Baby Chickens

Baby chickens are cute fuzzy little balls of joy....

Hand raise chickens need the same attention of a mother hen.

When chicks hatch out of their egg they are walking around within hours pecking at flecks on the ground.

Chicks begin eating and drinking within a couple of days.

Raising chickens has advantages over buying hens. Raising chickens can be a fun project to do with your children. You become the surrogate mother and your chickens will come to rely on you as the head in the pecking order.

Baby chickens can be bought at your local feed store in the spring or order through the mail from chicken hatcheries. When you order chickens thorough the mail they are shipped in batches of 25.

Before baby chickens hatch out of their shells they absorb the yolk of the egg through the abdomen cord. This gives them food to sustain them for 48 hours after hatching. Because chickens don’t need food or water for the first 2 days they can be shipped overnight.

Baby chickens need warmth so they ship in quantities of 25. This gives the chicks a better chance of making the journey to your nearest post office. Most hatcheries ship an extra chick or two to make sure you get your full 25 chickens.

If you have a feed store near you, they will sell the day old chicks in the spring. This is a great way to get just a few. They even take orders if you want a breed they don’t have.

You can buy your chicks as straight run, mixed sexes or sexed either hens or roosters. Buying them as straight runs gives you about 50/50 boys to girls and is a little cheaper. The feed stores sell female chicks, but a few males can be mixed in as sexing day old chick’s takes skill.

Brooder Supplies

You need to set up a brooder for your chicks; this is an artificial mother hen so to speak. You can buy electric brooders; they are a couple of hundred dollars. Making your own is preferable for raising chickens for the backyard. I have made a couple of different brooders that have worked well.

If you are raising 25 or more chicks you’ll want a large container. I use a child’s plastic swimming pool. Its water proof and contains the chicks and bedding. I use one about 4 ft round. Set up a guard of cardboard or fencing around the pool about 12 to 18 inches tall. This contains the chicks as they grow.

If you have a smaller number of chicks I have used the plastic tubs you buy for storage. They come in several sizes and are easy to find year round. They are water proof and have covers.

The brooder needs a heat source to keep the baby chickens warm. The easiest is a lamp. Utility lamps come with clamps and aluminum reflector to reflect the light. Use a 100 watts standard bulb. The infrared heat bulbs tend to be too hot. You’ll hang the light over the brooder about 10 inches above the chicks. The Baby Chicks will huddle around the lamp to keep warm.

You’ll need some kind of bedding. Bedding absorbs the droppings and keeps the brooders clean. I use news paper and pine shavings because it’s easy to get and great for mulch for the compost pile.

The chicks need a constant supply of food and water. The feed store carries all sizes of waters and feeders. I like the small quart size for new chicks. You’ll need one each for water and feed per 6 to 8 birds. When you move the chickens outside use larger feeders and water containers.

Buy a bag of chick starter. 50 lb bags are the most economical. A starter feed provides the new chicks with all the nutrition they’ll need for the first 8 weeks.

Setting up the Brooder for Baby Chickens

Before bring your baby chickens home have their outside coop ready because chicks grow fast, you’ll want to put them in the coop sooner than you think. You don’t want to be scrambling putting your coop in order.

Once your supplies are all gathered you’re ready to set up the brooder. Choose a location that is not drafty. Depending on your location you may choose to house the brooder outside in a mild climate or inside.

I set up inside our home in the spring because we have cold winters and cool springs. Baby chickens need a constant temperature of 99 F the first few weeks and then you can drop the temperature as the chick’s feather out.

In the corner of a barn, the basement or a corner of the laundry room works fine. Be sure the brooder will be safe from animals that will hurt the chicks.

Layer some newspaper topped with paper towels for the first week. The newspaper is too smooth and their feet slip so put paper towels on tip. After a week I add a ½ layer of bedding, I use pine shavings. Buy this time the chicks know what is food lessening them eating the pine shavings.

Have water container full and feeders with small amount of feed. Set up the light above the brooder. You can attach them to a board laid across the top of the brooder.

Chick Home Care

As soon as you get your baby chickens home put them in the brooder and show them where the water is. Dip their beaks in the water. Once one figures it out the rest will follow. Soon all will be drinking and eating.

The first few weeks your baby chickens will be eating and sleeping a lot. They will huddle together for warmth. If they are all piling on top of each other under the light it is to cool, lower the light an inch at a time until they are not piling on each other.

You want the chicks spread evenly around the light. If they pile to deep they can smoother each other.

If the chicks are sleeping around the edge of the brooder the light needs to be raised because they too hot. Watch your chicks they will tell you how comfortable they are.

Change the water daily and some times more. The chicks tend to step in the water dish and it gets dirty.

For the first few weeks use luke warm water as cold water can chill the chicks. Keep the feed feeder they need a lot of food as they grow. I have found a 1 quart feeder per 6 to 8 birds

The chicks grow quickly. At 4 weeks they have feathers. You can turn off the light during the day. They are adapting to their surroundings. They are becoming more active playing and chasing each other.

You can start to get the outside house ready. Buy 6 weeks they can be taken to their outside coop. Close the door at night and open it during the day.

Give them some small roosts at various heights. They will begin to use them. I like to introduce fresh lettuce and grass. They are suspicious about new food, but they will soon get the idea.

If you have adult chickens you will need a separate growing house for the younger chickens. They need to grow to the size of the adults before being introduced to the older flock. Usually around 5 months of age.

Feeding Chicks

Baby chickens need a starter feed. Chick starter comes medicated and un-medicated. If you don’t have a choice buy what’s available. Unless chickens are big business in your area, stores may only carry one all purpose starter/grower ration.

If this is the case, continue using the starter feed until the chicks reach 4 months, than switch to layer pellets as the maturing pullets start to lay eggs.

I let the chicks finish out the bag of starter feed then switch to a grower feed until they are 4 months. Then at 16 weeks I start the female chicks on the layer feed. You chickens will start to lay eggs from 25 weeks on depending on the breed. If they come into maturity in late winter, they may not lay till spring

You’ll need to have them in their permanent coop by the time they are 20 to 25 weeks. Provide nest boxes for the maturing chickens. I add a golf ball to the next box to give the new pullets the idea this is the place to lay eggs.

Your chickens need fresh water at all times. Chickens drink 1 to 2 cups of water a day. More when the weather is hot. Provide enough water containers so that at lease 1/3 of your flock can drink at one time and that will last them a whole day.

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