Nothing says springtime like an incubator buzzing. It’s always hard for me to wait and time my hatching just right. It gets so cold here that I don’t like hatching before it warms up, but I need to balance that with being a rather inpatient gal. I’m a lucky girl however, with a VERY good husband for he has allowed me to designate an entire room in my house to chickens. I have a “chick room” designed simply for incubating, hatching and brooding chicks. It’s fantastic in the early months of spring when it’s just a little too chilly to let those babies outside. Who doesn’t love having chicks in the house anyway?
My Top 5 Ways to Raise Awesome Chicks:
1. Handle Your Chicks Regularly.
This makes your chicken life SO much easier. The babies that I’ve hand raised are so much easier to deal with as adults, than adult chickens I have purchased. If you ever need to handle or doctor your chickens, you’ll want them as calm as possible around you. (Make sure your hands are washed, so that you aren’t introducing germs, parasites or any potential diseases to your new babes. This is especially the case if you have a flock of chickens, or are handling any other birds.)
2. Feed Age/Stage Appropriate Feed.
If you are raising chicks for the first time this is essential and you need to do some research. The growth stages of chicks is fast and you don’t have a lot of time to remedy mistakes. Protein, vitamin and trace mineral level needs very at every age stage and the results of using accurate levels will make a huge difference to your chicks. They will be larger, stronger, healthier and produce less waste. Read a couple of non-biased studies and you’ll see the difference. Quality feed is well worth the small additional cost.
3. Invest in a Good Brooder.
You can buy awesome kits or complete brooders for raising your chicks, or you can make one and get the same results – your choice. We built ours and the kids still love adding new things to keep the chicks happy and entertained. You can see some great ideas for brooders and coop ideas here. Your chicks need a warm, safe place to grow. They need ample fresh water, food and a clean space to move and grow. The temperature should be around 90F for the first week, and should be reduced by around 5 degrees each following week, until the chicks have their all of their feathers. If your chicks are huddled up to or under your heat source it’s not warm enough, however, if they are all as far away from your heat source as possible it’s too warm.
Note: The chicks have moved the shavings away from the paper they are standing on, and you DO NOT want your chicks standing on plain newspaper – Bullet 4 will cover this.
4. Keep them on a textured surface.
This is a factor that most new chick owners are unaware of. Chicks need to be kept off of anything slippery: newspaper, vinyl, linoleum, hardwood etc… Although handy and generally easy to clean those little feet have nothing to grip onto and some pretty serious developmental issues can follow. Splayed leg for instance, where one or both of their legs slides to the side (looking similar to a break), makes the chick unable to walk. Typically this results in the chick getting culled or you playing chicken doctor like me and finding a way to make the worlds smallest splint. Let me tell you this was one of the most time consuming and frustrating jobs of my life.
I tend to have multiple surfaces in my brooder, typically shavings on one side and a folded towel on the other. My brooder is large with a lot of room to exercise and we add stimuli to keep them thinking and prevent boredom. I elevate the water, to prevent getting shavings inside.
5. Introduce to the Flock Early
When, where and how you introduce chicks to the rest of your flock depends on several factors. What is the season and temperature outside, for you need to make sure your chicks are fully feathered and old enough to withstand and temperature changes without a hen to keep them warm. How large is your flock and how sensitive your flocks pecking order is also plays a huge role, as your chicks safety is your number one concern. Also, it’s never a good idea to just throw your babies in the coop. When I am introducing chicks I set up a metal crate inside the coop and the chicks live in the crate for several days but separated for their safety. I find this gives them a good opportunity to watch and learn. They see how the older chickens interact with each other, and they get a feel for the pecking order without having to be apart of it. It also gives my hens an opportunity to watch the chicks and get comfortable with them. When i’m ready to release, I do it at night with the lights out. Typically, when the chickens wake up no one is the wiser, however, I do leave the crate in the coop with a small barrier door (chicks fit under but chickens don’t), so that if needed the chicks have a safe place to run and hide. My goal is to have my chicks out and learning from the masters early.