So you’ve been given or bought some chicks, or as in the case of my teacher friend you’ve hatched them in your room with the help of a knowledgeable person. That would be me, by the way. 😊 So now what? We have these tiny beings running around. How do we take care of them?
First, I know you want to hold them but don’t be in a rush to take them out of the incubator. They are warm and safe there and still being fed from the yolk of the egg. A newly hatched chick can survive 3 days without feed or water. The yolk of the egg is drawn through the navel into the stomach of the baby bird before it hatches. This provides nourishment for the chick from the time the bird hatches, fluffs out, and gains enough strength to look for its food and water. So no need to rush them out of the incubator!
Once it is time to take them out they need to be in a draft free space with about 6″ of room per chick, less if you have smaller breeds. When they are bigger they will need about 3 sq.ft. each. We use a large brooder to house our babies until they are ready to go outside, but it is not necessary for a small backyard chicken owner to go to that expense. Before we had the brooder we used a metal tub. A sturdy box will also work. Make sure to put a couple of inches of pine shavings in the bottom. The shavings will need to be cleaned out and replaced from time to time when soiled. The good thing about the brooder is that it has a thermostat built-in. A heat lamp of some sort needs to be used to keep the chicks warm until they are fully feathered, approximately 6 weeks. For the first week the temperature should be set at 90-95. Each week the temperature needs to be lowered by 5 degrees until they are fully feathered and ready to removed from the heat and put in the coop. There have been reports of mishaps with heat lamps. Thankfully we have never had anything go wrong. Our brooder is completely safe, but if I had to rely on a heat lamp I would recommend checking into the Prima heat lamp by Premier or a small brooder with a safe heat source like the Brinsea EcoGlo 20. Both of these options are much safer than traditional heat lamps. After a few weeks if the weather is nice and warm the chicks can be taken outside briefly for some yard play time. They love to scratch and peck!
Fresh food and water needs to be available and checked regularly. Chicks don’t like dirty water and it harbors bacteria. They may more interested in water than food the first day or so. When taking them out of the incubator for the first time dip their beaks in the water dish so they will know where and what it is. Be sure to add a chick electrolyte solution such as gro gel or quick chick to their water for the first few weeks. Organic ACV (apple cider vinegar)in the water, 1 Tbsp per gallon, is also helpful in a large variety of ways.
Chick food should be of good quality and balanced with vitamins and minerals. We use both Purina and Nutrena brands. Chicks need to stay on a starter grower blend until they lay their first egg. Treats are okay as well after a couple of weeks, but the majority of their feed should be their starter grower. If they are allowed to forage or are fed whole grains they will also need access to chick grit which will help them digest and grind their food. When they begin to lay their food should be switched over to a layer feed and they should be given supplemental calcium such as egg shells.
During the first couple weeks chicks will also need to be watched for signs of “pasty butt” Droppings can stick to the vent and clog the area. Using a warm cloth with water and or ACV and washing gently will help. Vaseline is also helpful to clean little bottoms. Using organic ACV in their drinking water will help avoid “pasty butt”.
Chicks also like to perch so after the first week or so we make them a little perch for their box or brooder.
Raising chicks is fun and entertaining. They are sweet little things to watch but they are also dependent on your care. Watching out for their daily needs and protection can be time-consuming but once you fall in love with that first chick, it’s worth it!