Now that you decided to either have someone hatch eggs for you, hatch your own eggs, or order from a hatchery, you will need to have a few things ready so your chicks will have the very best start in life. It doesn’t matter the type of chicken (layer or meat), all chicks should be raised in the same way…unless you have a hen raising the chicks for you….but that’s another story that I will touch on in another blog. Today I want to focus on raising baby chickens from scratch without a hen.
Tips for Raising Baby Chicks – week by week
Raising baby chicks yourself is fun and rewarding. It really is fun to watch them grow. Here are a few tips on how and what to do to start going chicken before you get your little baby chickens.
1. You want to make sure you have a clean building that is draught proof, predator proof, warm and large enough to raise these babies until they are feathered and able to go outside. Having your building or area with no cold spots or windy spots is very crucial to your baby chicks’ survival. Cold and babies do not go well together.
2. I always board off the corners with at least an 18” piece of plywood so that the corners are less a corner. Corners can cause suffocation and squashing of chicks by other chicks if they are too warm, too cold or stressed. Fill the corners with straw, crumpled newspaper, anything so if a chick does try to make the great escape, it can’t get trapped in the corner away from heat, food, water, or your eyes.
3. Block off an area for your day old baby chicks that allows 6” square or 0.5 sq. ft. for each chick. For example: For 20 chicks you would need 10 sq. ft. area when you first get your day old chicks to 6 weeks old.
· One day old chicks to 6 week old chicks require a half a square foot per chick.
· 6 week to 10 week old chicks require three quarters of a square foot per chick.
· 10 week old and older chicks/chickens require 1 square foot per chicken.
4. You want to take some serious thought of heating your area for your chicks. Having heat in your building means you really need to be sure that it is safe from starting a fire. Paper, shavings, straw, or any bedding material is flammable and can cause a fire if knocked over or falls and touches the bedding. Please be very safe for your sake and your baby chickens!
Some use heat lamp shields and heat lamps. Heat lamps are suspended above the floor. You will want to hang enough heat lamps with bulbs about 12” off the floor for your youngest chicks at the beginning and raise as they grow. If you go this route, make sure the bulb is a 250 degree Fahrenheit RED bulb.
Why a RED bulb? This allows the baby chicks to sleep compared to the bright white bulbs. It also helps to mask any wounds or bleeding that could cause other chickens to peck at these wounds. Chickens are cannibalistic and will eventually peck a wounded flock mate to death. Always separate the injured bird from the flock to keep the rest of the flock from killing it.
Some use a heater that puts out heat a different heat (like radiant). These heaters need to be attached somehow to the building to avoid the chicks from touching it and getting burnt or avoiding the heater from tipping over onto the bedding.
If you have gone the incubator route, your chicks must be dried off before moved from the incubator to their raising area. Whichever way you decide to heat your raising area, make sure you have a two or more thermometers in your building to keep an eye on the temperature and can adjust accordingly. Having not enough heat or too much heat can kill your chick(s) by chilling them too much or dehydration from being too hot.
Please note, if the temperature outside the building is very warm or very cold, you must adjust the inside temperature of the building as well to keep the temperature consistent to the above temperatures as per age of the chicks.
· Your day old chicks to 1 week old chicks need a consistent temperature of 95 degree Fahrenheit or 35 degree Celsius.
· Drop the temperature 5 degree Fahrenheit or 15 degree Celsius every week after week one to week 6.
· Once your chicks are 6 weeks old they should be at a temperature of 70 degree Fahrenheit or 21 degree Celsius and can stay there until they are fully feathered.
5. Now that you have the building ready with corners blocked off and proper heat, you want to have bedding. Bedding keeps the chicks warm and cozy and absorbs wetness. Any bedding you choose must be changed out regularly or when very dirty or damp to keep your chicks healthy and give them the best start you can. Here are some choices and the good and the bad.
· Straw or Hay: I personally use straw as it is what I have on hand as I live on 160 acres and have straw readily available to me. Straw can become compacted quickly. Hay, I find is very coarse but the chickens like to pick at the alfalfa and get more nutrition out of it until it is soiled.
· Newspaper or paper: I don’t recommend newspaper, as it is slippery and can cause injury to your chicks. If you shred the paper it is better, but can compact down easily like straw or hay. Shredded paper is great in chicken nests if you have it readily available to you!
· Wood Shavings: With shavings, the chicks may eat some of them and cause them to get stuck in their throats. You can safely introduce shavings after chicks are 6 weeks old. Shavings are very absorbent and can cause high humidity if not changed out regularly. Be careful what the shavings are made of. Hard wood shavings have fungi and moulds that causes bacteria that is harmful to poultry. Dust free shavings is a way better shaving.
· Hemp: Very similar to wood shavings or chips. Very absorbent, absorbs odors better, dust free, fly repellent, and birds do not find it edible.
I’m sure there are more bedding options available. Please comment below if you use something other than the 4 I have listed above. I would love to hear about your experiences of what works for you or doesn’t and why!
6. Feed and water. Another important part of the chick raising process! They need to eat and have water to grow up healthy and strong!
· What do you feed them? Some feed only chick starter for the first 6 weeks. Here’s my thoughts, what does a hen with chicks feed her babies? They eat what she eats, right? The hen will gladly eat the higher protein chick starter if it is available….yummy!
Some say that chicks are not to eat a layer feed due to the higher calcium in the feed. Higher calcium in chicks may cause problems in the kidneys as their bodies cannot deal with the calcium levels.
In my experience, I have had no troubles with home hatched chicks or roosters eating layer feed if raised in with the hens. Even if the bits are too big for the chicks, they will peck at it.
I personally dislike having to buy three different feeds for my birds, (chick starter, poultry grower, and layer feed) especially when they are all raised in the same pen. I do keep my baby chicks that I order from the hatchery in a separate area until they are able to be moved outside at 12 – 15 weeks. I also feed them chick starter until 6 weeks of age.
In the end, the choice is up to you! Just make sure the feed is not mouldy and is easily accessible to the size of the chicken! You may want to sprinkle feed around the food trays for day old chicks so they can easily find the food in the trays. I’ve never had to do that but if you find they aren’t finding the food, it will help.
· If you have your chicks vaccinated for Marek’s or Coccidiosis, you do not need to feed a medicated chick starter feed. Here in Alberta, Canada, medicated feed is no longer available. It is now treated with essential oils for unvaccinated birds. After 6 weeks of chick starter feed, you can slowly transition them to a 16% poultry grower or homemade chop.
· Always have fresh water available to your chicks. For the first 6 weeks, I add a vitamin booster to the water. I also add the vitamin booster when I feel they need the boost no matter the age of the flock.
When I was a kid, my parents used to purchase vitamin tablets that were added to the water. Now it is only in powdered form in my area. The tablets were so much easier to use. 2 tablets to 4 L of water.
Now the pouch of powder is a bit tricky as you have to be a math whiz to figure out how much powder to put into a small container of water. Instructions are for 180 L of water, thank goodness my hubby is a math whiz!
That’s it to prepare for your babies. You need a draught weather free building, a safe space, heat, bedding, water, and feed. Pretty easy really. It is so much fun and rewarding to watch these little balls of fluff running and bouncing around growing up into a full feathered bird.