Interrupting our regular food program for a post on how to raise baby chicks. Although chicks eventually turn into chickens, and chickens lay eggs, which we will eat, so this is still kind of about food. Really though, I promise there is some good information down there about how to raise baby chicks simply and affordably. Or should I say, cheep-ly. You see what I did there? You did, didn’t you.
There are about as many opinions about raising baby chicks and chickens as there are egg colors, which is a lot! Chicken eggs range from white to brown to pink to blue to green and any combination inbetween. I can’t tell you how many times someone has asked if I dyed our eggs. Sir, if I went to the trouble dying these eggs, I’d be charging you a helluva lot more than $3 a dozen. We can taste the rainbow all around us without the use of artificial dyes. And that’s just one of the many reasons to raise your own chickens!
When I first started raising chicks, I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of information, but the truth is, raising baby chicks couldn’t be easier. Trust me, if I can do it, you can do it. Here’s how I do it, simply and affordably:
Where to Buy
I personally prefer to go through a local farm store. This year, we purchased ours at Theisens. If you’re new to raising chicks, the staff are typically very knowledgeable and can help with choosing breeds. The advantage to buying from a local farm store is that they usually order breeds that are well-suited for your area.
Our summers are hot and winters frigidly cold, so it’s important we raise birds that can tolerate both. One disadvantage might be lack of selection, but Theisens had a dozen breeds on site and options to order others. We choose 4 different breeds this year and got a few of each: Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Easter Eggers.
Another advantage is that they’ll often let you pick out the chicks. This is also where you’ll likely buy feeders, bedding, food, etc., so it’s not a bad idea to familiarize yourself with the store.
If a local farm store is not an option, there are many reliable hatcheries that you can order from online. I also suggest researching if they are any local hatcheries in your area.
Before Bringing Home
You’ll want to set up a brooder. What the heck is a brooder? Basically, it’s a heated home for your new chicks. It can be as simple or as elaborate as you want to make it, but the basics include bedding, food, water, and a heat source.
Simply, you just need a clean box of some sort to confine your chicks. We use a plastic tote and then transfer to a DIY plywood box around four weeks. The size depends on the number of chicks, but you want to aim for at least half a square foot of house space per chick for the first four weeks and then one to two square feet from four weeks until they are moved outside (usually six to eight weeks). It can certainly be larger, so long as chicks can easily access food, water, and a heat source. I’ve even seen people use their bathtub!
I prefer to use whatever bedding the supplier was using, which in our case is pine shavings. The plastic could be slippery, so we’ll often lay something down for grip. We’ve used extra cabinet liners or a clean paper grocery bag.
We use heat lamps that we found at auction. If you live in warmer weather or will be keeping the chicks inside, a 100-watt bulb will likely due the job (for a small flock). The temperature should be 95 degrees the first week, 90 the second, and 5 degrees cooler each proceeding week. However, we don’t have a thermometer and instead use a simple little trick to tell if the chicks are too cold or too hot. If they are cold, they will be huddled together under the heat source. If they are too hot, they will be spread out and panting with their beaks open.
Food & Water
Introducing Chicks to New Home
Upon arrival, carefully transfer each chick to the brooder, dipping their beaks in the water. I usually leave food out of the brooder for the first few hours to make sure they get water first. If your chicks travelled a long way, you could add sugar to their water (a few tablespoons per quart). Monitor behavior for anything unusual and remember the tip above to maintain proper temperature. As the chicks grow, they will become more active. Our chicks always kick bedding into their food and water. Clean these and their brooder as necessary. You will likely need a screen of some sort to cover the top as the chicks learn to spread their wings. Most importantly, HAVE FUN! The chicks will be ready to move outside at about six weeks old, assuming favorable weather.
The most common problems with baby chicks are pasty butt, dehydration, spraddle leg, scissor beak, and coccidiosis. The only one I’ve personally experienced with our chicks was pasty butt, but nothing some paper towel and warm water didn’t fix. A full description of each of these along with solutions can be found at The Chicken Chick.
And The One Tip Everyone Forgets?
Introduce your new chicks to everyone in your family . . . and that includes your pets! Sadly, I’ve had many people tell me stories about their beloved family pet killing their flock. We introduce our dogs to the baby chicks once they’ve settled in. Think of this as a quick and gentle meet and see for small children or meet and sniff for pets. Nothing too extended that can stress or scare the chicks.
I’ll never forget the first year we started raising chicks, they were in a room in the basement behind closed doors. I went to check on them in the morning and found that Buttercup had lined up every single one of her balls at the door. I think she was trying to play. Or share? Who knows.
Keep in mind this tip isn’t fool proof. Even after a seemingly great introduction, you need to keep a close eye on everyone. Also, it’s very important to keep your chicks separated from other animals for health reasons.
There! That’s it. You can do it. I know you can. And if you ever have a question, feel free to leave one in the comments or drop me a line. I’m happy to help!