Like puppies, baby chicks are adorable and just like puppies, they can be a handful. But if you’re prepared, tending young chicks isn’t difficult and need not be lavish.
Clear your schedule. Baby chicks require constant care and monitoring, so clear your schedule for the first 4 weeks! Have another caretaker on standby. Make sure you or someone are available to check on them at least 5 times a day.
Decide where they’re going to live. You can keep young chicks almost anywhere as their small size makes them easy to handle. However they grow quickly, so preparing a living space for them ahead of time. Ideally you’ll have a garage, workshop, basement or another predator-proof and draft-proof environment. If you don’t have a garage, workshop or basement, pick the next best option. Do you have an all-season porch where it won’t get too cold? A spare bedroom whose surfaces you can cover?
Creating A Suitable Living Environment
A baby chick house or brooder. Baby chicks need to be protected from drafts but still have adequate ventilation. Whatever solution you go with, make sure it provides 2 sq. ft. per chick. Block corners of the pen with cardboard to make wider angles that are harder for chicks to pack up in as this will prevent suffocation.
A heat source. Baby chicks need to be kept pretty hot. The first week of their lives they require an air temperature of 95º, the second week 90º and so on – going down by 5º per week until they’re ready to transition to “outside”. A 250-watt infrared heat lamp is the best way to achieve this, placed right in the middle of their area and suspended off the ground. The height of the light should be adjusted to achieve your target temperature. Lamp height can be determined by paying close attention to how your chicks behave. If they’re all crowded together directly under the heat source, they’re too cold. Lower the heat lamp or add another one. If they’re around the edges of the brooder, avoiding the heat and one-another like the plague, they’re too hot! Raise the heat lamp. A happy flock should be happily exploring all around the brooder. Always remember to use red bulbs; injury doesn’t show under red light. Under white light, any bloody spot immediately attracts pecking. Chicks can and will peck each other to death.
Absorbent bedding. Baby chicks are big poopers, so line their floor with an absorbent material. We recommend pine shavings spread about 1″ thick. Resist the urge to use newspaper! It’s not nearly as absorbent and the slippery surface can lead to a permanent deformity called “splayed leg”. Do NOT use cedar shavings, no matter what friends or local ‘experts’ may tell you: the aromatic oils will irritate your chicks’ lungs, and make them more susceptible to respiratory problems later in life.
Drinker/Waterer. We don’t recommend using a dish, rabbit drinker, or anything else you have just “laying around”. Blue Seal has a wide variety of waterers to meet your baby chicks special needs. Ensure that waterers are shallow and are cleaned daily in order to avoid having drowned chicks. We would recommend to always have multiple waterers available, so that they won’t crowd one-another.
Chicken feeder. Once again, we recommend you resist the temptation to use just any dish or bowl for feeding. Baby chicks are messy and they’ll jump in and kick the feed all over the place and then poop in it. Worse case scenario they’ll tip it over and trap a baby underneath. Spend those few extra dollars and buy a real baby chick feeder. They come in many shapes and sizes and Blue Seal offers only the very best.
Chicken feed. Fortunately this one doesn’t require much thought! Blue Seal Home Fresh Starter Feeds come formulated with everything they’ll need. Small amounts of vegetable/dairy can also be used and the same goes with bugs and worms. But consider those dessert, not the main course. Our Starter Feeds contains everything chicks need to survive and thrive and filling them up with too much of the “other stuff” can throw off their nutritional balance.
Grit. Chickens eat tiny pebbles and store them in their crop. Food enters their crop and the pebbles grind it up to make digestion easier. For baby chicks, sand, parakeet or canary gravel, will suffice. You can sprinkle this right into their feed.
Netting. Although most grown chickens are pretty pathetic flyers, young chicks are much more capable. If your brooder is only 12 inches high, don’t be surprised if you find your week-old chicks perching on top of it. To prevent this, we recommend you cut a section of plastic netting or chicken wire just big enough to drape over your brooder. Or simply use a 2-Ft. or taller brooder box.
BONUS: Roosting poles. Chickens love to roost on poles or branches when they’re resting. We’d recommend a half inch diameter wooden dowels fitted about 5 inches off the ground. You don’t have to provide your brood roosting poles, but they’ll be even happier if you do.