They’re here! Our twelve new baby chicks have arrived! It has been two years since we’ve raised chicks, and although not raising chicks was a welcomed break last year, we have to admit that we missed having the irresistibly cute little chirping fluff balls around. They are such a joy to have at this stage when they are super fluffy and fit in the palm of your hand. In fact, we are so excited to have them that no one is safe from unsolicited chick pics – coworkers, friends, family, neighbors, random strangers at tractor supply, you name it. But how can you blame us? Who doesn’t love to see pictures of the fluffiest cutest little baby chicks?!
We ended up ordering three olive eggers, three welsummers, two austra whites, two blue Andalusians, and two barred rocks. This was our first time ordering chicks from My Pet Chicken, and they are the healthiest, most vibrant looking chicks that we have ever received from a hatchery. The shipping was super fast – they arrived less than 48 hours after being put into the mail which makes a huge difference at this time of year with the cold temperatures. We have also learned a lot from our past years of raising chicks and all of the previous mistakes that we have made, so we felt like we were extra prepared this time around. All of those things combined have led to what has been our smoothest chick arrival to date. It has been great so far!
Although we’ve wanted to hatch chicks from our own flock for years now, hatching just doesn’t make sense for us at the present moment. We only lost a handful of chickens to random illnesses, the heat, and old age last year, so we really only needed a few (twelve) replacements. Had we decided to hatch our own chicks, we likely would have ended up with way more roosters than we care to own, and it is also a possibility that we could have not had any birds hatch at all. Not to mention that we would need to purchase an incubator and those things are expensive! I have no doubt that we will eventually purchase a decent sized incubator and hatch our own chicks one day, but considering the fact that our goal is to simply supplement our aging flock with some younger layers, the most cost-effective and sensible decision was to order chicks. Over the past few years we have really been trying to focus on practicality versus trying to do everything at once, and it has saved our sanity more times than we can count.
Before purchasing or hatching your own chicks, some preparations need to be completed ahead of time. The biggest necessity is to have a brooder – a first home for the chicks – that is warm and draft free. A brooder can be anything from a plastic tote to a galvanized water trough and everything in between. For the first few weeks of our chicks’ lives, they live in a large plastic tote that serves as their brooder. Once the chicks start to get a little bigger, we will move them to a large plastic water trough where they will have sufficient space to run around as they continue to grow. In years past, we have raised chicks in large plastic water troughs until they were big enough to introduce to the flock, but this year we are building a new and improved brooder. We are hoping to have the brooder completed within the next month, so the plan is for this round of chicks to only stay in a plastic trough until the brooder is ready.
Chick brooders should have plenty of absorbent and odor free bedding – we use a layer of paper towels on the bottom covered with a bed of pine flake shavings. A heat source should be used to keep the brooder 95-100 degrees F for the chicks’ first week of life, decreasing 5 degrees per week after that. There are many different heat sources available. We use a combination of heat lamps and heating plates. If a heat lamp is used, it is vital that it is secured in multiple places to prevent it from falling into the bedding and starting a fire. Infra-red bulbs should be used in heat lamps to help prevent chicks from picking at each other and to give the chicks a break from constant bright white light. In the first two weeks of their lives, chicks cannot regulate their body temperatures and should ideally be kept in a climate controlled warmed environment such as a spare room, laundry room, or pantry. We typically set up our brooder in a corner of our pantry because it is a small space that heats up fairly well where we can securely fasten the heat lamp to the bottom of the shelving without having to worry about it falling down.
Once you’ve brought your chicks home to their brooder, be sure to observe how close they are to the heat lamp. If the chicks are huddled together directly under the lamp, it is too cold in the brooder. If the chicks are staying as far away from the lamp as they can get, it is too hot in the brooder. The chicks should be scattered all around the brooder when the temperature is right. Clean, fresh water should also be provided away from the heat lamp. As you are unloading the chicks into their new home, be sure to dip each chick’s beak into the water to teach them where to drink. We like to start our chicks off with powdered electrolytes and sugar mixed into their water for the first few days. The electrolytes and sugar help to pep them up after their stressful journey. The waterer should be cleaned out frequently as the chicks will poop in and kick the shavings into the water. A shallow waterer must be used for the first few weeks to avoid chicks falling asleep with their heads in the water and drowning.
Specific high protein chick starter feed should be provided as soon as possible. Chick starter feed is made up of very fine crumbles which allows the chicks to eat it right away. We also like to provide crushed up hardboiled egg yolks for the first few days to give the chicks a kick start of nutrients and energy. Be sure to scratch at the feed with your finger when you first put the chicks into their new home to teach them where the food is. As chicks acclimate to life in their brooder, they need to be periodically checked for “pasting up”, which is a condition where their droppings dry up around their vent and occlude it, preventing them from passing any further droppings. This problem is a deadly condition that must be dealt with immediately. In order to remedy the problem, wet a towel with warm water and gently remove the pasted droppings from around the vent. After the chick’s vent is clean and free of droppings, dry her off and return her to the brooder. Be sure to check each chick’s vent every few days and clean any vents that are starting to look pasty. And finally, enjoy watching your adorable little fluff balls run around as much as possible, because they don’t stay this little and cute for long!
Who else is raising chicks this year? We’d love to see your chick pics so feel free to send them our way! If you are new to chickens and are interested in raising chicks, please reach out to us with any questions you may have. We would be more than happy to help!