Chicken Coop Chatter©
Whether you hatch fertile eggs in an incubator, purchase chicks from a local farm or farm store or have chicks shipped from a hatchery, they all require the same care and maintenance. The shipped chicks will require a bit more attention than local chicks, or chicks you've hatched yourself. Shipping is very stressful to chicks. They can succumb to that stress within a few days of arrival, if not during shipping.
No matter how you obtain your chicks, have your brooders already set up for their arrival. You want a container of some type. Containers can be the common plastic storage containers, a cardboard or wooden box, or in our case apple crates from the local orchards. You want a good bedding on the floor of your container. The feeders should be filled with a good quality chick feed and the water containers ready with fresh water. We add a Tablespoon of pure Apple Cider Vinegar per gallon of water. We have found that the pure vinegar helps all chicks with digestion and helps prevent "pasty butt", which is very common in shipped chicks because of additional stresses. Have your heat lamp in good operating condition. No frayed cords, no teflon coated lights, have good reflectors and have them positioned securely and high enough that they are not too hot. Put a thermometer in the brooder to check the temperature, which should be about 95 to 100 degrees F for the first week or two. As the chicks grow the heat lamp can gradually be positioned farther away, providing less and less heat. Monitor your brooders several times a day to make sure the temperatures are optimum, that the feeder and waterers are clean and always full. If you notice all the chicks moved to the farthest corner from the heat source it is an indication it is too warm. If they are huddled as close to the heat source as they can get and piled one on top of the other, they may be too cold, so check the temperature often. By the time they are ready to move outside, they should have no additional heat source except whatever your average room temperature is.
One caution about your water and feed containers. They should not be so deep that a chick can drown or get a head stuck in a feed container. If the waterer is too deep, add clean rocks or marbles. If the feeder has a large opening, put a screen over that opening to prevent a chick from getting stuck in it and suffocating. There should be no areas in the brooder that a chick can get behind or stuck in.
It will depend on the weather as to when it will be a good time take chicks outside in a sheltered brooder. If the temperatures are in the freezing range, it would be best to hold off until weather is stable and has warmed at least to above the mid 30s to 40 degrees. Regardless you will want them in a sheltered brooder away from wind, summer heat and winter cold as well as predators. If the temperatures are mild, chicks can be moved to a grow out pen by 4-6 weeks of age. Again, have your grow out pens ready with bedding, good quality growth food and fresh water. Clean the brooders as often as necessary. If there are a number of chicks this will be necessary more often than if there are only a few chicks. Make sure the bedding is always kept dry. If your chicks are in an outside brooder you may still want to provide a heat source at night or if temperatures are very chilly during the day. By the time the chicks are 3 months old, they no longer need any type of heat source. They merely need to be sheltered from wind, draft and excess heat or chill. Make sure whatever your outside brooder is, that it is sheltered from rain or water getting inside. Allow plenty of space in your brooders and grow out pens. Chicks up to 4 weeks old need about a square foot of space each, and as they grow, they will need 2-3 times that amount of space each. If they do not have room to move around and exercise, behavioral issues and illnesses can and often so become a serious issue.
Chicks are vulnerable to a variety of illnesses that you can help prevent by having a good clean source of food and water, a good clean and dry bedding, and brooders that are away from winds and drafts, but with good ventilation. Having chicks vaccinated is optional and will cost extra. There are certain vaccinations that may be worth considering, especially if your region has been known for New Castle or Marek's Disease. Marek's is in the environment, just as salmonella is in the environment, though you may never run into a problem, if chickens succumb to any illness it can reduce their natural resistance and they can become vulnerable to contracting it. It is a vaccination you may wish to consider. It is not usually practical to vaccinate your own chicks since the medications are produced in larger quantity than most backyard growers would use at one time.
Chicks are not to be moved in with larger birds until they are of a size where they can defend themselves. And when they are moved in with the larger birds, you want to monitor the behavior to make sure the larger birds are not being aggressive toward those chicks. When you do make the transition, do it at night when the older birds are tired and ready to roost. By morning, they may not even realize they have new peeps in their environment. Another thing we recommend is having a morning diversion when you open the coop to let the chickens out. A special treat for the older birds to take their minds and sights off the younger birds may be enough to divert attention. Regardless monitor throughout the day to make sure the transition goes smoothly. If this transition does not work, you need to remove those chicks until they are older. Only make this transition when you know you will have time for the monitoring throughout the day. This is the same thing we recommend whether it's chicks or other chickens that you are attempting to integrate. Chickens will kill other chickens and especially chicks. It is your responsibility to monitor to make sure this transition is in the best interest of all the birds. In addition, be aware, there may be times when a new chick or chicken will not be accepted by others. You need to be able to provide a place for those that may not be accepted.
We have found that portable cages are the easiest way to transport chicks from their fledgling brooder to the outside brooders. It has made transport nearly hassle free and less chance of a chick jumping from a box to be injured or some hungry kitty laying wait for a chick to escape into it's waiting paws. We have had these experiences and our reason to caution you.
Important things to remember in care and maintenance of chicks. Provide a good clean and dry environment, fresh water and feed. You must provide good quality feed, optimum temperatures. And an easy transition from indoors to outdoors and to a coop of older chickens. Armed with these basic instructions, you should have a good experience with raising your chicks.
Most of these things will not be necessary if you have a broody hen that is raising a batch of chicks. She protects them, keeps them warm, teaches them to forage and find bugs and worms plus directs them to the feed and water source. The only worry in this scenario is having a coop that shelters and protects them at night.
One additional recommendation we would like to share; because of our own experiences with "landrace" breeds, we have found they need a higher protein diet than a common domestic breed of chicken. You can supplement with Turkey mash or Game bird feed to provide this extra protein. In addition, if you are trying to raise some of your birds for meat to supply the freezer or table, a higher protein food helps the birds reach optimum weight in a shorter length of time.
Chicken Coop Chatter© and Just Fowling Around© All rights reserved 2011-2017