Keen to get your own chickens? One of the most important decisions you’ll have to make is deciding if you want hens ready to lay eggs, pullets on point of lay (teenagers in chicken terms), chicks or fertile eggs to hatch yourself.
Many who keep chickens as pets start off with baby chickens. Baby chickens give you an opportunity to bond with your birds. There are, however, disadvantages you should be aware of before getting baby chickens.
One of the biggest drawbacks is that baby chickens require farm more care than adults do.
You will also have to wait for your chickens to mature before they will start to lay eggs. On average it can take 4-5 months for your chickens to start laying their first eggs.
Another drawback you will find when buying from a hatchery is that chicks may be somewhat expensive. If you buy commercially, you may find that some don’t sell less than 25 chicks at a time. The best way to overcome this problem is to buy from a local farm in your area.
Be careful buying chicks from a pet store, they might be ill in some way and not cared for properly. They also have limited breed options so if you’re looking for a specific chicken, it might be difficult.
Caring for the young ones
So you decided to get baby chicks regardless of the drawbacks. Congratulations are in order! Now let’s get you ready to take the best care of your new little ones for their health and your sanity.
A great advantage you should be aware of when keeping baby chicks is that you can keep them practically anywhere as long as the area is properly prepared for them. Do keep in mind that they grow very quickly and you will have to make arrangements while they are still small. It only takes 4 weeks for them to be ready to start living outdoors so set up a coop while you can.
It is very important to keep babies warm and away from potential predators like the house cat or dog. You can set up a brooder to do just that. A brooder is essentially a container that acts as an enclosure warmed by a heat lamp.
The best location for a brooder is indoors to keep drafts out and the chicks warm and dry. Most people use the laundry room or the garage for this purpose. The indoor space you choose should preferably have a tile or cement floor that is easy to clean. Chicks love scratching around and can make quite a mess.
You have to make sure your chicks have shelter from the cold such as a heat lamp and ample ventilation in the brooder. Some make brooders out of cardboard boxes with ventilation holes or even plastic containers provided that they are big enough. Baby chicks need 40 square centimetres of space per chick to be happy and healthy.
It is also important to maintain a constant temperature in the brooder. Chicks require a warm cosy environment to grow properly. You will be surprised to know that until your chicks are a week old, they need the temperature to be a minimum of 35-degree Celsius (95°F) to be healthy.
The temperature in the brooder should be decreased by 5 degrees per week to allow the chicks to slowly adjust to room temperature. By the time the brooder is at room temperature, they will be ready to move into their new coop.
You can maintain a constant temperature by using a programmable heat lamp. The lamp will go on if the temperature drops below 35 degrees and turn off if it goes above 37 degrees. If you can, use a red brooder heat lamp since the bright white light of the others can make it hard for chicks to get proper sleep.
Monitor your babies closely when you first put them in the preheated brooder. If you notice them constantly crowding under the heat lamp, it means they are cold and you should heat up the space a little more. On the other hand, if you notice your chicks crowding the edges of the brooder, they are too hot and trying to get away from the source of the heat. If they try to get away, simply raise the lamp so they aren’t that close to the heat.
Your chicks will also need lots of non-slip absorbent bedding to keep them safe, dry and clean. Avoid any very dusty bedding and bedding that contains strong smells like cedar shavings. Dust bedding can lead to respiratory problems in young chicks. The best is to use absorbent paper to do the job. Many use newspapers just to find it is too slippery and not absorbent enough so save yourself some effort.
Make sure to cover the top of the brooder with some form of netting. Chicks are very adept and leaping and flying so they might get out of the box. Even one-week-old chicks can jump at least 30 cm (11.8 inches) high.
Next, you will also need to make sure they have constant access to fresh clean water and an appropriate chick feed. While it might seem appropriate to just give them a bowl with water, do consider how deep it is, baby chickens have been known to drown in very small amounts of water.
If they don’t drown, they will spill it and that’s not even thinking about all the poop in the water bowl. The best solution is to get an appropriate chick drinker that is designed to keep them out while allowing multiple chicks to drink at once. You will still need to change the water several times a day to keep it fresh and clean.
You will also need a chick feeder. A bowl or dish will not do, they will only mess the food and poop in it. A chick feeder keeps the chicks out of the food while allowing multiple chicks to eat at the same time. Wasted food will be minimised. Bowls also have the problem where they can be tipped over on top of a chick and suffocate or injure them.
Now comes getting the food. The best food for a baby chicken is chick starter feed which you can get at almost any pet store. This feed has been specially formulated to contain everything your chick needs to grow up healthy.
Make sure to review the directions of feeding and for how long chick starter feed is appropriate before you need to find a new food source for your babies. You can also supplement their normal food with mealworms of other garden bugs, but treat those as snacks only and not a meal.
Don’t worry about how much to feed your chicks, simply give them unlimited access to food and let them eat as much as they want to. You will also need to give them a chick grid. Like other birds, they don’t have teeth so pick up stones to eat to grid down the food in their stomachs.
Make sure to read the articles on health again so you are prepared for whatever may come along. You don’t want to make any fatal mistakes along the way. You are more than capable of raising a healthy flock.