Caring For Baby Chicks
Where Do You Keep Baby Chicks?
You can keep young chicks almost anywhere. There small size makes them easy to move and handle. They grow quickly, and by the time they're three or four weeks old they'll be taking up a lot of space and making a big mess. Don't worry though - you can start to move them outside at 4-5 weeks of age. So prepare your space before they arrive.
A garage, workshop, basement or another predator-proof and draft-proof environment that's not in your main living space works best. Baby chicks, just like grown chickens, love to "scratch" their bedding materials, which creates a very fine dust that gets everywhere. I remember that my parents used to keep our chicks in a cardboard box in the kitchen corner. Probably not the best idea. You just want to choose the best possible option keeping in mind that wherever you keep them, they must be safe from predators and drafts.
Baby Chick House - Brooder
A chick house is also known as a brooder. A brooder can be a cardboard box with holes for ventilation or a large plastic bin. Be creative. Whatever housing solution you go with, make sure your baby chicks are protected from drafts but still have adequate ventilation, and it provides 2 square feet per chick. It sounds like alot, but as they get older (and bigger) you will need the space. Remember - they can jump out!
You will want netting for the top of your brooder. Most grown chickens are horrible flyers, young chicks are much more capable and they can scurry away from you pretty fast. If your brooder is only 12 inches high, don't be surprised if you find your week-old chicks perching on top of it. Just cut a section of deer netting or chicken wire just big enough to drape over your brooder and this should help with them getting out.
Baby chicks need to be warm. I am talking sauna warm. For the first week of their lives they require an air temperature of 95 degrees, the second week 90 degrees, and so on - going down by 5 degrees per week until they're ready to transition outside. A 250-watt infrared heat lamp is the best way to achieve this, placed right in the middle of their living area and suspended off the ground.
I recommend a red heat lamp. A bright white light can make it hard for your chicks to sleep. The red light is darker and provides a cozy lighted environment and it also helps to keep them from not pecking one another.
You do want to pay close attention to your baby chicks behavior. If they're all crowded together directly under the heat source, they're cold. Lower the heat lamp or add another one. If they're around the edges of the brooder, they're too hot! Raise the heat lamp.
Baby chicks are big poopers, so make sure to line the floor of their housing unit with an absorbent material. Pine shavings work fantastic. Spread them out about 1" thick and let them poop away. Try not to use newspaper. It's not very absorbent and it can lead to a slippery surface causing a permanent deformity called "splayed leg". A note about baby chicks is that if one is injured the others may pick at it until death. We want all chicks to be healthy and happy! Whatever absorbent material you chose DONT use cedar chips. They may smell good in your sock dresser drawer but the aromatic oils will irritate your chicks' lungs, and make them more susceptible to respiratory problems later in life.
Baby chicks have special needs when it comes to water. I strongly discourage the use of dishes. They are not kitties. Dishes can make it easy for chicks to drown. Your chicks will walk, poop and toss shavings into it. For the best results, use a chick waterer. They come in a number of different sizes and shapes, all basically sufficient. No matter what you use just make sure you keep the water clean and fresh.
Once again, resist the temptation to use a dish or bowl for feeding your chicks. They're messy, and they'll jump in and kick the feed all over the place, poop in it. Purchase a baby chick feeder from your local fefed store or order one online. If you are planning on having chicks do it right and take care of them properly. Baby chick feeders come in many shapes and sizes to choose from.
Suppliers have formulated special feed complete with everything baby chicks need. It's called "starter feed" and comes in either "crumbles" or "mash" (referring to how ground down it is). The only thing to know is that if you've had your chicks vaccinated against Coccidiosis, they'll need an un-medicated feed. If not, or if you've only had them vaccinated for Marek's Disease, medicated feed is a great way to keep them healthy those first few months. I like an organic starter feed. It all depends on what you want to feed your chicks!
A common question is how long to feed baby chicks "starter feed" for before switching to a feed called "grower" or "chick grower". There is no concrete answer for this. Each manufacturer formulates their feed differently, so read the label and follow their instructions. Some only recommend the starter for 4 weeks before moving onto grower; some combine both together in a "starter/grower" feed where you can keep them on for much longer.
Don' forget to feed your chicks scraps, or worms and other bugs from the garden - they will love it. Consisder this like dessert though, not the main course. Starter feeds contain everything chicks need to be healthy and survive.
You can also check out "Basic Care" in the learning center for more information regarding the care of chickens