ARRIVAL AND CARE OF CHICKS
If your chicks are being shipped to you:
We ship the chicks via USPS Express. Even though we pay for the fastest shipping possible, sometimes the chicks can be delayed. The best way to prepare for their arrival is to keep a close eye on the tracking number we provide for you and have some flexibility as to being able to pickup your chickies from the post office. If possible, make plans to be home the first day and night to watch them.
Setting yourself up for brooding success with shipped or picked up chicks.
- Have your brooder area set up and heating source tested. This will ensure the birds can go straight into the brooder as soon as they arrive.
- Refrain from handling or playing with the birds the first few hours after they have been delivered from a shipment. This is an extremely important step. Your chicks will need the time to calm down from the stress of the trip. If you have a chick that is struggling see the bottom of this resource guide for tips and tricks to help bring it around.
- The first couple of weeks, the chicks should be brooded in a room that is between 50°-75° constant temperature with no known draft. Please also make sure that there are no possible things off-gassing that could harm the chicks such as laundry detergent, citronella candles, gasoline etc.
If your chicks are shipped to you pay attention to their water temperature for the 1st day of their arrival at your home. Try to have the drinking water at 98 degrees (or very warm). The birds are small and shipped within a few days of being born, they have little weight on them upon arrival. They will be thirsty when they arrive and will drink a lot of water, which if too cool, will rapidly reduce their body temperature and can put them into shock and make them sick.
Normally, the chicks will NOT start to drink, eat, or move around until their body has warmed. At floor level, the temperature needs to be 100°-105°F directly under the heat source for the first few days. No need to have a thermometer in the brooder because that will drive you bonkers, simply watch their behavior in the brooder. If they are clustered together and peeping then they are too cold and the brooder needs to be warmer. If they are scattered and panting then the brooder is too warm.
The chicks will be comfortable and happy when they are moving about the brooder freely, eating, drinking, peeping happily with one another but not peeping loudly as if in distress. The chicks will fall asleep and lay down on their bellies, sometimes on their sides for the first week of their life. They are young and need extra rest.
Proper Heating For The Brooder
Always use brand new bulbs. We have found that using a heat lamp with a red bulb complete with a reflective housing is a good source of heat to get them started for the first couple of critical days. Make sure the heat lamp is EXTRA secure to prevent any fire risk in the brooder.
When selecting a heat lamp bulb and housing, make sure your housing is rated correctly for the size of heat lamp bulb you have. Make sure to use a red heat lamp bulb that is specifically for poultry – not teflon coated bulbs you can pickup at the hardware store. Teflon bulbs will off-gass fumes that will kill the chicks.
- You can use a 75, 100, 125, or 150 watt bulb.
- When setting up your brooder make sure there is plenty of room for the chicks to walk away from the heat source.
You may need to adjust the height of the heat lamp based on the age of the chicks and their behavior. Check in on them daily thought the day the first week to make sure they are comfortable.
The First Day In Their New Home
- We recommend using a chick starter crumble that is about 20% protein. Medicated feed would want to be used if there is a chance of coccidiosis being transmitted to your chicks. If that is not a concern then you will not need medicated feed.
- Make sure your chick feeder is low enough for the chicks to reach. Never let the chickies run out of feed or water and make sure both the feed and water containers are clean and fresh each day so they get the best start in life.
- We do not recommend adding grit, because the chick starter/grower feed is formulated for what the chicks need to digest the food. Chicks should stay on a full feed ration of chick starter/grower until 6 weeks of age when you can move them over to layer crumble which is roughly 14-16% protein.
The first water given to new arrived chicks should be very warm at 98°F.
The next 2 days, the water should be warm (which will naturally happen if it is in the brooder. Make sure the water/feeder is not directly under the heat lamp where it can melt). By the 3rd day it should be room temperature.
The first day the water can be plain. After that first day we recommend starting to use the chick boost probiotic/electrolyte mix to help with the stress of moving to a new environment and to help develop healthy gut flora and fauna. Helping chicks develop strong guts will help them ward off possible disease and infections later. You can give them probiotics/electrolytes/minerals/vitamins in their water for the first six weeks of their life in the brooder.
Your chicks may be thirsty when they arrive in the mail, we ship them with gro gel to act as their hydration and nourishment while they make their journey from us to you but a good drink when they arrive in their new brooder will make them happy. Your chicks should all find the water easily, when you set them in the brooder but if for whatever reason a chick does not find water you can carefully dip its beak into the warm water to make sure it sees it and knows what is going on. Do not try to force-feed any chick water because you can accidentally drown them. Simply dip their beak, set them next to the waterer and they will do the rest on their own.
Most baby chick loss is caused by the chick not starting to eat or drink. Never let your chicks run out of water.
Struggling Chicks? Try These Tricks
If any of the chicks have a particularly hard time after their journey in the mail and seem unresponsive it is most likely because they got chilled. You can try the scarf trick to help bring them around.
Take the lethargic chick and gently place it against your carotid artery in your neck and wrap a scarf around your neck to gently hold the chick in place. Think of it as baby wearing in a sling, only chick wearing! You can keep the chick there for a handful of hours. Your body heat will gently help warm the chick and your heart beat will help sooth the chick and bring breathing rhythm back into it. If you hum or chat with folks around you the chick will also respond to that.
If it comes around and begins to peep and want to stand you can put it in the brooder. If it does not come around then take a photo of the perished chick along with any other chicks that may have perished in transit and we will issue you a chick credit for any poor perished chicks.
Pasty butt is a thick caking of poop on their rump that can block their ability to pass their poop. If the chick becomes backed up, it could result in fatality.
If that arises, try this:
1/3 cup of Raw Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (with the mother) to every quart of water for 3-5 days.
It is important to remove any buildup daily. Pull off buildup gently using a warm wash cloth.
Checking in on your chicks daily will allow you to catch pasty butt if it is happening. Luckily, chicks outgrow it after a few weeks of their life.
Sizing your brooder:
- Try to provide ½ square foot per chick at the start. Make sure to make your brooding space much larger than you think you need because the chicks will grow up quickly. It is important they are fully feathered with smooth feathers covering their downey feathers before they go outside into their forever outside home. This typically takes 6 weeks but if you live where it is warm it can be as early as 4 weeks.
- It is best to have the heat lamp on one side of the brooder and the food and water on the other side of the brooder.
Large pine shavings will make a good litter. We like ECOFlake shavings Rice hulls, dry straw, or hay can also make good bedding. Do not use small shavings or sawdust. The baby chicks that are learning to eat will eat it and possibly die. Do not use sand, because it can also be eaten by the birds, and cause their craw to have impaction. This can cause health problems and/or death.
The pine shavings should cover the floor and be at least 1 to 2 inches thick. On concrete floors, use 3-5 inches of bedding.
Do not use cedar or cypress shavings as they are highly toxic to baby chicks.
To prevent the shavings from getting inside of the chick waterer, you can set the waterer on a piece of cardboard above the litter. The cardboard can be composted along with the spent bedding when you clean the brooder.
The brooder should be cleaned often. We clean our brooders out weekly, the amount of cleaning you need depends on the size of your brooder and the amount of chicks within it. Our general rule is that if you are uncomfortable putting your bare hand on the bedding floor then it needs to be cleaned. The benefit of using the eco flake shavings is that they are completely biodegradable and can be put into the garden or compost after cleaning out the brooder.
Bullying In The Brooder
It is normal chick behavior to use their own beak to groom or pick themselves. The oil gland above the tail provides oil for their beak to groom their feathers. New feathers are full of blood and if pulled out will bleed some. This can attract other birds to pick at this area. Chickens are attracted to red so if a bloody spot appears the other birds will want to start pecking at it. If there are bloody spots on a picked chick you can daub or spray it with the product called Blukote. It is a very safe and that will act as a bandage for the chick while turning the red spot blue. While chicks/chickens are attracted to red, they do not see blue and it will neutralize the situation.
Baby chicks are prone to pick each other for numerous reasons.
Some of these reasons include:
*Brooder is too hot.
*Brooder is too crowded
*Not Enough Fresh Air
*A lack of clean water or food.
Bright white light bulbs can also cause them to pick. Having lights on 24 hours a day can cause stress; changing to a red light will help.
When the birds are picking for no apparent reason, you can try to calm their boredom by hanging a head of cabbage or putting a mirror or feather duster inside of the brooder. A trey of wheat grass or a handful of grass can be set inside of the brooder for them to explore and pick around at. If it is grass or weeds from your garden/backyard that will also slowly help introduce the microbes of your backyard that they will encounter as juveniles and adults. It will help to inoculate them to their future surroundings.
4 weeks of age and beyond.
* Increase floor area to 3-4 square feet per bird.
* Increase feeders to provide 2 ½ to 3 inches of space per bird.
* Increase waterers to a larger size so they do not run out of water.
* Install roosts at back of brooder area. Start roost poles low and gradually raise from floor. These can be dowels from the hardware store or smooth branches.
* Allow 4 inches width per bird and 6 inches apart.
* Open windows during the day. Leave only partly open at night.
* Prevent water puddles around waterers.
* Place waterers higher above the litter on a piece of wood or saucer. Move the waterer each time you clean the brooder to a new location. This will help keep the floor of the brooder dry so you can prevent bacteria from forming and Coccidiosis.
* Birds can range outside on warm, sunny days under supervision. This can be done in a chicken tractor setup, in their future run if there are no birds currently in there or in a fenced in backyard/garden with you.
BEWARE OF PREDATORS such as hawks, cats or dogs when the birds are so small.
How to safely handle your new family members.
As with any new pet, precautions must be taken when handling and caring for them to prevent fecal/oral transmission among people. The commonsense thing here is to wash your hands before and after loving on your new little flock. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water after loving your chicks.
Children should be supervised and taught how to handle the chicks to make sure they do not give too hard of “love squeezes”. We train our children to open their hands to make a safe nest for the baby chicks and after the chicks grow up for a few weeks we make spacious caves with our hands so there is always space and the chicks are not squeezed. Children can learn remarkably fast with some patience and guidance.
New Chicken Keepers