First things first – Chickens have germs
It is possible that your baby chicks may be carrying Salmonella germs. Salmonella is often found in their droppings and on their bodies (feathers, feet, and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can also get on cages, coops, hay, plants, and soil in the area where the chicks live and roam. Because of this, when you handle the chicks or touch things they have come in contact with, the germs will be transferred to your hands, shoes, and clothing. You can become infected with Salmonella if you put your fingers in or around your mouth.
Be diligent about having young children wash their hands directly after touching baby chicks, since they are likely to put their fingers in their mouths. It is important for anyone handling chickens to wash their hands immediately after touching poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam, because the germs on your hands can easily spread to other people or things.
Care for Newborn Chicks
Set up a brooding area. When raising just a few chicks (30 or less) use a large box with walls at least 18-inches high and place the box in a safe area away from drafts and household pets. I actually use an old cedar hope chest for mine (photo below). For larger numbers, a metal stock tank can used in an enclosed, draft free outbuilding. Do not use a plastic bin as a brooder area. The brooder lamp can melt the plastic, fall into the pine shavings and start a fire. Chicks need one-half square foot of space for the first two weeks. They grow fast and after two weeks, increase to one square foot per bird.
Keep Chicks Warm
Baby chicks need supplemental heat to keep the brooder box warm for about four to six weeks or until they are fully feathered.
Chicks start out needing a higher temperature, between 100 and 95 degrees, but as the weeks pass, lower that temperature each week by about five degrees until the little ones are feathered at six weeks, or until the brooder temperature is the same as the outside temperature.
Use a brooder lamp (we recommend a red bulb) clipped over one side of the brooding area so the chicks can choose whether to be under the light or not. If chicks are crowded together directly under the heat source, then they are cold. If they are around the edges of the brooding area, then they are too hot. Adjust the height of the lamp accordingly and give them enough room to move in and out of the light to regulate their body temperatures.
Hopefully, you aren’t raising chicks in cold weather, but if you are, it’s more likely that you’ll need supplemental heat for at least six weeks.
Bedding for Baby Chicks
Provide bedding to catch and absorb chick droppings and change this daily. Line the floor of the box with sheets of newspaper and then cover it with pine shavings. Once soiled, then just roll up the paper, pine shavings and all, and throw it away, or better yet, use it in your compost pile. Chicken droppings along with the wood chips or pine shavings are a good base for a new compost pile or a nice addition to one you’ve already started.
If using newspaper, make sure to cover with bedding such as 2-3″ of pine shavings. Newspaper alone is too slippery for the chicks and could lead them to develop spraddle-leg.
Food and Water for Baby Chicks
Set out water and chick starter feed in separate containers. Keep food and water clean and free of droppings. If chicks are not drinking, dip the chicks’ beaks in the water to get them started. A chick fountain is by far the best way to give chicks water. Saucers or other make-shift containers spill easily making the brooder area wet and unsanitary. Never let the chicks go without water.
For the first 6 weeks your chicks should be on organic starter feed. Each bird will require about 1 ounce per day or approximentaly 2.63 pounds of feed for the first 42 days. – Starting with week seven thru week 15, feed your laying chickens organic grower feed.
Other Considerations for Raising Baby Chicks
Chicks love to roost when they’re resting. Provide roosting poles or stacks of bricks so chicks have a place to perch a few inches off the ground to keep them from roosting on the waterer and feeder. As the chicks start to feather, on warm days put them in a wire pen outside for short periods of time in a draft free area. Keep an eye on them and provide a tray of sand so they can dust. As you work with the chicks, remember that slow movements are less apt to frighten them.
Failure to thrive
Sadly, this happens sometimes and leaves you feeling completely useless. In general, deaths in chicks in approximately the first 3-4 days post-hatch are closely linked to the quality of the day-old chicks from the hatchery. After 3-4 days, death is more closely linked to the quality of the care after delivery of the chicks and inadequate nutrition. There are a few things you can try (see below).
What to try? Ideas to Revive a Weak Chick
- Warmed plain yogurt
- Egg yolk mixed with water to thin it
- Hard boiled egg chopped tiny
- Molasses water – Molasses also contains other nutrients
- Make a mash or tea of fresh herbs that contain Vitamin E such as Parsley, Oregano, Sage, and Thyme
- Sugar water *use very short term. Too much sugar can lead to pasty butt
- Nutra-drench product
- Poly-visol infant vitamin drops without iron –*This also helps with wry neck which is a result of Vitamin E deficiency. You can read more on Wry Neck syndrome here.
The important thing is to get some nutrition into them and get them over the hard part. After 24 to 48 hours your chicks should be back on chick feed and able to cope.