Inspect your chicks often to make sure they are healthy as they grow.
Spring is baby chick time. Whether you hatch your own chickens or purchase 1- to 2-day-old chicks from a feed store, you need to make sure they stay healthy while growing into adults.
The first two months of chick life are characterized by remarkably rapid growth. During this fast and formative time, it’s essential for chicken keepers to ensure their new flocks’ well being. Here are seven suggestions to help raise healthy chicks, arranged in an easy-to-remember acronym that just happens to spell CHICKEN.
This must be available to chicks all times. After bringing new chicks home, gently dip each beak into the water dish. This ensures the chicks’ immediate hydration and orients them to their water source. Place the dispenser away from the heat lamp in the chicks’ cage. A 1-quart dispenser will water about four chicks daily. As chicks grow larger, replenish their water twice per day, or replace the dispenser with a larger container.
Chicks need to be kept warm to stay healthy. Secure a climate thermometer on the cage floor and a heat lamp 5 to 6 inches above the chicks’ heads. The temperature on the cage floor should be about 90 to 95 degrees F. As chicks grow taller, continue raising the lamp to maintain a space buffer between chick heads and the heat.
Inspect your chicks and their environment often. Chicks grow change quickly and will thrive if their environment keeps up with them. As the chicks grow bigger, make sure the heat lamp isn't overheating them. As they eat more, make more chick feed available so all chicks get enough food. When chick fuzz turns into feathers, gently pinch away the pinfeathers as the feather outgrows it. When your chicks are 1 to 2 weeks old and begin to roost, oversee the chicks as they practice balancing on the perch until they can hold themselves steady. Finally, when observing your chicks, clean away dried clumped-on fecal matter from their bottoms with a damp cloth. If left “pasted up,” a chick can become fatally constipated.
Also called “crumble” or “mash,” chick feed is the only thing your chicks can eat the first two to three months. Do not give baby chicks feed prepared for pullets or laying-aged hens. Adult chicken feed contains a generous amount of calcium to strengthen egg shells and can damage chicks’ kidneys.
Place the chick cage indoors in a garage, basement or spare room, safe from predators and cold drafts. Instruct children to close the door behind them after leaving the “chick room.”
Allow your chicks to become accustomed to you (their caretaker) by gently holding and handling them each day. Not only does this give you a chance to inspect each chick’s overall health, you can also adore their fuzzy, fleeting cuteness.
New Home Transition
It’s important not to shock chicks with sudden environmental changes; it takes about two weeks for chicks to become accustomed to living outdoors. When the chicks are around 8 to 12 weeks old and you are ready to begin transitioning them outside, begin by placing the cage in the finished outdoor coop for one hour the first two to three days. Increase to two hours the next four days and then to four hours for a week after that. By the time your chicks are fully feathered, the chick cage will be standing room only. At this point, the chicks will be ready to move out of the chick cage and into the chicken coop permanently.
About the Author: Barbara Kilarski is a freelance writer enjoying life in Portland Oregon with her family, dogs, cats and chickens. Kilarski is the author of Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Surburbs and Other Small Spaces (Storey Publishing June 2003).