Before bringing new baby chicks home to roost, it’s imperative to be prepared. While chickens are birds and birds are rather hardy creatures, day-old chicks (even 5-day-old baby chicks and 14-day-old baby chicks) are delicate little lives that require and demand extra care without a dedicated mama hen. Here are some things you can do ahead of time to make sure they come home to a nurturing environment.
1. Do Your Research
You hear this all the time, but it’s so important. The risk in bringing home baby chicks—or any animal—before you’re ready to care for them is that their basic needs will, at some point, go unmet while you figure out what to do. While accidents happen that we can’t always prepare for, we can prepare to provide adequate nourishment and comfort to avoid starvation, illness and even death.
You and your chickens will benefit from extensive research before they arrive at your home, and they will thrive under your continued research. Because chickens grow very fast, so does the demand for your chicken age-appropriate knowledge. Become knowledgeable long before you have to learn by doing, and you’re sure to do fewer wrongs in the long run.
2. Build Shelter
Shelter in the form of a brooder is important for protection from predators, kids, cats, dogs and drafts. A brooder can be any enclosure that provides safety and security, such as an old aquarium, a converted plastic storage tote or a cardboard brooder system designed specifically to hold rapidly growing baby chicks. (Note: Cardboard brooders are fire hazards when paired with a heat lamp.) Later, when chicks outgrow the brooder, they’ll need to move outside to a coop. The big move happens sooner than you would expect, so get a coop built or delivered sooner than you think you’ll need it—to be on the safe side, have it ready before the chicks arrive.
3. Stock Up On Feed
Baby chicks need starter feed, either medicated or non-medicated, that is formulated for their specific nutritional needs. Chicks’ rapid growth surprises everyone raising chickens for first time. They seem to double in size every day. The right feed for growing babies is very high in protein to support that rapid growth and the immediate feathering, which continues for several months.
4. Have A Fresh Water Source
The water source should remain fresh for the chicks’ health and shallow to prevent drowning. Baby chicks have no manners and walk through everything, including their poo and their water. Expect to clean the waterer several times per day. And to help prevent accidental drowning, which takes very little water, put marbles in the dish to prevent a chick from dipping its beak into the water further than it should go.
5. Provide Warmth
Chicks need to be kept very warm until they’re feathered out. During the first week of life they should have access to an average temperature of 95 degrees F, with a decrease of about 5 degrees each week. The shelter and heat source should be constructed so that each chick is able to move closer to or farther away from the heat source to individually regulate body temperature.
6. Go Easy On The Love
When small children hold their new baby chicks, they tend to hold on tight to keep chicks from jumping away. They also tend to squeeze. As cute as chicks are, they’re not kittens or puppies. Pet chicks gently, hold them with a gentle hand, and allow them to leave your hand when they want to. Resist the urge to smother them with love to avoid actually smothering them. Children need continuous reminders about this.
7. Remember: Chicks Are Animals, Not Toys
Gift chicks for Easter morning squeals are a really fun idea, but only when one has actually planned on raising chickens, has prepared a brooder, and has purchased feed, a waterer and a heat source. For baby chicks that have to forgo proper food, water, shelter and heat to take up residence in ornament baskets of chocolate bunnies and jellybeans, Easter is no fun at all—not even if they’ll be taking a trip to a friend’s farm later. If you’re considering buying chicks for Easter morning, understand that chicks can be contaminated with Salmonella without exhibiting symptoms of illness.
Whether you’re thinking about starting a fall flock or are just now starting to prepare for spring chicks, tons of fun awaits you in your chicken-keeping ventures. And with a little preparation before your little peepers arrive home, your flock will settle in smoothly.