Tips for bringing baby chicks home

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Bringing home new chicks can be exciting and here are some tips to make sure your chicks get off to the best start!

Chicks require a warm brood, fresh water and starter feed. Image courtesy of MSU Extension.
Chicks require a warm brood, fresh water and starter feed. Image courtesy of MSU Extension.

For many, spring signals a time of rebirth and new adventures. Many people will be adding to their homesteads by purchasing baby chicks from their local farm store or another source.  Some will even order chicks directly form a hatchery and they will be delivered by the United States Postal Service. Chicks are delicate and require extra care during the first few weeks of life. Here are some tips from Michigan State University Extension to help you be prepared to provide the best start you can to your new additions.

Brooders are the chicks first home! The purpose of a brooder is to keep chicks warm because they are not able to regulate their own body temperature until they are 12- to 14-days old and they can be easily stressed by temperature fluctuations.

There is no right or wrong way to set up a brooder; you can use a large cardboard box, a plastic tub, section off floor space, or whatever works for your space. The essential elements of a brooder are that they are draft free, can be kept at a consistent temperature, and that there is adequate space for the chicks. If supplemental heat must be used, it is important to ensure that the heat source can be used safely.

Setting up your brooder at least 24 hours before you plan to introduce chicks is essential to ensure that the environmental temperature is stabilized and that any moisture from bedding can dissipate.

Here are some quick tips for a successful brooder:

  • The brooder is large enough to have about 0.5 to 1 square foot of space per chick.
  • Prepare your brooder with 3-4 inches of bedding that is absorbent and odor-free.  Pinewood shavings or chopped straw work best.
  • Use a heat lamp to keep temperatures between 92-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep heat lamps securely fastened to prevent them from falling and catching the bedding on fire.

Once your brooder is set up and your chicks have been introduced, employing good management practices will help your chicks grow and thrive. Observe your chicks and their environment daily, if not several times per day, to make sure they are healthy and comfortable. This way you can ensure that they have adequate feed and water, as this is the single most important thing that you can do. Observe behavior such as how close the chicks are to the lamp. If it is too cold, the chicks will be huddled together under the heat lamp, or if it is too warm they will be as far away from the lamp as possible.

Always provide clean and fresh water and always place feeders and waterers away from the heat lamp. Be sure to clean the waterer daily and use a shallow waterer to make access easier for small chicks.

Chicks should have unlimited access to fresh chick starter feed. There are several different brands at various price points. You may want to consider a medicated feed that protects against coccidiosis. As chicks grow and develop, their nutritional needs change; ensuring that the chicks are on the appropriate feed at the appropriate age is important.

The temperature should be decreased by 5 degrees Fahrenheit each week until the space is either 55 degrees or the same temperature as it is in the natural environment.

Poultry owners should always practice good biosecurity by washing their hands before and after handling chicks, not eating and drinking around birds, limiting visitors, and regularly cleaning and disinfecting feeders and waterers.

By following these simple tips your chicks will be off to an excellent start and should make a good addition to your homestead.