Springtime! I love everything about spring, except maybe the mud and the snow. Everything changes from various shades of brown color to beautiful shades of green. Flowers burst with beautiful colors. But my favorite thing about spring is new life. New calves are born and new chicks hatch. I also purchase 100 meat chicks. I have been raising meat chickens for over ten years. Today, I am going to share 5 tips for starting happy, healthy chicks.
In a previous article, I gave you 14 reasons to raise meat chicks. Whether you raise meat chicks or egg-laying hens, raising chickens is fun and easy. Here are 5 tips to staring happy, healthy chicks.
SET UP BROODER BEFORE CHICKS ARRIVE
Traveling is stressful for chicks. However, chicks are also resilient. It still amazes me that these chicks can hatch and be shipped across the state, even country and survive the trip. I order my chicks from a hatchery about two hours away. However, when I picked up my chicks at the post office, I noticed there was a box of ducklings that came all the way from California to my upper Midwest town!
The chicks usually arrive early in the morning at the post office for pick up. When the post office calls you to let you know the chicks have arrived, prepare the brooder before you leave to pick them up. This will help you start happy, healthy chicks.
If you buy your chicks from a local farm store, the same rule applies. Have the brooder ready ahead of time. However, I have been known to impulse buy chicks. They are so cute and hard to resist. Since, the chicks have had food and water at the store, preparing the brooder ahead of time is still helpful, it is not as critical.
1. Select a Secure, Warm Brooder
I had an issue this year that I have never had before. Our spring has been unseasonably cold and wet. We had a snow storm at the end of April. We received 6 inches of snow! It was cold and windy. I recently switched from an old metal watering tank to a wire cage that my neighbor gave me. I keep the chicks inside an area of the barn. However, I lost several chicks due to them being too cold during the snow storm. I had three brooder lights, but due to the wind direction, there must have been a draft. When chicks get cold, they huddle together. They pile on top of each other and the chicks at the bottom can suffocate.
I really like the wire cage because it is more secure. It has a hinged top with a latch. This keeps any predators out. I usually don’t have predator problems where I keep my chicks. However, it is possible for a feral cat to get into the barn. After the snowstorm, I realized an old metal watering tank is warmer. Therefore, if I receive my chicks before mid-may, this is a better option.
Fill the brooder with wood shavings, straw, or other bedding material. As the chicks grow, you will need to add new clean layers of bedding or completely clean out brooder and add fresh bedding. We have access to clean, dry oat straw that works well. Many people prefer wood shavings that are available at any pet or farm supply store.
2. Have the water containers ready, but not filled
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The reason I suggest not filling the water containers ahead of time is that I prefer to give the chicks warm water, especially, if the weather is cold or wet. Warm water will not be a shock to their system. It will keep their body temperature consistent. I fill the water with warm water once I come home from the post office with the chicks.
3. Fill egg cartons with chick starter food
Another tip in starting happy, healthy chicks is to start chicks eating out of egg cartons as feeders because it is easy for them to eat out of them. Also, new chicks make a big mess and I compost the egg cartons when they become soiled. Of course, I use paper egg cartons instead of Styrofoam in order to compost them. Once the chicks are older and stronger and able to reach into the feeder easily, I use conventional feeders. such as the one below.
The type of chick you are raising will determine which feed you will purchase. Meat chickens and egg-laying chickens eat different type of food. Usually, feed for meat producers is conveniently called “meat producer”, while egg layer is called chick starter. Refer to the package information to determine which feed to select. Make sure the chicks always have feed available for at least the first two weeks.
4. Turn on Brooder Light to “Pre-Heat” Brooder
Turn on the brooder light before you leave to pick up chicks. This will give the brooder time to heat up while you are gone. However, it is very important to safely secure the brooder light fixtures. I do not depend on the clamp. I also use a piece of twine to a static item to secure the light as a backup. Another necessity is to make sure the fixture has a guard like the one shown below. I have actually had a light fall down and the guard protected the straw from burning. There was a scorched area where the light lay, but the guard saved the whole brooder from burning up.
Chicks should be started with 250-watt bulb for the first two weeks and then depending on the weather, you can reduce the bulb to 150 to 125 watts. Observe your chicks. If the chicks, huddle under the light (other than sleeping) they are cold. If the chicks sleep outside the perimeter of the light, they are too hot. Chicks should mingle in and out of the light. Spending their time eating, drinking and sleeping.
4. Add Electrolytes to chick water
Another tip to starting happy, healthy chicks is to add electrolytes to the chicks’ water. This addition to the water will give your chicks vitamins and electrolytes needed for a good start. As I mentioned earlier, I give new chicks warm water. Another benefit of warm water is that the electrolytes will dissolve quickly. I usually add electrolytes until the chicks have feathered out. Sometimes, I continue to add it until it is gone since it is important to have fresh electrolytes each year.
As you take each chick out of the shipping box, dip its head into the water and then set it down in front of the water container. You should see the chick tip its head back and swallow the water. It may or may not take another drink of water. Continue this process with each chick until all the chicks have been removed from the shipping box.
5. Check on chicks throughout the first day
It is important to check on your chicks throughout the first day as the chicks settle in. Most likely after getting a drink of water, the chicks will congregate under the brooder light and sleep. Like any new baby, chicks sleep a lot. Check on the about every 3-4 hours to make sure they are not piling up under the brooder light (too cold) or not going under the light at all (too hot). After you have regulated the brooder temperature, you should only have to care for them 2-3 times per day to give them food and water.
Another important, yet unpleasant thing to check for is checking the chicks back ends every couple of days. Make sure feces is not getting stuck to their back ends, preventing them from excreting waste. If a chick does have a problem with feces, then you must take a wet paper towel and remove it or the chick could die because it is not able to excrete. It is gross but necessary.
Now you have five tips to starting happy, healthy chicks. Chicks are quite easy to raise and with these tips, you will be well on your way to successful chicks. How about you? Have you raised chicks? If not, are you planning on raising chicks? Please tell me about your experiences raising chicks. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.