When you purchase chicks from a farm supply store, they will likely be one day old. How do you properly raise a freshly hatched chick?
Raising anything can be daunting. The biggest lesson we learn is that with daily amounts of love and attention, anything can thrive. Chicks are no different. In the same way you need to water your seedlings and make sure your grow lights are on, you need to be monitoring your chicks.
But how do I do that?
There are three things you need to prioritize when raising chicks – their environment, their feed and their water.
Day old chicks with no mother lack a plethora of things – heat, protection and direction. When raising birds you purchased from a farm supply store, you’re now taking over those roles.
Almost important as heat is keeping their environment dry. Chickens are flighty by nature. So it’s easy for baby birds to knock over waterers. And when raising an animal that’s not outside, keeping their pen clean also becomes top priority. Be mindful that water and poop isn’t creating a damp environment for your birds and you’ll avoid a plethora of issues. (Do you want more tips for caring for chickens? Check out this post!)
Feed and Water
Baby birds instinctively scratch at the ground, and subsequently, their feed and water sources. It’s not uncommon to find shavings in both their feed and water, even if they’re on a sort of riser. Chicks also go where they please, so you may find poop in feed and water from birds that have decided to wander.
Keeping your chick’s feed and water clean and readily accessible at all times is the goal.
Now that we’ve covered the three most critical things your chicks need to survive, let’s talk about keeping it all safe so they can grow, grow, grow!
My biggest tip would be keep your chicks away from other animals. I’m sure everyone thinks their dogs only have the best intentions, but it doesn’t take long for instincts to kick in. Even in older birds, there’s always a story to be told about the one time Buster just had a wild hair and “got too rough” with one of the egg birds.
Little hands are just as bad as animals with an instinct. While it’s cute to watch your baby snuggle on some other babies, it isn’t cute to the chicks. Getting poked in the eye, mishandled or trampled are realities that come with small children handling a fragile animal. Either keep small children away from chicks or be responsible for the majority of the handling.
Finally, I recommend keeping your brooder in an area that’s easily accessible to you, especially in those early days. Being hatched, moving to a farm supply store and then to your brooder can create an incredibly stressful environment for chicks. It’s not uncommon for chicks to die due to the stress. Keep an eye on them and make reducing stress a goal for that first week or so.
What else should I watch for?
Chicks don’t need much to keep themselves entertained – for about the first week or so. In the beginning, its enough to just try and figure out your surroundings. But as the chicks age, they become much more curious about their environment. And if you’re able, you could get them out on grass as early as three weeks old.
Please hear this – it’s not uncommon for chicks to die from stress. Since we know that that’s a reality, we can immediately be on the lookout for signs of distress. Lethargy, labored breathing, not eating or drinking are your biggest signs that something is going on. Sometimes, this can be cured with time. It takes time for a chick to get their bearings and understand their new environment. Sometimes, it can be cured by changing feed or adding a bit of apple cider vinegar to their water to start supporting their gut health.
Other times, more hands-on intervention is necessary. Poopy butts, or pasty butt, can be fatal to chicks if no action is taken. Usually due to stress, a chick will have diarrhea. The diarrhea clumps as it dries, but covers the vent. The vent is where chicks excrete their waste. If they’re unable to poop, the poop will build in their system and lead to toxicity, which ultimately kills them. Simply running their bottoms under warm water (warm, not hot) and gently working the poop away from their skin is the way to render aid. Be patient as this process can take time. If you’re too rough with your chicks and tear at skin or feathers, you can cause tears or injure the skin, leaving them with open wound susceptible to bacteria and infection.
Did you ever wonder where the term “pecking order” came from? Chickens! And as brutal as it sounds, it starts as soon as you throw chickens together.
While this behavior is totally normal – in fact, instinctual – it can lead to death. Chickens have a natural inclination to cull their own flock. If a chick were to exhibit something like spraddle leg, blindness, or other obvious deformities, other chicks will cull the flock and kill the “different” chicken. Intervention can usually save a chick’s life. Spraddle leg is the inability to stand up straight, usually due to muscle weakness. As a keeper, there are interventions you can take to strengthen the chick and eventually reintroduce it to the flock.
Preparing for Release
We don’t let our chickens free range due to predator issues (read more about our experience here). So our sign our chicks are ready to transition to our outdoor coop is when they’re too big to slip through the chain link in a dog panel. This usually takes place a month after they’re born. Other signs of release could be they’ve been trained to return to the coop at night, they’ve been adopted by another member of your flock or you’re confident in the security your coop provides.
Who’s ready for baby chicks?
Spring time is an incredible time of year. If you’re ready to work in your garden but need help starting seeds, check out this blog post! If you’re ready to tackle this growing season but don’t want to get overwhelmed, check out my post on how to Avoid Burn Out in Homesteading.