5 Things Baby Chicks Need
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If you are thinking about trying your hand at baby chicks, that’s awesome! You’re totally in for some fun. But first we should have a little chat about five things baby chicks need in order to have a safe and happy life at your homestead
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
1. Baby chicks need a brooder with bedding:
If not hatched by a setting mama hen, your chicks will need a brooder, which is basically a safe place to stay warm. It can be fancy, but it certainly doesn’t need to be. You can use something as simple as a plastic tote or a kiddie pool.
At our farm we’ve now made temporary, removable brooders in the corners of our coops, using just a few pieces of scrap wood.
When the chicks outgrow the brooder, we simply remove those two pieces of wood and give the chicks run of the coop and access to the outdoor run.
Need ideas of how you can make your own brooder box for your little balls of fluff? Check out these articles:
Your brooder will also need bedding. We normally use pine shavings because they are absorbent and smell lovely, but other options include straw, newspaper, or grass clippings. The most important thing is that the floor of the broody isn’t slippery.
2. Baby chicks need a heat lamp.
A heat lamp is a necessity for new chicks. You need to start them out in a brooder that’s about 95 degrees. Remember, they are little fluff balls without feathers so they need help to stay warm!
A digital thermometer is helpful for knowing the temperature of the brooder, but the chicks will let you know if the temperature is okay for them. If chicks are clumped together under the heat lamp, that means they are too cold. If chicks are all pressed against the sides of the brooder, it means they are too hot. Chicks all spread out and doing their baby chick things are happy baby chicks.
Some people ask me what color heat bulb they should use: red or white. You will hear all sorts of advice about this. Many folks suggest using a red bulb because it may keep chicks from picking at each other, and will also hide the appearance of blood if they do end up picking at each other. Folks also suggest red heat bulbs because they aren’t as bright. Since the heat lamp is on 24 hours a day in those first weeks of the chick’s life, some people suggest that the bright light from a white bulb interferes with a chick’s ability to sleep.
It’s really personal preference. Although I keep red bulbs on hand, I prefer to use a clear/white heat bulb. They’re generally cheaper, easier to find, and I’ve not had any issues with chicks picking at each other or not being able to sleep under a white light. Another reason? Pictures and video of baby chicks turn out better under a white light than a red light.
Also, be aware that it costs money to run heat lamps—so plan your chick orders accordingly. If you are not in a rush or working within a certain time frame, you may save some money waiting to order your chicks until it’s not 30 degrees outside. Anything that creates heat sucks a lot of electricity (and therefore costs more money) so just be aware of that—the colder it is when your chicks arrive, the longer you’ll be running a heat lamp. Consider this to be some friendly advice from a Minnesota farm(ish) girl.
3. Feeders and waterers are more things baby chicks need.
Chicks need access to food and water. Some folks prefer the long tray type feeders, others prefer the mason jar shaped feeders. It’s really personal preference. Well, actually chick preference. Have both on hand and you’ll be prepared for whatever you need.
I am often asked my opinion on whether someone should use plastic or metal waterers and feeders for baby chicks. This is totally up to you. I prefer plastic because I find it easier to clean. At our farm, the metal waterers seem to get corroded after a very short time, which makes it hard to screw the top on to the base. This may be due to the fact we have very hard water at our farm, but it’s something for you to keep in mind if you’re in the same situation.
When it comes to waterers, start small. If you have a lot of chicks don’t try to save time by having a huge waterer right away. If the well is too deep, those chicks can drown. If for some reason you do need to use a larger waterer, place rocks in the part the chicks drink out of. It will prevent them from sticking their face in too far or falling in.
A common complaint about waterers with pine shavings is that the waterers get full of bedding. Not only is this messy, but when too much bedding gets into the waterer, the bedding sucks up the water and then the chicks have nothing to drink. Put the waterers up on boards (wider than the waterers) to help alleviate this issue.
And—pro tip—when you do transition to larger waters, be sure that you don’t unknowingly trap any chicks underneath the waters when you set the waters back down after filling them.
I speak from experience. It’s not fun.
4. Baby chicks need food, obviously…but what kind?
You can buy chick starter for your new chicks, but at our farm we actually opt not to feed chick starter and move our chicks right to regular feed. There are a few reasons for this choice, but the main reason is because whenever we’ve had mama hens hatch out chicks on our farm, the chicks have always followed right behind their mama and eaten whatever she has eaten. They’ve never cared what it said on the bag or what kind of bug she was calling them over to.
We’ve never had any health issues with our chicks eating adult layer food, but you are completely okay to make the choice that works best for your homestead!
5. Baby chicks need you to be an attentive keeper!
I know it will be hard for you to stay away from those baby chicks and you will be checking on them constantly, but it’s worth pointing out that this actually is important to do.
You don’t need to be with them every single minute but they are babies and should be checked on at least a few times a day. Kids can get into trouble, right? Kids can do silly things, yes? Chicks are just like kids. So keep an eye on them.
But, having said that, don’t stress! Something to keep in mind is that baby chicks haven’t changed. Baby chicks are the same as they were 100 years ago, it’s just that now we have the internet to banter back and forth about the right way to raise them and what newfangled products we need in order to raise them “correctly”. Simply put, baby chicks need some place safe and warm to live, they need food and water, and they need someone to check up on them to make sure they’re not getting into trouble.
You can provide that for them, right? Right! Good luck with your new baby chicks!
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