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So, the sound of those little chirps sucked you right in at the local farm store? You repeatedly told yourself that there was no way those chicks are coming home. The swarms of people oohing and aahing over the little birds somehow pulls you towards the silver containers of little fluff balls. Before you know it, your precious five year old is lovingly carrying a peeping box and you better grab some baby chick supplies to keep these little birds alive!
Hopefully this is not you because you are a planner and control your impulses. (Let’s be honest, it was me and my daughter was 12, but that is another story). IF it is you and you are scrambling trying to find a large box and a saucer for water, I have a quick list of the basics for a few days as your children hold (read: manhandle) these baby chicks and you are googling words like “pasty butt”!
Brooder: Because a big box store was located next to the local farm supply store, I ran in and spent too much money on a large plastic tote. This does work, but watch that heat lamp! A galvanized steel tub is what I have seen at the local farm stores. We eventually built a brooder box as we have our share of chicks coming and going.
Feeder: To get started, you can always put the food in a shallow dish for a few days. They are pretty sleepy, so you have time to search for the perfect feeder. If you are ok with plastic, this works well for the baby chicks. I prefer a galvanized one. Be aware that if you purchase the galvanized one, you will need a regular mouth quart mason jar to hold the feed. Tap the dish when you first introduce the feed as the sound will let them know where the good stuff is!
Waterer: Similar to the feeder, your babies need access to water. A small saucer or lid to a mason jar will work, but very soon you will need to have something larger for the chicks. I place the water away from the heat source (see information below) and raise it as the chicks get older. As with the feeder, there are plastic and galvanized options.
Heat Lamp or Brooder Plate: Baby chicks need to be kept warm. Think to the images of the Mamma hen with all the babies under her. You need to keep the temperature about 95-100 degrees at the bottom of the brooder for the first two weeks. To emulate the Mamma, choose a source of heat. True story, when we first purchased a heat lamp with a shield we almost burned our shed down. From then on, I was always paranoid until we purchased this brooder plate. It is more expensive, but as we are in the chicken breeding business, it is worth every penny for peace of mind. If you do choose to go with the heat lamp and shield, purchase a red light.
Thermometer: As I mentioned before, you need to watch that temperature the first two weeks to keep the babies warm. Over the next two weeks, drop the temperature five degrees each week. An inexpensive thermometer will let you see the exact temperature. Without looking at the temperature, the chicks will tell you their comfort level. For instance, if they are huddled up under the heat source, this means that they are cold and need more warmth. If they are plastered against the side of the brooder trying to escape the heat, they are too warm. I try to have one area of warmth and one pretty far away from the lamp so that there are two different “climates” in the brooder box.
Bedding: There are varying opinions on bedding for baby chicks. I prefer pine shavings. DO NOT USE CEDAR SHAVINGS!!!! We put down two to three inches of shavings in the brooder. The last things you want is for the chicks to slip on the bottom of the brooder and have splayed leg. I’ve recently seen people using puppy pads! That sure would help with clean up and with keeping pine shavings out of the waterer. I plan to try these out with our new babies.
Starter Feed: Depending on your views on medicated versus non-medicated feed, there are many options for starter feed. Please note that every bag of chicken feed from baby chick to adult will be different and you need to look at the label. We like use non-medicated, non-gmo organic feed from a local feed store. Sometimes, we will use a local mill. Make sure that you are feeding the babies starter feed.
As with any animal, there are so many tips for the first few days. I think the below items not only as supplements, but a prevention of illness.
Electrolytes and Probiotics: These packets can easily be added to the water for the baby chicks. I usually mix a gallon and use it to replenish the water. If I order chicks online from a hatchery across the country, you better believe that I will give them the electrolytes immediately. Probiotics are good for the gut health.
Apple Cider Vinegar: It does not hurt to add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to the water forever. If you do not have probiotics or electrolytes, this is better than nothing!
With supplies in hand, head over here to another post about setting everything up!