Once you've ordered some day-old baby chicks from a hatchery, it's easy to impatiently wait for their arrival, like a proud new parent. Being ready for them when they get home is important so that they're taken care of, grow properly, and don't die of cold temperatures. You'll need an array of supplies for your new baby chicks, including a brooder guard and lamp, chick waterer, bedding, and more.
Why Baby Chicks Need Light
Heat lamps are needed for baby chicks because they... provide security and warmth as they grow. The heat source is provided in a brooder—a heated house for chicks or piglets—which is for minimizing stress and providing a clean and safe environment. Groups of baby chicks often keep themselves warm by huddling together in a tiny space, but as the space gets larger for eating, drinking, and other activities, an extra source of heat is required while they start to feather.
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A brooder area is a draft-free place where you can keep your chicks. Feed and farm supply stores sell large, oval, and galvanized tubs for this purpose, and you can buy specialized brooders complete with heat. A brooder can also be made out of cardboard, a plastic tub, a kiddie pool, or anything else you can dream up.
Chicks have a habit of finding any little crevice or opening in the brooder and getting out. When they're very young, they can't find their way back in. You'll hear the loud cheeps of a lost chick anytime one gets out, but if they can't get back in, they can die of stress, starvation, or thirst. If you decide to make your own do-it-yourself brooder area, make sure the size is 2 square feet of space per chick.
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Unless you have a complete brooder, you'll need a 250-watt heat lamp to keep the chicks warm. This will warm 75 chicks at 50 F ambient temperature. The area under the lamps should be 95 F the first week, decreasing by 5 degrees per week, until the chicks are fully feathered out. This takes about six weeks of age or until you've reached the ambient temperature outdoors at night.
Have a backup lamp. Chicks will die if they get too cold, so a spare light bulb will help to ensure they never freeze to death. The light bulb needs to be housed in a proper lamp housing with a metal guard to prevent it from catching the bedding on fire if it should fall. Ensuring it's height-adjustable is helpful as well.
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For a chick waterer, Mason jar bases will do for the first week or two. You'll find as chicks grow, the jar will have to be refilled more frequently. Try using two half-gallon Mason jars with bases per 25 chicks and refilling every two or three days. You need something that has a very small trough for them to drink out of, or they'll fall in, get wet, become chilled, and possibly die.
Once they're a bit bigger, they can handle a gallon waterer or more. After about two weeks, move to a 5-gallon metal waterer. Set the waterers up out of the shavings on a piece of wood or other makeshift stand to avoid picking shavings out of the water.
04 of 07
It's worth investing in special chick-sized feeders. The feeders with holes to peck through will be helpful for the first week or so. With this, you'll save enough money in wasted feed that it will pay for the cost of the feeder. They're designed so that the chicks can't get into the feed and poop in it.
Allow free access to the feed at all times. The very first day, spread some feed on a piece of cardboard and tap it. The chicks immediately find the feed, and the sound of beaks tapping on cardboard leads other chicks to the sound. After about a week or two, move to a tube-style feeder. Leave the chick feeders and new feeder out together for a day or so, to make sure they find the new food.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Baby chicks need bedding, just like older hens. Pine shavings are best, as straw or hay can easily get lost. Many people start chicks on newspaper covered with hardware cloth. However, it's important to avoid starting chicks on newspaper alone, because it's too slippery. This can make chicks develop a condition called "spraddle legs."
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Use a high-quality feed called a "chick starter." Different brands of feed will have you transition to grow at different ages. Some brands say six weeks, and others say six months. Follow the recommendations of your feed manufacturer.
It's up to you to have a medicated feed or not. If you have your chicks vaccinated for coccidiosis at the hatchery, make sure that you do not use medicated feed. If they're unvaccinated, you might want to provide them with medicated feed for extra protection.
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Supplements can aid in your chicks' growth. Gro Gel Plus, for example, is a gel that you feed to new hatchlings to help them find the feed. Quik Chik is a vitamin and electrolyte powder that you use in their water as well.
Diatomaceous earth (food-grade) can be sprinkled in your chicks' feed to deter diseases. When they're older, sprinkle it in the coop (when wearing a respirator) to kill mites.
After the first week, if the birds have any access to bugs or worms, a source of grit can help. This allows them to better digest "real" food. Some sand or dirt is fine, but grit can also be bought at a feed or farm store.