Raising Chicks for the First time

Raising Chicks for the First Time

My first time raising chicks has been such an incredible experience. About a week and a half after bringing chickens home for the first time I got 10 baby chicks from my local feed store. I had done a fair amount of research and was ready for this new adventure. As a born and raised city boy the only real experience I had with chicken was what I had read. For me the best way to learn is by doing. I knew that in my case there were some extra precautions I needed to take since I already had three laying hens.

Chickens aren’t always so keen on having new additions to the flock. They aren’t huge fans of sharing their food supply as far as I can tell. Chickens are pretty rude to each other by nature and I have read tons of horror stories about integrating new birds to the flock. Especially mixing youngsters with adults. Lucky for me and my baby chicks, there is a ton of information out there on best practices.

Getting Ready to Bring Home Baby Chicks

Before bringing baby chicks home there are some thing to get in order. Through internet research I learned it doesn’t really take much to raise chicks. They have just a few simple needs:

Clean Safe Shelter

If you don’t have a hen raising your baby chicks you are going to need a brooder. It doesn’t take much to make a brooder yourself. You could always just buy one too if you’d rather do that. Takes all the guesswork out anyway.

The first brooder I made was a couple Avon boxes and made a long box by taping them together. I made it just long enough to fit on a shelf in my coop. I made sure that the spot was well ventilated but wasn’t drafty. Drafts can easily kill baby chicks so this is one of the top priorities.

Baby Chicks

I didn’t use my first brooder for very long for a few reasons. The main reason was that is was small and they quickly outgrew it. Your brooder should give enough room for them to spread out and move around. Rounded corners are good too because the chicks can’t pile up in them get crushed. I didn’t run into an issue but it does make sense. Especially if you are raising a larger number.

Clean Regularly

You’ll notice this section is Clean Safe Shelter and not just shelter. Something to know about baby chicks, well chickens in general, is that they are quite messy. To chickens the bathroom is where ever they are standing. Which brings me to my next point.

Fresh Water and Feed

Chickens have no problem pooping wherever they are standing or roosting and they love climbing. So many times I would watch them jump up on their water bottle right after I cleaned it and poop in their water. I tried to explain to them that their water was the worst place they could poop but they can be rebellious. Pooping in their food is a favored past time as it turns out. After they get a little older and start behaving more like adult chickens and they start up their scratching and pecking behavior. At this point it gets very messy very quickly as well. What I am trying to say is, make sure you clean their water and feed often. I found once a day worked out to be enough for 10 chicks using two waterers and one trough.

Show Chicks Where to get Water

When you are first introducing chicks to their new environment they will need to be shown where to get water. They seem to find the food easily enough but for the water you need to show them. This is pretty easy. It is just a matter of dipping their beak in the water as you put them in. I have heard you can just show one or two and the rest will figure it out by watching but it takes such a small amount of time it is worth just doing it. Showing them all also helps them if they were shipped as they may be pretty thirsty by then. Why make them wait?

Chick Feed

As far as food goes, I had some crumbles given to me when I got my birds but after a bit of research I decided on using Scratch and Peck feed and have kept them on that since about 2 weeks old. They have all seemed quite healthy through the whole process. I do highly recommend their feed. My laying hens love it too. The egg quality shot up when I switched them over from the pellets they were on when I got them.

Pasty Butt

One thing to consider is the dreaded pasty butt. That makes it sound worse than it is but it can become a serious problem if not dealt with. I noticed two of my 10 chicks were having masses of dried poo sticking to their vents. Turns out this is called Pasty Butt and can actually plug the poor chick up and has been known to kill. Not fun. Cleaning turned out to be pretty simple but did require patience. I would just put them in a small bowl of warm water. Just enough to cover their butts while standing in the water and gently clean with a Q-Tip. What I later learned is to put a bit of baking soda in the water and that seemed to help keep it from happening.

Chicks Need Heat

When chicks are first born they aren’t really capable of regulating their temperature so a heat source is very important. Keep in mind heat lamps aren’t recommended because they can fall, break and burn your coop down but it is what I already had so made made sure to triple secure it with some extra hardware. Next year I am going to be getting one of these jobbies.

Chick heating plates are much safer, less cumbersome and use far less energy. Another bonus is that there isn’t always light. 24 hour red light isn’t really natural anywhere. These don’t put out visible lights. Just heat. Pretty much wins across the board. Next year I am going to order some rare breed hatching eggs and try my hand at that as well so I’ll need one of those and an incubator but that is another post. Why red light for chicks though?

Red Light for Raising Chicks

One thing that anyone who has raised chicks will tell you is that you need red light. Being the little dinosaurs they are chickens have some interesting instincts. One for example is to attack anything that looks like blood or a wound. Chickens have been known to kill each other. When they see blood because they just keep pecking at it and making it worse. Day old chicks are no better. Worse in fact. By using red light any blood they may have exposed doesn’t draw attention keeping them all safe from each other. You can get always get lights lights and timers to automate the process or turning them on an off.

Nowadays with RGB LEDs and WiFi lights you can set them up on a sunrise/sunset that adjusts the time for you. That is another benefit of the brooder heater I mentioned earlier. By using those instead of the potentially dangerous heat lamps you can make sure that the chicks get a day night cycle while remaining safe. Chickens are absolutely ruled by what the sun is doing so keeping that cycle can really only be good for the chicks in the long run I imagine. I’ll dive in to how to do that in another post.

Chick Quarantine | Chick Attacking Eyes

As I’ve mentioned a few times Chickens are jerks to each other. While raising chicks for the first time I learned that this is a very inherent trait of their’s when within 2 minutes of moving them out of their carriers and in to the small brooder. One of my Ameraucanas, who also seems to be male at this point, decided it liked the other chicks eyeballs looked like tasty morsels. Looked like a nice bug I guess. Well, he started dragging the other chicks around by their eyelids! He was doing it to all of them so he got himself moved to quarantine pretty quick. After some research I found this is SUPER common.

Raising Chicks | Quarantine Zone

Seperate With Hardware Cloth

I separated the brooder in two with a piece of hardware cloth right down the middle. This way he was separated and could still be with his mates but he couldn’t hurt them. It was pretty sad to watch on the camera though. For two days straight he bounced off that hardware cloth trying to join back up with the flock, or get to those delicious looking eyeballs, not sure which. I kept it that way for three days then let him try again. Thankfully, there were no problems after that but some people have reported it taking longer.

Roost Practice

What really made me move them in to a larger brooder was how flighty they can be. After four weeks in the small brooder one of my Barred Rocks, whom I am sure is a Cockerel at this point, used to love jumping up on the chicken wire I had “keeping them in” to roost. He was two inches tall and perched six feet in the air. I couldn’t have little dude falling. They are pretty fragile. The thing is, they love roosting and they like to be high up.

Raising Chicks | Roosting Practice

After sectioning an area at the back of the coop off for the chicks I made a little roost for them after over the course of about 4-5 weeks the chicks started using it. The little Barred Rock dude was the only one that slept like that for a few weeks but they all started catching on. After they were all using it I put a larger permanently installed roost in and they took to it almost immediately.

Introducing Chicks to the Existing Flock

Since I already had a couple of hens I learned I needed to be strategic about how they were introduced. From day one they were in the coop together but they weren’t able to get to each other. Usually you want to keep them separated until you know that you didn’t just bring any diseased birds home. I didn’t, I didn’t run in to any problems either. You probably should though. You never know.

After I moved them to the large brooder the chicks and hens had full view of each other at all times but couldn’t get to each other. This is a crucial step. They need to get used to each other’s presence before just being put together. I’m certain my Hen Stella would have offed every one of them given the chance. You don’t want to just throw new birds in with new birds. They aren’t particularly nice to the the chickens they know let alone an intruder that is going to wreck the pecking order and take all the food.

How I Mixed My Flock and What I Could Have Done Better

Introducing chicks to the flock is an important part of raising chicks if you have an existing flock and should be done correctly. Introducing new adult birds is pretty much the same as well since it is really best to mix the flock when they are all about the same size. Also, if you have an existing flock it is best not to just throw one new bird in there with it.

Turns out it is always better to add multiple birds to an existing flock. Even two or three will integrate much better than just one. If you mix one bird with multiple birds they’re gonna have a bad time.

After Quarantine to make sure they aren’t sick. I would do at least a week. Next, I put them in an safe area where they can all see each other but can not get to each other. Do this for a few weeks if you can. I have an extra area I call the security run. I had it set up so the chicks could go in to that smaller area while the hens were able to walk around the whole chicken run.

After a couple weeks of this you will give them supervised time in the run together. I had read that some aggression is inevitable. I learned there may be fighting and it will probably be hard to watch but it is completely normal.

It is important to take the time to do it right. I have read that some people have had decent luck with just putting the new birds on the roost at night when they are all docile and they all wake up going “oh, I guess they’re supposed to be here” and everything goes great. I have also heard from others that isn’t always the case. Better safe than sorry.

Be Prepared for Violence

What we don’t want it for it to get so out of hand that one of the birds gets injured. My Barred Rock hen Stella was, and still is, pretty aggressive to the chicks while the other two hens asserted themselves but never got outright mean. I’m guessing she felt threatened as she was already at the bottom of the pecking order and felt powerful.

Make Sure to Spread Feed Out

After a couple days I felt they were ready to spend the day together. I made sure to spread food out all over so they could all get some without being bullied too much. I was still a bit gun shy but I knew it was time due to some of the horror stories I had read. After a couple weeks of them just being together my little Barred Rock dude kept trying to spend the night on top of the brooder instead of going in.

At this point keeping them separated at night was getting more and more difficult so I just took the top off and opened all the partitions I had set up. The next morning I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know what I was going to find out there. It was loud and some feathers were flying but nothing bad. Everything was OK.

Put The Whole Flock on Growing Rations

I’m sure mixing 10 chicks with three hens had something to do with how smooth it went. It was really more like I was integrating the hens into the chick flock rather than the other way around. Either way I was very happy I could now just let them all come and go without all the back and forth and separating them constantly. Getting to this point also meant it was time to put the whole flock on the same growing rations. It turns out laying rations have quite a bit more calcium and the young birds just don’t have the ability to deal with so much calcium. I had my whole flock on the growing rations until the chicks were 18 weeks old then switched to laying rations.

When Do Chicks Start To Lay Eggs?

My new flock is at 21 weeks and so far I have not seen any eggs from them. I know they should start any day now. Digging around online I found that my Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks should start laying around 4 1/2 months but it can take a little longer. For the Ameraucanas it is often closer to six months. Either way I am so excited to have had my first go a raising chicks turn out to be such a success. Soon they will be earning their keep as they provide quality eggs. My plan has always been to sell the surplus eggs to people in my community to offset feed costs. I have come up with a few great ways to get almost free chicken feed and they are working out pretty great as well.

Raising Chicks Successfully

Raising Chicks | Flock Integrated

There it is! I didn’t loose a single one and that feels pretty great. All in all raising chicks was a wonderful experience and I look forward to doing it again. Next time from eggs rather than a day old. If there is one thing I can see that really helped make sure it all worked out was research. The internet helped me understand so much a long the way and for that I am grateful. I have found that taking care of the flock is a lot less work now and I can spend more time making their run nicer and more entertaining for them and just enjoy spending time with them and watching them. They really are fun creatures to be around. Hilarious too!