If you have just come home from the feed store with a box full of baby chicks you may not know how to take care of them and while most hatcheries may give you lots of information about your chicks if you need more information then I hope this helps.
Getting ready for your chicks before they arrive is very important, your chicks will likely be stressed regardless of where you got them from and bringing them into a warm place that is already set up for them can really help to ease the stress. You will need to provide a few things for them, such as bedding, food, water, heat and a way to keep drafts off of them.
Bedding : should be something like wood shavings, rice hulls or ground cobs, you should never use cedar which is toxic and sawdust is far too small and you may find the chicks eating it. Good clean pine shaving are a good choice, in a pinch you can also use straw.
Food and Water: while this may seem like a no brainer it is important to make sure you get the right feed and water containers for chicks and you need to make sure that it is available to them at all times. Chick starter should be used, and for the first day or two make sure you spread some on paper towels or newspaper to make sure they are finding it, when you see them eating out of the feeder then you can stop doing this. Most authorities recommend 2 feet of space for each 25 chicks when buying feeders.
Make sure to buy feeders that the baby chicks can reach; many of them have a lip that is higher than your tiny chicks can get to. Special chick feeders are the best choice for new chicks. Many people put a water booster in for their chicks for the first couple of days, while it is not necessary it can be a good way to help them get past the stress of their move.
Heat: Heat is one of the most important parts of your chick set up, baby chicks needs 90 – 95 degrees for the first week. You can slowly move the heat source up each week until they have all of their feathers and no longer need it many more. Most people use a 250 watt red infrared bulb for this purpose. Chicks seem to be most comfortable with the red light rather than a white one.
Many new chick owners worry themselves to death that they cannot get the temperature exactly at 95 degrees, but chicks are very good at regulating themselves, if it is a bit warmer under the bulb than 95 they will find the spot they are most comfortable with. If your chicks are huddled together they are too cold and if they are spread out way away from the light then it is likely too warm. If you keep the bulb at a distance of 18 inches when you first start then you will find that this works best.
Chickens need light even when they are not using a heat bulb, you will want to install a small night light for at night and a regular 75 watt bulb for the day if it is dark in their enclosure.
Avoiding a Draft: It is very important that your chicks are not subject to a draft, this can occur when a door is open or if they place they are being house is drafty. The easy way to fix this is to put them in some sort of smaller enclosure, not only will this prevent them from getting a draft, but it will also keep their area warmer. Be sure however to give them enough room to all move away from the heat source too as well so they do not get too hot. You can use a kiddie swimming pool for this purpose or you can use cardboard to make them a circle. You want to give them about 1/2 square foot per bird when you choose the size of their enclosure.
When Your Chicks Arrive
Once you are ready for your birds, then you will have a few things you need to do when they arrive. It is important to make sure they are all in good condition and that they know where the water and food are. The best way to do this is to dip their beaks in the water and sprinkle their food on the paper under their heat source. Put your food and water containers around the light far enough away to give them room under the light but close enough that they can find it.
Watch your chicks carefully at this point to make sure they are eating and drinking, keep dipping their beaks if you think it is necessary and sprinkle their food for a couple of days to make sure they are getting the hang of it. This is especially important if your chicks were shipped to you and had a bit of a hard trip. Be sure to check them every hour or two for the first day to make sure they are getting food and water.
Another important thing to watch for when you get your chicks home is that their rear ends are not pasting up, where the feces sticks to their hind ends, blocking the vent hole. It is very important to make sure you clean this off, I have found that a warm wash cloth works best, try to avoid picking it off, because their skin is very delicate and this can cause them more trouble.
When your chicks hit 4 weeks of age there is more you will need to do to get their new home ready for them. But we will cover this in another post later. We are getting ready to deal with this stage soon and will let you know how it goes and give you some tips on taking care of your new birds.