After hatching, baby chicks require a lot of time and attention. They need to be taken care of during their first two months of life before they can be relocated outside. This period is referred to as the brooding period. This is a period of growth, learning, and exploration. The most important things to consider when taking care of chicks are housing, temperature, food, water, and cleanliness.
Preparing the Brooder House for Baby Chickens
The first day the chicks spend in the incubator is an important period of growth. They will not need food, as they are sustained by the yolk of the egg. They will be interested in just about everything in the incubator, including drops of water and each other’s toes. They will grow in stature, activity, and skills in the incubator. After the chicks have completely dried in the incubator, they should be moved to a brooder box, where they will remain until they have feathers, about 5-8 weeks.
The brooder box can be either a cardboard box or a cage about the size of a rabbit or guinea pig cage. They need enough room to move around, lay down and sleep, and space for a feeder and drinker. It should be lined with either pine shavings or newspapers. Pine shavings are the best option, as the newspapers get slippery when wet and the ink can rub off on the chicks.
The litter should be changed every two days and should not be allowed to get damp. Baby chicks are prone to disease and cleanliness ensures that all of the babies remain healthy.
After the chicks are a month old, a roost should be added. This can be a stick or a piece of wood about 4 inches off the floor of the brooder box. The chicks will jump on it and they might even sleep on it. Be sure not to put it directly under the light, as it will get too hot.
Maintaining the Best Temperature for Baby Chickens
The best temperature to keep the brooder box at is 95oF (35oC) or the first week, but it can range anywhere from 90oF-100oF. It should then be reduced by about 5 degrees each week. The heat source can either be a 100-watt light bulb with a reflector or a heat lamp.
Temperature can either be regulated by a thermometer or by paying attention to the chicks’ behavior. If they are panting or huddling in the corners furthest from the heat source, the brooder box is too hot. If they are huddled directly under the light, the box is too cold. Heat can be adjusted by moving the light further from or closer to the box or by changing the wattage of the light bulb.
Feeding and Watering Chicks
Chicks will need a lot of water while they are growing so make sure the drinker being used is appropriately sized for the number of chicks in the box or be prepared to add water a lot. The drinker should be cleaned once or twice a day because the chicks will poop everywhere, including in their water.
Also, in the first week, chicks have a tendency to throw themselves into the water and drown, probably because they are used to being encased in fluid in the egg. To prevent this, marbles should be placed to cover the entire surface of the water dish. The chicks will drink in the spaces between the marbles, but will not be able to drown.
Since chicks will naturally scratch at their feed, even at a young age, a feeder should be used. Again, it should be cleaned often, and it should always be full of feed. The feed should never be rationed out. The babies will need to eat a lot in order to properly grow and develop.
Baby chickens should be fed dry mash, which can generally be purchased anywhere poultry feed is sold. Dry mash can come either medicated or non-medicated. Either one can be used, but the medicated type will help prevent the spread of coccidiosis, a parasite that infects the intestines and can kill 90% of the chicks. If the non-medicated mash is used, cleanliness is even more important.
As long as the baby chicks have a warm, clean brooder box and fresh food and water, they will grow to be healthy and happy adult chickens in about two months.