When you get your chicks they will only be a few days old. The three things that are essential for their survival are; clean water, food, and heat. Let’s talk about what you will need. First off is some type of enclosure, which for chicks is referred to as a brooder. This is just a fancy term for ‘box.’ We just used a large cardboard box, but many things will work. You probably have something
lying around the house. They will end up needing about 1 ½ square feet of floor space per bird. Remember that they will be spending the first 5 – 8 weeks of time in this brooder. Toward the end of this time they will be much bigger than they were when you first got them. You will want to cover the floor of the brooder with about an inch of bedding.
What is bedding? Bedding is normally pine shaving or pine pellets that come in a large bag for under $10. It acts like cat litter and soaks up the chicken droppings. You will need to change it as it is used up, which you should be able to tell by looking at it. The used bedding is a great addition to any compost pile, and will almost be worth its weight in gold.
Fresh water is provided by a shallow dish. You can buy a waterier, or make one at home. You can take a small can turned upside down onto a shallow dish/bowl. Put 2 holes near the top/open edge of the can, put some water in it and invert it onto the dish. There should be about an inch between the edge of the can and the edge of the shallow dish/bowl that will fill with a little water. The chicks have to be able to get their beaks into it. The chicks will have a tendency to get the water dirty by kicking bedding into it as well as stepping in it. You will need to change the water at least once if not twice a day.
Heat is extremely important for chicks. When chicks are born they can’t produce any of their own body heat. Your house will not be warm enough and you will need a heat lamp. Use a red bulb that will be easier on their eyes especially when they sleep. For the first week they will need to be kept at about 95 degrees. Every week the temperature will be lowered 5 degrees. The easiest way to do this is by adjusting the height of the heat lamp. About 6 inches above them the first week then about a foot the second and so on. You will be able to tell if the chicks are too hot or too cold by what area of the brooder they are in. If the chicks are all huddles under the center of the lamp they are too cold. If they are all pushed out to the sides of the brooder (remember, just a fancy way of saying box) they are too hot. Just adjust the light when you are noticing one extreme or another, every few days or so.
Food might be the easiest concern of all when they are chicks. There are two main types (tons of different kinds) of chicken feed, pellets or crumble. Crumble is basically ground up pellets. When they make chicken feed they take all the different ingredients; grains, seeds, corn, etc. and grind them up. This gets compacted into pellets that adult chicken can easily eat but is too big for chicks. Crumble is just the initial grind, but a little compacted, which is what your chicks will need. You can buy a feeder or once again make one, using a tuna can or anything else about this size. The chicks will get the food dirty just like the water, but you wont have to clean it out quite as often, every few days, or when it looks like it needs it.
A few additional tips.
At least once a day when you change the water pick up the chicks up one by one and look at their butts. Chicks sometimes get what is called ‘blocked vent.’ This just means that dried manure has caked on to their butt and could block it up. If this happens they can’t go to the bathroom and will cause them to die. I am not trying to scare you, this is not a big deal and you can easily deal with it. If you notice this, fill a bowl with warm water and dip the chicks rear into it a number of times. Also get a toothpick and very gently clean it off until it is all gone.
Feel free to pick up and hold the chicks, even feed them a little by hand. This will get them accustom to you and make them far more friendly when they grow up. Also as the weeks go on they will start to try and venture out. You will need to cover the top of the box with chicken wire, unless it is at least 3 feet deep otherwise you will be chasing chickens all over the house.
After about 5 – 8 week the chickens are ready to move to their permanent living quarters. This should occur when they have gone at least 1 weeks without the heat lamp. Remember it gets a lot colder at night outside than in you house. At this age they can create their own internal heat and will huddle together when they sleep to keep warm. This is very important; when you move your chickens to their coop/house, keep them locked in for at least 5 days before you let them out. You have to make sure the hens realize this is their home. Don’t make the mistake I did, and start feeling bad that the hens can’t go outside. I felt bad after 2 days, let them out, and they all flew away. Lucky for me the next day all but one came back after spending the night out in the neighborhood. I then locked them up for 5 days strait, and haven’t had any problems. I didn’t even clip their wings and they have never left, even though they easily could. Once again, keep them locked in the coop for at least 5 days strait. Once they know what their home is, they are far less likely to leave.