It’s spring again and you or someone you know might be thinking about getting some baby chicks. To help new chicken owners be prepared for the responsibilities of raising baby chicks, here are a few starter tips:
Be ready to make the time commitment. In their first few weeks, chicks require a high level of supervision and care. In the longer view, as with any pet, chickens will need consistent maintenance and attention. Be sure that you have the time and resources to embark on this new adventure of pet ownership.
Check zoning and neighborhood regulations. Before bringing your fluffy friends home, you should check the zoning for your area and any HOA ordinances that relate to keeping livestock. There are some areas where raising chickens is not allowed.
Start planning to build or buy a chicken coop. Baby chicks grow up fast and will need an outdoor coop before you know it! If you are planning to build a coop, it is best to start construction before the chicks come home. Alternatively, if you are thinking of buying a prefabricated coop, make your order early so you can be sure that it will arrive on time. You can find a wide variety of pre-made coops or DIY chicken coop tutorials online.
Select an indoor space for your chicks to live in. Baby chicks need a safe, well-controlled environment for their first few weeks of life. Plan to section off a portion of your garage or home, preferably away from high-traffic areas. An uncarpeted space will make for the easiest clean up. A plastic kiddie pool or a plastic bin is a useful baby chick home, or brooder. Plan to set aside about 2 square feet for each baby chick.
Prepare an absorbent lining for the brooder. Provide an absorbent lining material that your chicks can scratch and that you can easily clean up to keep baby chick mess to a minimum. Many recommend pine wood shavings or paper towels. You will want to change out the lining of the brooder once a week.
Obtain a good source of heat. Baby chicks like to be warm, very warm. In their first week, chicks like their temperature to be around 95 degrees. With each passing week, chicks will be comfortable at lower and lower temperatures until they’re finally ready for outdoor weather. A 250 watt heat lamp is best for creating and maintaining a well-heated environment. The position of the light should be adjustable so you can control the heat of the brooder. Follow the cues the baby chicks give you. If they’re keeping as far away from the light as possible, they’re too hot. If they’re crowded together under the light, they’re too cold.
Provide food and water. Your baby chicks won’t have the best table manners. They’ll most likely track their food and water around their home. Be ready to replace their water source regularly. A shallow water dish should do the trick. You should also take time to research the best chick feed for your chicks. If they have not been vaccinated, you will want to consider getting them medicated feed. Find out the best feed in advance and stock up!
Transition to the outdoors. Acclimate your chicks to the outdoors by taking them out when they’re in their 2nd to 3rd week. Make sure they’re in a safe enclosure and supervise them carefully. Your chicks should be ready to move outdoors in their 4th to 5th week.
A Personal Perspective:
I have been watching a baby chick saga unfold over Facebook. It all started when one of my friends posted a picture of a baby chick on his and his wife’s Facebook wall. The picture caption confirmed that, yes, this was in fact their new baby chick and not just a picture they had taken for fun at the local pet store.
A few days later there was another Facebook post. This one talked about how they were trying to corral the chick in a confined space and were frantically looking for cardboard to protect the floor from chicken scratching and mess. Next there was talk of where on earth to find the right food, and just what did chicks eat anyway?
The latest picture looks like the barricade scene from Les Mislerables: an improvised wall of boxes, furniture, plastic lining, and sheets blocking off a corner of the kitchen. This is the temporary chicken coop until my friend can finish building a permanent coop in the back yard. I’m hoping, for my friend’s sake, that it’s ready soon!