|My first brooder- our old dog crate.|
Baby chicks are some of the most adorable little fluff balls, edged out in cuteness only by the likes of baby ducks and bunnies. But they are also tiny... and breakable... and fragile...
Really, they're not as frail as they seem. They're just so little and helpless when they're hatched, much like any baby animal. And like any baby, they need some special care. But if you are prepared and attentive you will be able to raise healthy, happy chicks into healthy, happy chickens.
|The brooder in my coop.|
A close second is temperature. Baby chicks require access to an area in their brooder that is consistantly 95 degrees during the first week of their life. The entire brooder doesn't need to be this warm, but there should be enough space in this temperature range to prevent the chicks from pilling up and smothering each other in the attempt to be warm. You don't need a thermometer to guage this, though. Before your chicks arrive set up your heat lamp (or whatever you choose to keep the chicks warm) and check the temp. But once the chicks arrive it is easy to gauge the temperature. If the chicks are huddling under the light or piling up, they are too cold. If they're huddling against the sides as far from the light as possible, they're too hot (and this is bad, too, as it can cause dehydration). If they're walking around, scratching, and falling asleep in the general area of the light then they're fine. You should also assure that there are no drafts blowing on the chicks, as they can chill easily.
There are a lot of myths concerning things you should and shouldn't do when you get new chicks. Here is what I know to be true and what I know to be bunk:
- Don't put chicks on newspaper, as it's too slippery and can cause their legs to spraddle (which is a permanent injury). Instead bed with pine shavings.
- Let chicks water sit out before you bring them home so it can come to room temp. Cold water can quickly lower a chick's body temp since they are so small.
- You need to show your chicks where their water is or they'll become dehydrated: This isn't true, they will find the water on their own. However, because I don't rest easily until I've seen every chick drink, I often dip their beaks anyway.
- Chicks can drown in their water: I suppose this might be true, but it depends on the waterer you use. In the shallow little mason jar waterers I use, I doubt they could drown.
- Offer food right away, using a good 18% or higher protein chick feed. Medicated or not is a personal decision. I choose not. Many say I'm crazy. I say I've lost two chicks ever.
- Keep the water clean and filled. They scratch it full of shavings fast, especially if it's set directly on the shavings. A brick or patio paver to lift the water above the level of the shavings is a good idea as well.
- Keep the shavings clean and dry.
- If you give your chicks anything to eat other than commercial chick feed (like treats), make sure they have grit, which is necessary for them to properly digest food. Even if you don't, grit isn't a terrible idea.