Raising baby chicks is a right of passage for any homesteader or self-sufficiency folks. But when you're a beginner raising baby chicks, you want to make sure you're caring for your animals correctly, after all, this is your egg and meat production.
6 Tips to Raising Baby Chicks for the first 6 Weeks
These tips on raising baby chicks pertain to chicks purchased from a hatchery, feed store, or in the mail, when they haven't been hatched out with a Mama hen. It's much easier when we let nature do her thing, but many people don't have the luxury of an already established flock or broody hen and need to begin their flock with baby chicks.
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- Brooder boxes for chickens. Ideally, your brooder pen will have high enough sides to keep the baby chicks from jumping out. Curved or round shapes are best, deep corners can lead to a chick getting trapped and trampled in the corner.
- Best bedding for baby chicks. You need to have something in the bottom of your brooding box for the baby chicks bedding, preferably 2 inches deep. The best solutions are pine pellets or wood shavings (though cedar is not recommended, it can be stressful to their respiratory system). Hay and straw are prone to mold quickly and may harbor pests as well as requiring more frequent cleaning of your baby chicks pen. Newspaper is slippery, especially when wet, and can cause a condition in baby chicks called “splayed leg”.
- Heat lamp. Your new darling baby chicks are all fuzzy, little puff balls of cuteness. They haven't grown their feathers, and without their mother hen to keep them warm, they will require a heat lamp. A red bulb heat lamp not only keeps them warm but also helps protect them from getting pecked and killed by their coop mates.
It's important to make sure your heat lamp is stable and not near anything that could catch on fire. A guard is an excellent idea, especially when the chickens get bigger, aka jump, fly, peck at it.
How long do chickens need to be under a heat lamp
So glad you asked. For the first two weeks baby chicks should be kept at 95 degrees Fahrenheit. After that, you can raise the heat lamp by a few inches to lower the temperature by about 5 degrees for each week until the chicks have their full feathers.
How long do you keep baby chickens under a light
Usually, chicks will be under the heat lamp for about 6 to 8 weeks. At 6 weeks chicks are fully feathered, but if your outdoor temperatures are below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, slowly acclimate them.
When can chickens live outside
Our chicks start living outside after about 2 to 3 weeks of age, but still with the aid of a heat lamp. We'll turn off the heat lamp during the day if it's warm out, but turn it back on for chilly nights for a few weeks, until they're about 8 weeks old, depending upon the weather.
- Water. When you first bring your baby chicks home, water is more important than food. Especially if they're coming via the mail from a hatchery.
First place the baby chicks in their prepared heated brooder box and offer them water.
It's best to use a watering container like this (I prefer metal ones as plastic tends to crack and leak), if it's an open container baby chicks can fall in and drown.
Once they've all taken a drink, you can tip their beak into the water to help them know where it is, you can introduce their food.
Water is more important when it comes to raising baby chicks, so usually wait an hour or so before introducing food to make sure they've drank water first. Always keep them with clean fresh water.
- Food. When raising baby chicks, you need to start with the appropriate food for their optimal health and growth. What to feed baby chicks after hatching is important, especially the amount of protein. Laying hens or dual-purpose breeds require 16 to 18 grams of daily protein for the six weeks of life.
Meat birds have a higher protein demand, needing to be fed 23 grams of protein a day for the first 3 weeks with tapering to 20 grams from 3 to 6 weeks of age.
We chose not to feed our chicks medicated feed. The purpose of us raising our own meat is to avoid antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, and chemicals in our food.
We use an organic chick starter mix and also give them vegetable scraps from the garden and table.
- Grit. If you're raising your baby chicks inside or they're not on the bare ground with access to dirt, you'll need to supplement with grit. The sooner the better. Grit helps them digest their food, as they don't have teeth. Put it in a small container in their pen and let them free range on it.
You are the most important, and biggest factor, when it comes to raising your baby chicks and their health.
Using the above 6 tips will help give your baby chicks their best start, but nothing can take the place of daily care and attention.
Make sure you check their water twice a day. Having clean and fresh water is very important. If the watering container springs a leak, you don't want your chicks standing in water or getting drenched.
You'll want to make sure they're at the right temperature throughout the day. If they get too hot or cold, it can be critical.
This is especially important during the first 24 hours of setting up your baby chicks.
Signs your baby chicks are too hot
If they're panting and at the corners of the brooder box (away from the heat lamp), it's a sign the baby chicks are too hot and the heat lamp needs to be raised up a few inches.
Signs your baby chicks are too cold
If they're all huddled together tightly under the heat lamp, they're too cold and you need to lower it an inch or two to warm them up.
Keep their brooder box clean. You don't want them eating, lying, or breathing in an excess amount of poop. Chickens don't urinate separately, it all comes out in their poop, which makes excellent fertilizer, high in nitrates, when it's had a chance too cool.
Raising baby chicks doesn't stop after 6 weeks, from the egg to the table and more about raising your own livestock, growing your own food organically and naturally, and how to preserve it for year round eating is waiting for you in the Pioneering Today Academy.
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There you have it, our complete guide for raising baby chicks for the first 6 weeks. Have you ever raised baby chicks?
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- Breeding Chickens Naturally: Selective Breeding for Eggs & Chicks
- Integrating New Chicks to Existing Flocks Q&A Chicken Raising
- Raising Chickens for Profit
- How to Butcher a Chicken at Home