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Raising Chicks At Home
Bringing up chicks can be hard work but it is really rewarding and interesting. They grow very quickly, one minute they are tiny balls of fluff and within a few weeks they are fully feathered and are ready to go out into the world. Between 21 and 25 weeks they are ready to start laying their own eggs.
Whether you are hatching eggs in an incubator or buying very young chicks, the brooding process is the same. Before the babies arrive you will need to provide somewhere for them to live and grow - a brooder. These are available commercially or are simply made using a large plastic storage box with a heat lamp suspended above. With newly hatched and extremely young chicks the brooder temperature needs to be in the region of 90-95'F. Newly hatched chicks should be left in the incubator until they are dry and fluffy, they can then be moved into the brooder. Decrease the temperature by about 5' each week until week 6 - during the 5th and 6th weeks I turn the lamp off during the day (providing the air temperature is not too cold) and put it on again during late afternoon/early evening. Common sense is the best guide to knowing when to turn the light on and off.
Initially, it is sensible to use a non-slip mat in the bottom of the brooder to prevent the chicks from splaying their legs through slipping. These mats are fairly easy to come by, try E-bay, and it is a good idea to buy two so one can be rinsed through while the other is in use. If you place the mat on a thick bed of newspapers it will provide additional insulation. Once the chicks are through the first week and are steady on their feet the mats can be replaced with a thick bed of woodshavings - untreated shavings of the sort made for horses, livestock or pets are best.
The chicks will need to have fresh water daily, supplied in a dish that they cannot drown in, Some pebbles placed in the bottom should keep them safe althogh it is probably better to use a chick drinker with a narrow base. If your drinker has a wide base simply use the pebble idea again.
To begin with the babies should be fed on a proprietory chick or starter crumb (from feed or agricultural suppliers) which contains the nutrients they need for growth. For the first few days the crumb should be ground down to little more than a powder to enable the chicks to eat it easily. If the chicks are a bit slow to start eating, mix a little boiled egg in with the crumb for a day or two until they get the idea.
Check your babies regularly to ensure they are well and clean the brooder each day to prevent any disease or infection. It is important to ensure that the babies have enough room to move easily otherwise they may start to fight and injure one another.
As the chicks get older and start to get their feathers, their appetite and hunger increases as does their requirement for water. They can still eat their crumb but now you can start introducing other foods such as lettuce, grass and other vegetables such as cabbage.
They do not have such high heat requirement at this stage but do makesure they do not get cold. Once the chicks are fully feathered, providing the weather is mild, they can begin their move into the outside world. A good tip is to start them off by putting them outside in a mobile run, with shelter, for a few hours a day in dry weather to acclimatise them. Choose a warm day that is going to lead into a warm night before moving them to their permanent outdoor accommodation.
At the same time you can start introducing them to layers pellets and poutry corn, just add a few to their usual crumb, gradually increasing the pellets/corn and decreasing the crumb. They should also be offered poultry grit to aid their digestion, this can easily be bought from feed merchants and agricultural suppliers and do make sure they have a plentiful supply of fresh water each day.
Very soon your chicks will have become chickens and start to reward you with fresh eggs (assuming they're females of course)!
(NOTE: The above information is based on our own experiences and we cannot be held responsible if the method does not work for others.)