Supplies to Get for Your Baby Chicks
The Basic Needs of Chickens
Like most animals, there are certain things a chick needs as it grows. They need a safe, warm place to do that growing. They need food and water. Oh, and they need someone to clean up after them. Go figure! It's good to be prepared before bringing home your new chickens to make raising them a smooth and enjoyable process. I'll give you the basics of what you need to get started.
What's a Brooder?
So you're looking for a place to keep your chicks while they grow that's safe, warm and also keeps them out of mischief. This would be called a brooder. You can buy your own brooder, or you can make your own. What it basically consists of is a box that's about two feet deep to keep your chicks in as they grow. Be aware that whatever you use you need to be careful that it's not highly flammable because you'll be using a heat lamp over it.
The depth is important, we learned, because on our first attempt we did our box at just about a foot deep and when the chicks were a week old they were jumping up on the sides of it! So it was back to the drawing board, with more attention paid to the necessary requirements on sizing. Lesson learned!
If they are able to fly out at that 2 feet depth, and you're not quite ready to move them out, then you may need to cover the top. At this point, they're likely fully feathered (which happens when they're about a month old for most breeds), so you can turn off the heat lamp if they're getting light sources elsewhere and put a lid on top. We had to put a piece of cardboard on ours (which definitely meant we needed to turn off that lamp!).
You can use pine shavings on the bottom of your brooder to help absorb the mess the chicks make when answering natures call (AKA pooping and the like). Do NOT use cedar shavings though, as the chemicals they're treated with are toxic to chicks.
It's Feeding Time!
Chicken feeders are a good idea, as they are designed to prevent the chicks from doing what their instincts tell them to, and that's scratch the feed out all over the place!
One feeder should be enough if you've only got a few, but if you've got more than eight, you might want to get more than one feeder so that none of the chicks starve when they start establishing the pecking order between them. Yes, that's real. And we were told that sometimes you'll even have a dominant chicken "guarding" the feeder. This would be more of an issue as they get older though.
Make sure the feed you get is formulated for chicks. It's not the same as adult chicken feed and is ground down and formulated to suit their growing needs. There are different stages of feed according to the stages of growth and purpose of your chickens. Talk to your feed store to find the feed that will best suit your needs and those of your chickens.
About that Waterer
Chicks need clean water constantly available to them. Keeping it clean can be a challenge as they get older and decide to try out their wings. We just bought the waterers offered at the feed store. When keeping those clean became a challenge we made hangers out of string very similar to plant hangers to raise the water up high enough that they couldn't mess in it.
These hangers cut the clean-up work way down and made life more pleasant! I only wish we'd thought of them in the second week. It's worked great, though we did have to hang them in the corners so that they don't get knocked all around and make a soggy mess in the brooder.
When choosing a waterer, there are safety concerns to consider. It's important that you are careful in choosing a dish that's not meant for chicks because they could fall asleep in the water and drown.
Again, as with the feeders, if you have more than a few chicks it would be a good idea to have more than one waterer.
Keep those Babies Warm!
I was surprised to learn how sensitive baby chickens are to temperature. They need to be kept very warm the first weeks of their lives, and most people do this with a heat lamp in their brooder. We use a 200 watt bulb in our brooder. Though you could use two 100 watt bulbs on opposite sides of your brooder.
Chicks will let you know if they're not comfortable. They tend to get very noisy when this is the case. Also, if it's too hot, they'll shy away from the area closest to the heat lamp. If it's too cold, they'll all be right under the lamp and stay away from the areas away from the lamp. Thermometers are a great tool to have on hand to help you monitor the temperature of the brooder. For the first week 95 degrees is ideal. You can drop it 5 degrees each week after that. They need to be kept warm until they're fully feathered. After this, you still want to make sure they aren't exposed to freezing temperatures.
A Place to Go for Answers to Your Questions
There's a lot of information out there to get you started and keep you going. My biggest help has been the book Raising Chickens for Dummies. There's a ton of information to help you with every stage you can think of when raising chickens. What you can't find there (and there's not much), you can go to BackYard Chickens website (link is in the resource section) and search out. It even has the added benefit of a forum.
Resources to Help you Raise Healthy Chickens
- Raising Chickens for Beginners Part 1
Or you've got them and aren't sure what to do with them. If you're like me, you bought books, did research and then decided that it was the right option for you. If you're one to jump before thinking too much...
- What to Know Before Getting Chicks or Chickens
Maybe you're tired of being subject to rising prices at the grocery store and are looking for ways to be more self-sufficient. Or maybe you've got extra time on your hands and have fond memories from childhood...
- Raising BackYard Chickens, Build a Chicken Coop, Pictures of Breeds
How To Raise Chickens, Build chicken coops, Hatch baby chicks. Everything you need to know about raising rural or city chickens in your own backyard.