How To Raise Baby Chicks and Rock At It
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Showing chickens at our county fair every summer means a new batch of chicks in the early spring. One of our favorite times of year is when all the babies start arriving on our little farm!
Pretty soon, we’ll have kittens and goat kids, but the focus of this post is all things chicken.
Even after 16 years of raising chickens, I never get bored with baby chicks. They are adorable little bundles of fluff that keep us laughing at their baby antics!
Ordering Your Baby Chicks
You may be asking yourself, “Where can I buy baby chicks?” The first place to start is to order quality birds. Yes, you can go to your local feed store and purchase a variety of chicks.
There are a few advantages to that: you can see them first hand, inspect them for any disease or defects and pretty much choose the exact ones you want. You also won’t have to have a minimum order. You can just buy 1 or 2 chicks if you would like.
For many beginners, this is a fine starting point and I encourage you to visit your local feed store and see what they have to offer.
If your children are looking at 4H to show chickens, or if you would like more variety or guarantees on the health of your birds, I encourage you to visit Murray McMurray Hatchery.
I have been using them for almost all of my 16 years of raising chickens and they only get better with age! This hatchery has a plethora of breeds to choose from. All of the birds I have received from them have been extremely high quality.
I also like the peace of mind that comes from being able to have them vaccinated, which is not usually offered at the feed store. They will also replace any bird lost in the first 3 days. We’ve never had trouble getting credit for lost birds, even if it’s due to cold temps or other factors beyond the hatchery’s control.
Their customer service is excellent!
Murray McMurray offers everything you need to get started and to raise a successful flock.
You name it, they have it: supplies, feed, electrolytes, resources, and birds (and not just chickens!).
You cannot go wrong with this hatchery. They are doing it right! Trust me, I had a moment of brain fog one year and tried another hatchery. Let me just say, I never went back and never left Murray McMurray again after that experience!
Ordering online is my preferred method, but you can also call them. They are extremely helpful and can answer all of your questions about the different breeds they offer. They are also constantly adding new breeds, which is so much fun!
Once you place your order, they will tell you when your birds will ship. We order our birds in Dec or Jan, and have them shipped in Feb. We get them very early because they need to be big enough by the time our fair comes along.
Murray McMurray will tell you the day they ship. In our case this year it was Feb 3. So I know they were shipped on the 3rd and to be ready for them the 4th or 5th.
Since we live in the boonies, it takes an extra day or two for the mail to get to us. I always call my post office and let them know I am expecting chicks.
They are pretty good about calling me so I can pick them up as soon as they get there instead of waiting for them to be delivered. The last few years, our neighbor, a postal worker, has been bringing them home for me.
Brooder (aka Their Home)
So, now that we have these little babes, let’s give them a nice home. Let me start by saying that this process varies greatly from one person to the next.
What I do is going to be different than the books tell you, or what your neighbor does.
As long as the baby chicks are cared for and kept alive, you’re doing fine. This is just how I do it and what I’ve learned over the years.
You need a bin or some sort of container to keep them in. We use a water trough that we normally keep in our pasture for our horse in the later summer/fall. It is not being used in the spring and is a perfect home for our chicks!
I like the thick rubber material that it’s made out of. It helps retain the heat and the sides are tall, which helps keep jumping chicks contained. We cover the bottom with wood chips bought from the feed store.
The size of the chips don’t matter. They can be finely milled or large, but people usually have a preference, although the chicks don’t really care. Just scatter some wood chips on the floor of the water trough until there’s an inch or so of chips.
Your chicks are not foodies, they do not need anything special! We use this.
Any type of chick starter feed will do.
Animal feed has labels with different percentages, which just means the amount of protein in the feed. I start and stay at 18% until they are laying and then switch over to layer feed, which is usually 16%.
There is much discussion on feed percentages for all animals and everyone has an opinion. I will save mine for another day.
I will just say that I’ve never had a problem with this system. I have to look at the budget, as well, and wasting feed is one thing to be mindful of, so I do it this way.
I do not buy the medicated type because I already have my birds vaccinated. I do not want to pump them full of medication, as we like to keep things as natural as possible.
Of course, Murray McMurray also sells some organic feed.
Leave it to these little gals to get inside their feeder, poop and otherwise mess up their food. They ARE chickens, after all! (See Exhibit A)
So we always put less food in there to keep waste down until they are too big to fit inside the feeders anymore. They don’t eat much the first few days, anyway.
Need a feeder? We use this one.
They very quickly outgrow the smaller one and then it is of no use. Don’t waste your money! They can use the larger one until they are almost full grown and get put in the hen house.
We use a solution called Quik Chick that we order from Murray McMurray when we order our chicks. We add this to their water until they move to the hen house in a couple of months.
We also always put a couple of bricks under the water container to elevate it a little bit. This helps keep them from getting in their water, kicking wood chips into it and otherwise contaminating their water. They never have a problem reaching their water.
When we get our chicks, we take them out one by one and I dip their beaks in their water.
I heard long ago that this helps them find their water faster. I don’t know if it’s true, but I have always just done it. When they are all put in their new home, we watch them very carefully for about 20 min to make sure they will settle OK.
Your baby chicks are orphans, so you have to be their momma. By providing heat via a heat lamp, you are recreating the natural heat that a momma hen provides when she sits on them and gathers them under her.
Your little bundles need to be kept at about 90-95 degrees. You could use a thermometer, but they will trample it, poop on it and it will get lost under the shavings.
Your babies will let you know if they are warm enough.
When they are warm and happy, they will lay out like a carpet when they sleep.
When awake, they will happily eat, groom themselves and otherwise move around the brooder area. You will also notice their silence or almost silence. After all, they ARE babies–how quiet can babies really be?
Too cold? They will chirp loudly, huddle under the lamp, trampling and climbing on each other. They will eat and drink, but they will mostly stay under the light and cry.
If they are too hot, they will chirp loudly and stay away from the light. They will sleep against the wall on the other side, getting as far away from the light as possible.
Let your chicks do the talking and you will not go wrong!
How do you know if they are settled and happy?
Quiet chicks are happy chicks.
They will be very noisy when you first get them and put them into their new home. If their environment is right, they will quiet down after several minutes.
From now on, if they are loud, you know there is something wrong. It’s too hot, too cold, out of feed–anything wrong and they will let you know! They even tattle on my daughter when she gets in their brooder for her nightly chick fix.
Baby Chicks Dying
Let’s address this sad detail of keeping chickens. You will most likely lose a baby chick.
They may come to you with some already dead in the box or you may lose a couple within the first few days. It happens, and while it’s sad, it’s not your fault.
Most of the time the cause is just being trampled by the other chicks. Sometimes a baby chick is smaller or less rambunctious and they cannot keep up with the others.
Disease is less likely, especially if you’re ordering from a reputable hatchery, but it is possible.
It is a fact of raising baby chicks that some will die. It’s OK. Try not to let it bother you, but I know it’s hard.
Getting your chicks for the first time can be a little intimidating, but you can do it!
It’s fun to have them around and keeping a flock of chickens can be your biggest reward on your homestead or even in your backyard. Just having the eggs is worth all the effort, but I expect you will just enjoy having them.
Chicks are adorable and fun to watch. Make sure to drop a comment below to share with the rest of us how you take care of your chicks. We can all learn from each other!