Wednesday, July 2, 2014

5 Things I Wish I Had Known about Raising Chicks

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Last week, I shared about our experience raising chickens for meat. Since we recently brought home 15 brand new chicks, I've been thinking about how we'd do things differently this time around. Today, I'm going into more detail about the tips we learned along the way.

Before I start, I want to offer the basic essentials that I'm thankful we did know: 
  • Set up a brooder box with bedding (we use wood shavings), chick starter feed, and a small feeder and waterer.
  • Dip the chicks' beaks in the water when you put them in the brooder and sprinkle some feed on a sheet of paper so they know where to find both.
  • Monitor the temperature in the brooder. The temperature should be 90-95 degrees for the first week and should decrease by five degrees each week for the first four or five weeks.  

There's a definite learning curve whenever you try anything new. With some of the tips I'm going to share, we learned the hard way, and that means you'll hear a little about the not-so-fun side of raising chicks. But the fact that we're on our second flock means that the positives outweighed the negatives. Bring on the cute little chick-babies!

5 Things I Wish We Had Known about
Raising Chicks

1. A quiet chick is a happy chick.

I think this is the number one thing I didn't know. A happy, comfortable chick rarely cheeps. When I think of the times I had seen baby chicks at a feed store, fair, or petting zoo, they were usually chirping away. I thought that was normal, but constant chirping is actually a sign of distress. Now I know that if I hear chirping, there is something wrong - they're most likely either hurt, scared, or cold.

2. Use a red bulb in the heat lamp.

Apparently, chickens will peck if they see blood or anything that seems out of the ordinary, and a red bulb reduces likelihood of pecking. When Hubby purchased the heat lamp, they were all out of red bulbs so he just got a white one, thinking it wouldn't make that much of a difference. However, we did have a serious pecking incident within the first few hours that they were home.
When we got our first flock of baby broilers, one little guy still had a piece of his umbilical cord attached and the other chicks pecked it to the point of serious injury. They would have pecked him to death had I not removed him. If I had prior experience with chicks, I think I could have caught it more quickly since they were making so much noise (see number one).
I'm an optimist by nature, so I didn't expect anything to go wrong with our chicks. However, these little guys don't always survive. Some chicks may die in transport (especially if they're shipped), some will get sick, etc. That's why some hatcheries will give you one more chick than you ordered.
Our little injured chick did eventually succumb to his injuries within 24 hours of the incident. Knowing what we know now about the type of injury he sustained, hubby probably would have put him out of his misery rather than letting him suffer. 

3. Pay close attention to their bottoms and feet.

They all look alike when you first get them, so we found it hard to keep track, but this is important. Pasty Butt can actually cause death if not caught and addressed quickly enough. When it comes to their feet, there are two things to look for that could affect quality of life - spraddle leg and curled toe. We experienced issues with both types. After losing our first baby chick, I did a bunch of research and became vigilant at checking their behinds. I had to bathe a few bums to remove caked-on poop, but all of the chicks came out unscathed. We also did have one chick with a curled toe, but we didn't catch it in time to fix it. Thankfully, it didn't seem to bother him and he got around just fine... until he turned into dinner, anyway.

4. Make sure the brooder is large enough.

The brooder is a fancy name for the box that the chicks are in for the first few weeks until you can put them outside. We originally got a large Rubbermaid bin to keep our chicks, but it became apparent after two weeks that we needed something larger. Because it was March when we got our chicks, they were inside for a long time. I ended up taping together a larger pen using cardboard boxes. Once they had all their feathers, we put the chicks outside during the day and brought them into the garage (in their brooder) at night until the nights were warmer.

5. Chicks create a mess!

I mean, I knew they would poop in their pen, but I was completely unprepared for the sheer amount of dust they produce. Since it was too cold to put them in the garage when we got them in March, we set our chicks up in the house. Bad idea. Between the wood shavings we used for bedding and the downy feathers they were shedding as they grew their adult feathers, everything in the playroom was caked with dust and fluff. I couldn't keep up with it! As soon as the weather got warm enough, out to the garage they went!
A very dusty heat lamp...
I have to say that our experience with this new round of chicks has been so much better so far. Not a single case of "pasty butt" and they all seem really active and healthy. We think it may be because these chicks were hatched and raised in warmer weather, which is definitely something for us to consider in the future. I doubt we'll get another flock as early as March.

One more thing...

I didn't truly realize is how fast these little ones grow. The picture at the top of this post was taken less than three weeks ago. Now they are well into their "awkward teenager phase." In another week or two they'll have all their adult feathers.

I have to say that we really love almost everything about keeping chickens. Have you ever had chickens, or do you think you ever would?


  1. I had no idea there were so many issues to be aware of in raising chicks! Good to know!

    1. Yes, it definitely involved more than what I thought it would, but it was also fun.
      Thank you so much for stopping by!


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