Bringing Home Your Chicks: What You Need to Make Their Transition to Their New Home Smooth & Happy!
It's the season! It's time to bring home the new chicks! But....Wait. Are you ready to bring home those baby chicks? Do you know what chicks need to live well while they get big enough to go outside? Whether you get your baby chickens from the feed store or online, there are some things you need to know about and have ready for them before you get them home. You must have everything ready to make their life (and yours) much easier!
Here's what happened to a great friend of mine last year: Her son was in kindergarten, and as in many kindergarten classrooms around the nation, his teacher decided to hatch chicks from eggs using an incubator.
Well, what does a kindergarten teacher DO with all those chicks?
She gives them away to the excited children and parents. That's what. And most of the time, they are NOT ready for those baby chickens!
So, my friend brought home the four tiny chicks. She had them ALL set up in a laundry hamper in her laundry room, and that was all fine and good, until....They grew!
You know, as chicks tend to do!
And they grow fast, friends! After two weeks, she was at her wits end because she had thought she had more time to get a chicken coop ready for them. They were hopping out of that laundry basket and attempting to get around her laundry room!
At any rate, I took them off her hands because I have all the supplies, now, after four years of raising chickens and keeping a healthy flock.
It took me some years of making every single mistake a new chicken owner can make to feel informed enough to write this article for you!
There's a lot of advice out there about what you need to have in place when you first bring home your chicks! Whether you planned on having them in the first place or whether (like me), you are an impulse buyer at the feed stores...because you know---CUTENESS, you must have certain items ready for your chicks in order to make their transition to your home and their new chicken run go smoothly and safely.
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NOTE: You may also be interested in: What is Pasty Butt? How to Prevent & Cure Pasty Butt in Chicks Before It's Too Late, and What is the Life Cycle of a Chicken and FAQ's--
Things Your Chicks Will Need When You Get Them Home
1) A Container of Some Type to Keep Them in Safely--Either Inside Your House or in a Warm Garage
Newly hatched chicks need about 6 square inches of space each in their container. Of course, they grow very quickly, so you should plan for about a square foot per chick (at least) until they are old enough to move into the coop outside. I actually recommend more than this, if you can do it.
Some people use cardboard boxes lined with newspaper and some pine chips. We usually get about 8 to 12 chicks at a time, so we actually pull one of our horse troughs into our guest room. The walls are high enough that the chicks can't escape and if our other pets happen into the room, it's not easy for them to get inside either. We easily put some chicken netting over the top, and that keeps the cats out.
The trough is large enough to provide enough room for the chicks, room for their water, and room for their feed. The side of the trough is perfect for hanging a heat lamp from as well! The rough dimensions are about 4 feet x 2 feet x 2 feet high. It fits right at the end of the bed in our guest room!
If you don't want a big old horse trough in your house, here's a type of "chick play pen" you can set up very easily. This is what the kindergarten teacher mentioned above had in her classroom.
2) A Heat Lamp Set Up or a Brooder
We use a heat lamp with a protective wire grill and a clamp that allows us to move it up or down, depending on how warm it is in the chicks' container. You will also need a bulb. We've recently gone to using an infrared bulb.
Heat lamps are not expensive and it's something you must invest in, because chicks need a temperature of about 95 degrees during their first week of life. After this, the temperature they require gradually drops to a greater range, when they can stay warm once their feathers come in.
You can tell if the heat is too hot because they chicks will stay away from it. If they are cold, then they will huddle under it. Just raise/lower the lamp accordingly. You can use a thermometer if you like. We just keep a close eye on the chicks' behavior.
There are also some really nice brooders you can get that regulate the heat too.
3) A Waterer
For the smaller chick container you'll keep inside, the waterer shouldn't take up all the space. We use a small one while they are inside, then just move it into the nursery coop with them when they go outside.
You can get these from quarts to gallons--so depending on how much space you have for the chicks, just go from there. They can get their water pretty dirty, so we like to buy the kind with a handle that can be suspended about an inch off the ground--especially when they are a couple weeks old.
4) A Feeder
You'll need a decently sturdy chick feeder too. I like the kind that are upside down containers with a round bowl area for the chicks to peck. These are cleaner and seem to be not as wasteful as the long strip feeders.
You'll want to use medicated chick starter until you run out of the first bag of feed. After that, you can switch over to an all flock laying crumble. Be sure you are using the crumbles to start out, and that they are medicated. This just ensures your chicks get the best start possible. They are not yet old enough to take on pellets!
Also, I don't feed our chicks any type of special snacks until they are feathered out simply because I want to be sure they're digestive systems are fully developed. There are many opinions about this (and everything else, actually), so I'm just sharing my own opinion here. Better safe than sorry, I say!
6) A Transition Coop Outside
As their feathers come in, and if it is warm enough outside and you have an insulated enclosed area away from your older chickens, they can go outside at that point.
The reason you don't want to just turn your little ones loose with your older chickens is that the older girls have an established pecking order, and any time you add new ones, this may disrupt it and cause pecking issues. We've always waited until the chicks are fully feathered and at least 3/4 the size of the mature hens before introducing them into the main run and coop. At this point they are known as poults.
We have two chicken coops. The large coop is used all the time by the chickens, ducks, and turkeys. The smaller one, we close up for most of the year and only use it in the Spring and early Summer as the Nursery Coop.
The Nursery Coop is also enclosed completely on the top in the outer run area with chicken wire, as we had an unfortunate incident with the feral cats that live next door. They killed all of our new turkey chicks we had just put outside. It really makes you feel badly when you realize you should have done more to protect and take care of them.
If you already have an established flock, having this extra outdoor nursery run will allow any baby poultry we have to head outside of the house as soon as their feathers start coming in. We bring out the waterer, feeder, and lamp they were using inside, and get these set up outside in the nursery coop too. They may still need the heat--especially if you are in a cool area like we are, and they are used to being inside.
Believe me----once you've had your chicks in the house for a few weeks, you will be HAPPY when they can go outside! And so are they! :-)
Right now, we have our ducklings and our chicks out there---yesterday was the big day!
Raising poultry is so fun and interesting! They all have their unique personalities---both between and within breeds! I highly recommend everyone give it a try if you have the room and the time! The rewards are endless!
Are you bringing home chicks, ducklings or turkeys for the first time? Leave your questions in the comments! And if you have ideas I may have missed, please let us all know!
Hugs & Self-Reliance---
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Disclaimer: I am not a chicken or poultry expert. The statements in this article are simply my opinions based on years of experience and trying different ways to make things work.