We are SO eggcited about our new baby chicks! One of our hens went broody about a month ago and she hatched us a few baby chicks -- then she tried to murder them, but we were able to save a few of those sweet babies. One is a Black Copper Maran/Buff Orpington mix and the other is a Black Copper Maran/Rhode Island Red mix. We thought, "If we are already brooding we should go ahead and get a few more egg layers, right?". Lately we have been wanting to add some blue and green egg layers to our flock. We went online to see what we could find and we ended up ordering 9 Easter Eggers (lay blue eggs) and 6 Olive Eggers (lay olive/green eggs). They arrived last week and are so adorable!
Then a few days later we were at the farm store... and it was chick days! When we walked by those brooders they were just too cute!! We saw some Sapphire Gems that were too beautiful to pass up. I mean they lay 290 eggs per year! Plus they were on sale so...we bought four. That means we have 21 chicks! ...Which also means we need to figure out a new coop for our babies. Our current coop and run are both full.
Our brooder is all set up for chicks! Here is how we do it:
1) Container: We use a large, tall stock tank for our chicks. At some point you might need to add something to the top to keep them from flying out, but that is several weeks down the road from when you start. We mostly had trouble with our keets (baby guineas) flying out last year, not our chicks.
2) Bedding: We recommend the large pine chips. The small chips just get mixed in with their food and water when they scratch and if they eat it they can die.
3) Waterer: We like to use a regular jar type chick waterer in the beginning (first week or two) and then switch to a nipple waterer. Don't forget to put a few clean rocks all the way around the bottom of the jar waterer to help prevent the chicks from drowning. That is a good practice for the first week or so and then you can ditch the rocks, because by that time the chicks are a lot less clumsy and more mobile. The nipple waterer works fantastic. It requires less frequent fillings and it keeps the water clean (the chicks tend to poop on and in everything). You just need to make sure it is at the correct height, which is basically a smidge taller than the birds are. It should be at a height that requires them to slightly extend their neck to reach it.
4) Feeder: We tried the long slide top ground feeders last year, but felt like they needed to constantly be refilled and/or have the pine chips dug out of them for the chicks to get to the food. This year we are trying a bigger feeder that fills from the top with plenty of room around the bottom to accommodate all our chicks. Something that Dusty thought of this year was to add a lid from a plastic storage container directly below the food and water. It has been super helpful in keeping them from scratching the pine chips into their feeder and waterer (if you use a waterer other than a nipple waterer). When we used the jar waterer last year it never seemed to have enough water available to the chicks because the pine chips would get scratched inside and then soak up all the water. Birds love to roost, so I placed a piece of cardboard on top the feeder since it has no top (fills from the top) and sat something with a bit of weight on top of it so they don't poop inside the feeder where their food is. Later, we switched the cardboard top and rock for a small bucket that fits down into the top and keeps any poop out of their food, but they can still roost on it if they want and it doesn't get knocked off. There is a medicated feed available for chicks to help prevent coccidiosis if you choose to feed it.
5) Thermometer: You definitely need a thermometer. The temperature should be 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit during the first week of life, and then reduce the heat by 5 degrees every week. You can do that pretty easily by raising the heat lamp a little each week. Please make sure you have the lamp super secured to prevent it from falling and burning the chicks or starting a fire. We purchased a thermometer that is made of two parts. One piece is placed in the coop and the other is the reader that can be placed wherever is convenient for you. We put ours in our house so it is easily visible and doesn't get covered in poop. To determine if your brooder is the right temperature pay attention to your chicks. A good rule of thumb is that if all the chicks are under the heat lamp it is too cold. If all the chicks are away from the heat lamp it is too hot. If they are kind of spread out with some under the lamp and some away from the heat it is probably about right. Don't forget that the brooder should be big enough to allow the chicks to walk away from the heat of the lamp to cool off if they need to.
What to watch for in your chicks:
Once you have everything set up for your chicks just make sure they always have food and water available and that you monitor the temperature. The most important thing to monitor for besides temperature is pasty butt. It is basically dried poop that gets stuck on their vent (or just below it) and it prevents the chick from being able to poop. It causes the poo to get backed up inside the chick and ultimately can lead to an internal infection and death if untreated. To check for it, you just pick up the chick and turn it gently upside down. Confirm the vent is open and not blocked by any dried poo. If there is some dried poo, just use a wet wash cloth or paper towel to gently rub the area until the poo is softened and wiped away. If the area requires soaking (in severe cases) you can soak the area in warm water and then try to wipe the area. Do not use cool or room temperature water because the chick can die from hypothermia. If you have to soak the chick's bottom make sure you use a hair dryer on a low to medium setting afterward and ensure the chick is completely dry before returning it to the brooder.
Baby Chick Resource:
Click here for a credible resource you can use to help get you started and to keep your chicks healthy. It is published by the University of New Hampshire extension.