We are continuing our series on Raising Backyard Chickens. Urban chicken raising is easier than you think! You can raise backyard chickens for eggs in a rural yard, suburb and even the city! Not to mention, it is a fun project for the whole family and a very rewarding one when you can enjoy farm fresh eggs – as fresh as possible! This is part of a series that will walk you through Raising Backyard Chickens step-by-step. This is step #2 – What you need to know to care for your new chicks…so that you can run a successful backyard chicken farm from the beginning!
Day-old chicks is most likely what you’ll be getting no matter where you purchase them, so in this article I will be telling you how to care for them.
- Brooder. This is where the chicks will live until they are old enough to go outside. First of all, I will be discussing homemade brooders. You can purchase them online as well, but they are expensive and a homemade one works just as well. The best container for a brooder is a Rubbermaid bin, the size of which will depend on how many chicks you have. Day old chicks need at least ½ a square foot of space, but they will outgrow this quickly and I recommend something more like 1 or 2 square feet per chick. Overcrowding causes fighting and disease, so it is very important to give chicks enough space. You will need enough space to make a warm and a cool side of the brooder as well. The cool side should be several degrees cooler than the warm side, we’ll talk about how hot the warm side should be in a moment. You should put the food and water on the cool side of the brooder. Last thing about a brooder: At around 4 weeks old you will probably need a lid as the chicks will begin trying to jump out of their enclosure.
- Heat. Heating is very, very important as young chicks cannot properly regulate their body temperature and will quickly be chilled without proper heating. Specifically designed brooder lamps and red bulbs for those lamps work best, you can get those at any feed store. Heating is one thing I would not recommend messing with too much if you don’t know what you’re doing, brooder lamps are designed to clamp onto the side of the brooder so you can adjust the temperature safely. *USE A BULB GUARD FOR CHICKS THAT JUMP TO PREVENT SERIOUS BURNS. These can be purchased at a feed store as well. Desk lamps are mostly unsuitable as they cannot handle a bulb large enough to let off enough heat. For day-old chicks, the temperature should be somewhere near 95 Fahrenheit, then reduce the temperature by 5 degrees each week until the chicks are weaned off it. The safest way to do this is to use a thermometer in the brooder, but if you don’t have one you will need to watch the chicks’ behavior carefully. If they are all clustered together under the lamp, they are too cold, if they are spread out as far away from the lamp and each other as possible that means they are too hot. One more thing: Try and get a red bulb, the chicks can’t see the light from it, so they can have a normal daylight cycle even though you have to leave the bulb on at night. This reduces stress on the chicks.
- Bedding. Bedding is important as it gives the chicks traction. Chicks on a slippery surface are in danger of spraddle leg, a condition where the legs bend apart and have to be repaired or the chicken will be disabled as an adult. My favorite bedding is aspen shavings as these are cheap, absorbent, warm and fairly cheap. It is important to note that you should never use hardwood shavings such as pine or cedar with chicks, it is very bad for their respiratory system. You can also use straw as bedding for the same reasons, however it is not nearly as absorbent. I don’t recommend paper-based bedding such as Carefresh because it is very dusty and can be irritating to the chicks’ eyes and respiratory systems.
- Food. Feeding chicks is relatively straightforward. I recommend the IFA brand of chick starter food, and I like to mix in hard boiled egg yolk about once or twice a week. Make sure to remove any uneaten portions! IMPORTANT: If you have ducklings, be ABSOLUTELY sure that your chick starter is unmedicated. Medicated chick starter is good for chickens, but ducks will overdose themselves and it is often fatal.
- Water. Young chicks can drown themselves fairly easily, so make sure you use a chick waterer like the one pictured above instead of just a bowl. You will need to add marbles or pebbles to the water if you have very tiny chicks such as quail as they can drown even in the relatively small amount of water given out by chick waterers.
This article was written by Erin, a pro at raising her own chickens and eggs in her family’s backyard! She’s just a teen, but loves animals of all kinds and wants to be a veterinarian and is studying to do so. In addition to raising chickens, she raises ducks, geese and bunnies in her family’s urban backyard!