If you’ve decided to join in on the joys of backyard chicken farming, and are excited to raise your birds from day-old chicks, congratulations! You’re in for a happy, fulfilling adventure.
But before those tiny puffballs arrive, it’s crucial to be prepared so they’ll be healthy and safe. Chicks are extraordinarily fragile and are prone to diseases, so if you’ve never raised chickens before, it’s wise to do a little research beforehand.
1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT BREED
First, choose the right breed of chicken for your purposes. You may want dual-purpose birds, such as Leghorns, for both eggs and meat, or you may prefer only good egg-layers such as Orpingtons. If you’re looking for a show bird, check out Cochins or Silkies.
Perhaps you’re interested in helping out endangered breeds by raising heritage varieties. There is plenty of information online to help you decide on a breed.
2. PREPARE THE BROODER
You’ll need to set up a brooder – or heated enclosure – that is warmed up and ready for chicks when they arrive because chicks can become chilled and die quickly. Tiny chicks cannot hold their body temperature, so they need help to stay warm until they are properly feathered.
The brooder may be a cardboard box or plastic tote and should contain a safely-installed 250-watt infrared heat lamp, a feeder, waterer, and bedding. Chicks’ fragile legs need to be able to grip, so line the container with a non-slip covering, such as inexpensive shelf liner, which, of course, will be changed frequently. Use white paper towels over the liner to help these newborns better recognize their food.
Position the heat lamp so all the chicks can get under it at one time if they need warmth, but allow space for them to move away from the heat lamp if they become too warm. Watch them carefully to make sure they don’t become too hot or too cold. If they’re not warm enough, they’ll huddle under the heat lamp and peep loudly. If they’re spread out around the brooder walls away from the heat lamp and show signs of panting, they may be too hot. If they’re milling around, pecking at their food, they’re just right.
Chicks that get too hot could suffer dehydration and “pasty butt,” a common, yet deadly, condition in newly hatched chicks where soft droppings stick to the chick’s cloacal vent – which carries waste from the chick’s body – then harden and seal the vent so the chick can’t defecate. Mother hens normally keep their chicks’ vent clear, so you’ll have to keep them checked and cleaned.
3. THE OUTDOOR COOP
After about 6-8 weeks, when the chicks have grown considerably and have started feathering out, they can move to an outdoor coop.
Make sure the coop is well ventilated and secure to keep out predators such as dogs, coyotes, raccoons, and hawks. Also supply nesting boxes so your hens have a place to lay their eggs, once they start laying, and roosts to perch on to sleep at night.
From the time your little puffballs arrive home, you’ll enjoy watching them grow, their antics, and the fresh eggs they’ll supply for you. And you’ll experience firsthand why the backyard-chicken movement continues to grow.
Raise Stronger, Healthier Chicks
Help your new chicks get and grow stronger and stay healthier – naturally – with New Heritage Feed Co.’s 20% Chick Starter – Grower, Mixed Flock with Essential Oils, a complete feed for day-old chicks.