Bringing Your Chicks Home
By: Sabrina Schirtzinger, Agriculture and Natural Resource Extension Educator, Knox County
Deciding to raise chickens is a considerable task; especially, if you this is your first time. Chicks require: housing, a heat source, water, feed, and a bedding source. This article will give you a few quick tips for getting starting raising chicks.
Upon arrival home chicks should be housed in a brooder. A brooder may be an enclosed box, small corner of the garage, or a cardboard guard keeping the chicks in a contained area. Brooders should be free from drafts, or other animals; whichever style you chose to build, the walls need to be 18 inches high. Brooding is approximately six weeks, during this time the brooders size will need to be adjusted to allow more space for the chicks. In 2 week intervals increase the brooder 1 square foot per bird.
For the first few weeks chicks need extra heat to grow stronger and improve feathering. Temperatures should between 90 -95 degree Fahrenheit for the first week, then decrease 5 degrees each week until the chicks gain feathers, or ambient temps are reached. Watching your chicks will alert you to adequate temperatures in the brooder. When your chicks are too cold they will be chirping loudly and huddled under the lamps. Simply lower the lamps until normal behavior is resumed. Normal behavior is described as birds exerting daily behaviors of sleeping, eating and drinking. If your chicks are too hot they will be further from the heat source. There should always be space for the chicks to be warm and cool in the brooder.
Begin feeding your chicks a starter feed with a crude protein of 20%. Use this feed for approximately 6 weeks, then switch to a grower/developer feed. When your chickens reach 18-20 weeks of age switch them to a layer feed with a 15 to 16% protein and 4% calcium. Eating is a socially activity to chickens. When selecting a feeder allow two inches of space for chicks within the first two weeks. After two weeks a beyond allow 4 inches of feeder space per chicken.
Your chicks will require clean, fresh water several times a day. Use the one or two gallon water jugs for the first few weeks, then you can increase the size as they grow larger.
Good bedding sources are ones that catch and absorb the manure; but also, keep the chicks from slipping on the ground. Lining the floor of your brooder with newspaper helps to make cleaning easier. Types of bedding are: pine shavings, straw, course ground cobs, or oat hulls. Producers should clean the brooders several times a week, and then add 2-3 inches of bedding back into the brooder.
Raising chicks can be a rewarding and learn process for your whole family. One that will give you several years of results; for more specific care instruction as your chicks grow older, contact your local extension office.