Raising Chicks Artificially
It all starts with the chick. If you are wanting strong, healthy, adult chickens you need to begin with healthy, well looked after chicks. There are two ways to raise chicks; artificially or naturally. In this article, we will be talking about raising chicks artificially. Some people prefer to raise chicks artificially because they feel safer doing so. Let’s take a look at what all is involved.
Pros for Raising Chicks Artificially
•Chicks are safer
•Chicks will be tamer
•Illnesses can be caught and treated easier
•Allows you to enjoy their sounds, personalities and growing changes
•Chicks are fun to raise
Cons for Raising Chicks Artificially
•Chicks won’t have the benefit of being raised by their own kind
•Chicks will take longer to develop instincts
•You will have to clean their brooder
•Chicks are loud, messy and stinky
•Chicks require lots of attention
Just like all babies, chicks require certain essentials in their lives in order to grow healthy.
Baby chicks need a place to live. This "place" is called a brooder. A brooder can be as simple as a cardboard box or as complex as a tiny house! Whatever model and design you decide to use, there are a few basics you need to remember:
•Adequate space (start out with 4-6 square inches per bird depending on breed and how many chicks you are keeping)
•Protection from drafts, moisture, predators and direct sunlight
•Reliable heat, food and water sources
Chicks need about 4-6 square inches per bird when they first arrive or hatch. They grow FAST so be ready to either add onto their brooder or transfer them to a new one. No matter what their age, always make sure they have the space to run, flap their wings, dust bathe, establish and deal with the pecking order, eat, drink, roost and sleep comfortably.
Up to 2 weeks: 0.5 sq ft per chick
2-4 weeks: 1 sq ft per chick
4-8 weeks: 2.5 sq ft per chick
over 8 weeks: 4 sq ft per chick
Brooder bedding is also very important. During the chicks’ first week of life, you can just use paper towels or rubber shelf liner as their floor. Do NOT use slippery substances such as newspaper or magazines. After this first week, chicks need actual bedding in which they can dig and bathe. Pine shavings, shredded paper and chopped straw are your best options. Do NOT use cedar shavings, as this is toxic. The litter should be cleaned and changed out every two or four days depending on brooder size and number of chicks. If the chicks spill their water, be sure to remove any wet bedding so that diseases such as Coccidiosis and others are less likely to form.
Once the chicks are around three weeks old, add a low roost about 4" off the floor of the brooder to encourage the chicks to start roosting. Don't put it directly under the heat lamp. If your chicks aren’t acting interested in it they are probably not ready to use it. However, if they go a week without using it, they don’t know how too. Gently place them on the roost. Don’t suddenly let go of them.
Chicks get bored very easily and once they develop the pecking order (around week 4) they will start acting aggressively to each other if they have nothing else to do. The best baby chick toys include mirrors, bowls with dirt, roosts, hanging greens, stumps and ladders. Chicks will greatly enjoy all of these. Chickens, no matter what the age, are curious by nature. After week 2 or even 1 they need to be supervised at all times when outside of the brooder because they will run everywhere, squeeze through small spaces, jump and break things and possibly hurt themselves. However, this age is the best time to teach them to follow you by calling their name or just by saying “Chicky chicky.” If they were tamed from the start, they should follow you around most everywhere.
Here is a link concerning brooders: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/homemade-chicken-brooder-designs-pictures
Heat and Temperature Requirements
Baby chicks can get chilled very easily and if they do, they risk the chance of survival. They need heat. Many people use heat lamps. Others use EcoGlows, which is basically a heater that doesn’t risk the chance of fires. (Here is a link concerning EcoGlows: https://www.backyardchickens.com/products/ecoglow-20-chick-brooder.) I’ve always used heat lamps and never had a fire problem. So in this article, we will only be discussing heat lamps as the chicks’ source or warmth.
When setting up your heat lamp remember to hang it by a chain and not the cord. You could kill chicks when unplugging it if the lamp falls on them. Many people say you should use red heat lamps as it is more relaxing to chicks and discourages bulling. I’ve found that red and white heat lamps both work fine. If you are going to brood more than 15 chicks, though, I would advise you use red heat lamps. Be sure you put the heat lamp in one corner of the brooder so the chicks can get away if they get too hot.
You need to start the brooder temperature at 95 degrees F. Lower it by 5 degrees each week until it reaches room temperature which should be around 4 weeks. You may be concerned if the temperature is set right in your brooder. Don’t worry, your chicks will let you know! If they are spread out from each other and the heat with their beaks open, they are too hot. If they are huddled together under the heat and peeping loudly, they are too cold. If they are spread out, coming and going from place to place and peeping quietly, the temperature is perfect. Just like Goldie Locks, they need everything to be just right! A thermometer in the brooder is also very helpful.
Feed and Water Requirements
Like I said in the introduction, in order to obtain a healthy flock, you need to start with healthy chicks. Healthiness mostly comes from proper food and water intake. Chicks need a constant supply of warm water available to them always. It also needs to have either marbles or small rocks placed in the drinking part to prevent drowning. Cleanliness is very important in both the feeder and the waterer. A teaspoon of sugar added to the water is recommended during the first two or three days of the chicks’ hatch/arrival. Apple cider vinegar is also good for chicks as it boosts their immunity and digestive system. Here is a link concerning apple cider vinegar: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/...t-and-natural-ways-to-keep-your-flock-healthy
The best kinds of feeders and waterers are those with holes in them and less likelihood of tipping. As the chicks grow you will probably have to need to clean up spilled food more often and fill the feeder more often.
The best ration to feed chicks is a chick starter containing 18-20% protein. Chicks intended for eating need a high protein feed of 22-24% for their first 6 weeks. Chick feed comes in two types: medicated and non-medicated. What is the difference? Medicated chick rations contain very tiny amounts of the anti-coccidiosis drug known as “amprolium.” You would immediately think this is the best option to go with but just because it contains this drug doesn’t mean your chicks won’t get sick. Plus, chicks who eat non-medicated feed and don’t get sick, have a higher chance of not getting coccidiosis once they are grown. Here are some links to check out concerning feeding your flock: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/feeding-chickens-an-introductory-guide
Many people ask how to teach chicks to eat and drink. The simplest way to do so is to dip their beaks in the water several times a day until they get it. Tap your finger in the food area and they will quickly learn that is where the food is located. Chicks are incredibly fast learners!
Care as They Grow
Chicks grow up fast! They go from fluffy, helpless, peeping babies to independent, lively and feathered adolescents in just a couple months. The ugly stage lasts for about a month. After that, they start to look like their adult selves. Your chicks will need more and more exercise as they grow. Around week 2 they can start going outside on “field trips.” Be sure they are either confined to a safe run or have you always watching them while they scamper about. Once they are fully feathered, (around week 8-10) they can live outside permanently. So be sure you have the coop either built before you get them or build it while they are growing. And trust me, you will want them out of the house once they get to be too big for the brooder!
Pullets start laying anywhere from 4-8 months depending on breed and life style. Cockerels will begin crowing around that same time and are capable of mating with hens after they start crowing. How do you know if your chicks are pullets or cockerels? There are several things to watch for. Males will develop a spunkier and more lively personality. Their combs and wattles will grow faster and larger than females. Also, once their feathers come in, males will grow pointy saddle, sickle and hackle feathers. Females will be more shy and timid than males. Their combs and wattles will be much smaller and paler as they grow. However once they get to the laying age, their combs will get huge and red. They feathers will be more rounded. Here are some links to check out concerning chick genders: https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/is-my-chicken-a-pullet-hen-or-a-cockerel-cock
Raising chicks is a fun, hard and engaging experience. If not raised correctly, chicks will be sick and un-producitve once grown. Be sure to care for them properly. All in all, chickens are a joy to raise!
If you have questions, please PM me. (@Mountain Peeps )
Special thanks to Two Crows and ChickyChickens for sharing their chick pictures with me!