Raising Chicks: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
In the spring, chicken keepers all over the world are preparing for the arrival of their new chicks. Whether they have raised chickens before or not, they all have questions. This is an article answering frequently asked questions concerning the care of chicks. Of course there are certain questions you can only find the answer to yourself by experiencing them but hopefully this article will help clear up some confusion you may have.
Where do I buy my chicks?
Hatcheries, farm stores and websites are your best options. Meyer hatchery, McMurry Hatchery, MyPetChicken, Cackle Hatchery and Ridgway Hatchery are all some examples of the more common, dependable hatcheries in the United States. Farm stores such as JAX, Farm King and Tractor Supply often sell chicks in springtime. And then of course there is your good ole’ websites like BYC and craigslist that have people needing to find homes for their chicks.
How many should I start with?
The answer to this is simply how many chickens you have time, space and money for. I always recommend starting small and working your way up. You can’t really say what is a “good” starting number since we all live in different areas and conditions. It may be best to start with two or it may be best to start with twenty. It just all depends. (Note that chickens are addicting and once you start raising them, it will be incredibly hard to stop.)
Which breeds should I choose?
Again, there is no “right” answer to this because everyone wants something different from his or her flock. For some people it’s all about production and profit. Whereas others just want to raise chickens as a hobby. All breeds are different and designed for different purposes. Leghorns, for example, are one of the best egg-laying breeds there is. But they aren’t always friendly or good as pets. Silkies on the other hand, are known for their affection and calmness towards humans. But they are very poor egg layers.
What should I do before they arrive?
Get the brooder set up! Everything should be ready BEFORE the chicks arrive. So make or buy your brooder, add bedding, a feeder, a waterer, a heat source and other accessories.
What do I do when they first arrive?
Dip their beaks in water if they were shipped. (You don’t need to do this necessarily if you picked them up from a feed store.) Place them in the brooder and under the heat source. Let them get used to their new home and each other before socializing yourself or others with them.
What if they don’t eat or drink?
Chicks take a while to warm up to new habits and things especially after a big change like moving to a new home. If they don’t eat or drink on their own for the first few hours or even day, that is ok. But if they continue this then you need to show them where the food and water are and check them for illness or injury. Teach them to eat by tapping your finger near or in their food. Teach them to drink by placing them by the water and dipping their beaks in a couple of times. They will get the hang of things quickly as long as they aren’t sick or hurt.
How do I tell if they are content?
Happy chicks will be peeping softly, coming from place to place, eating, drinking, sleeping and pooping. You’ll know something is wrong if they are peeping loudly, not eating or drinking after the first day, not walking, not peeping at all, not moving or have a messy bottom.
What do I do if one is sick, injured or has pasty butt?
Sick and injured chicks are no fun to deal with but are very common. Chicks who were shipped are sometimes injured from being stepped on by the others. Sometimes they are sick. And sometimes they have pasty butt. The best way to deal with pasty butt is to clean the vent area twice or more each day with a wet, warm washcloth. Make SURE the chick is drinking even if you have to dip her beak every hour. It should clear up within a few days. If the chicks are sick with a bad disease such as coccidiosis, there is little you can do, sadly. Separate her from the rest of the chicks so it doesn’t spread. Again, make sure she is drinking and eating. If a chick is injured, you may have to isolate her from the others depending on the injury. Displayed leg can be fixed by wrapping a band-aid around the legs. Bleeding wounds are fixed simply by cleaning the wound and isolating the chick until she is healed. Apple cider vinegar, sugar or chick probiotics are all great to add to the water is a great immunity booster for chicks whether they are sick or not.
What do I feed my chicks?
Chicks don’t need a fancy feed. The best ration is a chick starter containing 18-20% protein. (Chicks intended for meat purposes need a higher protein feed of 22-24% for their first 6 weeks.) Chick feed comes in two types: medicated and non-medicated. The difference is that medicated chick rations contain very tiny amounts of the anti-coccidiosis drug known as “amprolium" which helps prevent coccidiosis.
How do I tame my chicks?
You need to start socializing your chicks as soon as possible. (But remember to not do it the day of their arrival.)Hold, cuddle and talk to them. When speaking, remember to talk softly, soothingly and quietly. Take them on field trips to the living room floor or outside. Let them run around and explore. Stay with them. Sit next to them and let them climb on you.
When I reach into the brooder, my chicks all run away. Why?
This is normal behavior. They assume your hand is a predator (like a swooping hawk) and have the immediate instinct to hide. So try and reach in slowly while speaking and then slowly grab the chick you want. If your chicks still seem very frightened then put your hand in the brooder often. Talk to them but don't touch them. Soon they might even come and stand in your hand. You can also try putting food in your hand so they soon will associate your voice and hand with food.
When can they start living outside?
Chicks need to be fully feathered at least to start living outside permanently. (Normally they are fully feathered around week 8.) But they can be taken outside on field trips every day up till then. Be sure that you stay with them or have them in a predator-proof run or cage when they are outside.
When can I give them treats and what treats do they like?
It’s best not to give baby chicks “real” treats until they are around 4-8 weeks old. However foods such as oatmeal and scrambled egg can be fed from day one. Once the reach their 4th or 8th week they can have foods like bread, pasta, fruits, mealworms, shredded cheese, etc.
How do I tell if they are boys or girls?
Unless your chicks are sex link breeds you won’t be able to tell if they are a boys or girls until week 6-18. Some signs of boys include: bigger combs and wattles, bossier attitude, shorter tales, slow to feather and then of course the obvious, crowing.
When do pullets start laying?
Anywhere from 18-30 weeks depending on breed and time of year. If their combs and wattles are big, red and glossy, if they are investigating the nests and if they are squatting, they are very close to laying.
These are the most common questions I have been asked when it comes to raising chicks. I hope this has helped you with your own chicken keeping. If you have any questions that were not covered above, please feel free to comment below or PM me.
And remember, the best way to answer your questions, is to experience the answer.