BABY CHICK HOW-TO... In case you wondered.

Discussion in 'Raising Baby Chicks' started by Davaroo, Apr 5, 2009.

  1. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    Okay, a lot of this is just good sense. After all, chickens aint as hard as some make out. But good information is always in season and is especially useful to those who are new. So with that said, here is some good info.

    Baby Chick How-To
    from Bob Plamondon

    Let's do a quick and semi-random rundown of baby chick stuff.

    Should I get modern hybrids or heritage breeds?
    There's a temptation to believe that heritage-breed chickens are wonderful and that commercial hybrids are horrible. This isn't true. Not even close. There are horrible strains of heritage-breed chickens and nice strains of hybrid chickens. I recommend that you choose egg-type chickens that are docile, high-producing, and non-cannibalistic. You can get these in hybrid or non-hybrid flavors. For example, the Barred Rocks from Privett Hatchery are a very nice heritage breed, while their Red Sex-Links are a very nice hybrid. I prefer the Red Sex-Links because they lay better. The Barred Rocks are prettier. Otherwise they're about the same.

    What About Broilers?
    With broilers, you've got a trade-off between sluggish and unlovable fast-growing modern hybrids (that give you a nice big carcass), or slow-growing ones that "act like real chickens" but don't deliver a lot of meat. Karen recently butchered a bunch of 11-week-old New Hampshire Reds that averaged around a pound and a quarter. Take your pick. Mostly I recommend that you do the egg thing for a couple of years before you do the broiler thing. Most people hate butchering chickens anyway (I know I do). Broilers aren't mandatory.

    Where to get chicks?
    Find a good source of chicks. As with everything else, when in doubt, ask around. A local reputation is rarely wrong -- provided you ask actual users. (That is, ask people who raise chicks, not people who don't raise chicks.) Make sure you ask, "Who's the best?" and not just, "Who do you use?" Lots of people don't use the best, even though they know better. Don't be like them. It's heartbreaking to try to raise baby chicks with any kind of health, handling, or incubation problem.

    Brood 'em right.
    Use a good, warm brooder that's free from floor drafts and safe from predators, pets, and little kids. (Even if the kids in your neighborhood are all safe with baby chicks, they'll have friends and cousins who aren't. Putting a padlock on your brooder house can prevent a world of trouble.) You also need a good, reliable source of heat. Overhead infrared bulbs are the cheapest way to get started, and they work okay, but follow all the safety precautions. (Use a real brooder-lamp fixture with guard wires on the front, a loop to hang it from on the back, and a porcelain socket. Don't use clamp lights: they fall apart at a touch.) I wrote an entire book about brooding (Success With Baby Chicks)** because it's that important, and in that book I spend a whole chapter on overhead heat-lamp brooders. Plus two more chapters on insulated brooders, which are way cooler but not so simple.
    ** I have it - I endorse it wholeheartedly.

    First Feedings
    Lay out a single sheet of newspaper and put the chicks' first feed on it. Chicks expect to scratch at the ground as their basic feed-discovery method. Let them follow their instincts. Set out feeders, too. Stop putting feed on the newspaper after a few days.
    Use quart-jar waterers with glass canning jars. The glint of the shiny glass attracts thirsty chicks. Waterers that are bigger than quart-jar waterers are big enough for chicks to blunder into and get soaked, then chilled. Introduce larger waterers after a few days. The chicks are only at risk for the first day or two. Remove the quart-jar waterers gradually.

    Leave lights on 24 hours a day for the first three days. Chicks are often chilled and dehydrated when they arrive from the hatchery, and they need food energy and water. It may take them a while to figure out where the feed and water are, and they won't eat or drink in the dark, so the slow learners have to wait till morning. That's bad. Keep the lights on to give them every chance to find what they need.

    Spend time with the chicks.
    Quietly watching the chicks several times a day helps enormously. If you just busy yourself with chores and then leave, you'll miss things. It's important to slow down and observe, especially at the beginning.

    Hand-feed your chicks.
    Getting into the habit of feeding them treats by hand will make the chicks a lot tamer. You'll become more attached to them as well, and poultry keeping won't become mechanical. And if you they don't respond to their favorite treat, you'll know something's off kilter. It's about awareness.

    How Much Space?
    This is the perennial question and can be answered simply: Chicks get big. It's best to brood chicks in a space that's big enough for the whole flock when they're grown up. This prevents the kind of procrastination-based crowding that separate brooder houses encourage. In any event, they start to fly at a remarkably early age, and they put out dust and dander like you wouldn't believe, so don't pay any attention to people who brood chicks in their bathtubs or in boxes next to the stove or anything like that. At least not long term. Brood 'em in a henhouse, or at least a brooder house.

    What Sort of Feed?
    Use medicated feed unless they're on wire floors or are moved to free range early. Coccidiosis often hits broilers that are 2-3 weeks old. It usually takes a while longer with egg-type chicks, but, basically, once the brooder house is crowded enough that manure starts to cake on top of the litter, all bets are off. Lots of people are very bad at recognizing the symptoms of coccidiosis, so use medicated feed on your first few batches of chicks, so you know what healthy ones look like, and keep a sharp eye out if you discontinue it on later flocks. A lot of people shun those "wicked chemicals" - and have unhealthy flocks. Don't be like them.
    Yes, you can raise healthy chicks without medicated feed. But you have to use specific anti-coccidiosis techniques and avoid over crowding like the plague. Use medicated and get going.

    What Sort of Run
    Above all else, avoid muddy yards and runs. If you have a permanent, fenced yard, the chicks will soon scratch it to shreds. There isn't much you can do about it. Lots of books and articles talk about having multiple yards and rotating the chickens from one to another, but they fail to mention that it doesn't work very well, and you have to till and replant frequently.
    The problem is one of waste management - the manure load from a chicken flock is more than the yard can handle, normally, and the chickens are hard on the turf in any event.
    Plowing and replanting helps, but you have to wonder whether it's really worth it. An alternative is to put in a thick layer of wood chips, or straw or something else down.
    Add more (lots more) when it gets nasty, and remove all of it about once a year. It helps if you design the fence so it can be taken down or opened up so you can do the litter removal with machinery (you've got a front-end loader, right?). The resulting mulch goes on the garden, and you start over in the yard.
    This removes a lot of the manure and pathogens that would otherwise accumulate endlessly. There's a great old book on the subject ("The Henyard" by Geoffrey Sykes), which I'd reprint in a second if I could figure out who owns the rights to it. **
    ** This is another book I endorse. You can pick them up used from time to time, although they had a small printing in England in 1952, so tend to be pricey.

    Straight Run or Not?
    For most people who've raise chickens for awhile, this comes down to butchering. That is, buy pullet chicks if you don't like butchering chickens. See, the easiest way to slide out of unwanted butchering tasks is to not have any butcherable livestock. You're not going to butcher any females that you're relying on for egg production, so the problem is solved... well, at least deferred until the hens get old and stop laying. You can get the gender of your choice from hatcheries and some feed stores.

    And for those who don't know Bob, you should. He can be found at
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2009
  2. Cats Critters

    Cats Critters Completely Indecisive

  3. Shiningfeather

    Shiningfeather Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 7, 2009
    hill country texas
    Great Info...... Thanks! [​IMG]
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I've been to Mr. Plamondon's site and agree that it has a lot of very good information. He has worked out a system and methods that work for him very well. The caution I would give is that his goals and set-up is very likely different than yours, so take the parts that apply to or can be modified to apply to your set-up and don't overly stress over the things that do not apply to you.

    I personally believe the more you actually understand the principles behind the advise, the better you can use it. And I think his principles are sound.
  5. scarter

    scarter Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 22, 2008
    Roberts, WI
    I liked most of this except for the "don't listen to them" and "don't be like them" comments. That's just rude. There are lots of options for people and one way is not the only way.
  6. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    Thanks for posting this, David. The only thing I take exception to would be the putting the food on newspaper. He does have a good system.

    BTW, you doing a "hit and run" or are you going to stick around for a bit, buddy?
  7. PeeperKeeper

    PeeperKeeper Chillin' With My Peeps

    Great Info! You've been around the block a few times, haven't you? [​IMG]
  8. Ladyhawke1

    Ladyhawke1 Chillin' With My Peeps

    I learned a long time ago that there are a million different ways to raise birds. At that time, I had advice from dozens and dozens of respected experts in the field. That advice was told to me in person at meetings and shows.

    I took in all in and went crazy. I studied and read as much as I could. I watched and learned to take what made sense to me and I used good old trial and error. I learned to use what worked for me. I realized that I had just created one more way to raise animals.

    It is funny how the world will work for you and not for someone else. That is called diversity. The world of living things would not have survived without diversity. [​IMG]
  9. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    For those who don't know Bob, let me just say that he has been at this whole chicken/country living thing a long time. Longer than many of us, I daresay. He left the ratrace behind to do it, as well.
    I've known of Bob for years now, and what you see today isn't what has always been.
    (Many people make the same mistakes in politics - they assume that today is all that matters, or ever will...)

    To be fair, Bob is geared toward production. He makes a large part of his livelihood at this, unlike we hobbyists. So does the commercial poultry biz we despise, so did the beloved "free range" rearing methods of a century ago. Each can add to our knowledge, if we but choose to listen.

    So there is always a caveat associated with his information (as with others): That which you take away from him and is useful to your situation is what matters.


    As far as information is concerned, there is indeed a huge body of lore about poultry rearing, from the sublime to the ridiculous. It is very easy to get overwhelmed by this 'information deluge'. But, once you wade into it, you begin to see the glimmering of one crucial fact:

    What isn't needed are a million ways to do it. No, what is sorely wanted are a handful of reliable ones.

    I have enough information to fill several shelves (and it does) -- but I find I refer most often to the same tried and true resources.

    Sure, Bob is occasionally "politically incorrect." He takes that risk in order to tell it like it is. He has forgotten more than most of us will learn - and he shares it openly, willingly and without compensation in his newsletters and blogs.
    He also invested time and money in his own publishing company so as to bring to print reliable information, at reasonable prices, that you will find nowhere else.
    If it means some of us take a little bit of so-called "rude" in trade for that kind of service, well... that's a fair trade.

    Love him or hate him, if you follow Bob's example... you can hardly screw things up bad enough. If you follow his methods to the letter from the outset, on your own particular scale, you will likely never need anything else.
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2009
  10. NancyP

    NancyP Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 28, 2009
    thanks for putting this together. It answered questions I had reference new or old breeds. Well done.

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