Getting Started...


8 Years
Mar 4, 2011
Okay, forgive me (and maybe direct me?) if I totally missed a magical place where all these questions were answered, but I have been looking around, and googling, and reading, and.. I still have lots of questions.
I am totally new to chicken having and will be picking ours up next week, I hope Monday, as long as I feel like everything is figured out! So, in no particular order:

(1) Does anything sound wrong with this? Our chicks will be starting out in our spare bathtub, lined with newspaper with straw on top. We have a 2 gallon water thingy and 2 gallon feed thingy. (I realize this is overkill for the bathtub, but it's what we're planning on moving outside with them...) 1 250watt red heat bulb with metal shield thingy. I had been told straw was better because the chicks won't eat it, but is it a bigger fire hazard than pine shavings? Also, pine shavings is something, though I know are commonly used, I have never used for small mammals because it is known to cause health issues, is this true for chicks as well? The door shuts securely to keep out the 4 cats who are about to start hating me.

(2) We will be picking up 6 chicks of a variety of breeds from TSC... should I be expecting to lose one / more? Entertaining the possibility of losing one / more? I have a just-turned-3 year old daughter who is, of course, going to be crushed no matter how much I try to prepare her for that eventuality, but I just want to have some idea, how often do your feed store chicks die?

(3) Brood light... Everything I find says to start moving it up about an inch a week, but nothing I have found says anything about how far up it should start off... is there a general height to start around, or do I really just need to get a thermometer and start guessing? Do I start moving it up one inch after the first week, or two weeks? Is the 250watt bulb wrong? It's the only ones TSC had as far as I know, but I have read other people using a 100watt bulb?

(4) This may sound really stupid, and I should have asked while I was there I guess, but I only just thought of it, should I be bringing a box or something with me to bring the chicks home in, or do feed stores generally hand them out like pet stores?

(5) Is there anything I need worry about concerning chicks and small children, as far as the children are concerned? I have a 3 y/o and a 7 month old. Obviously I know I need to help them with handling / touching, but is there anything of concern on the child end of things? I know they haven't got salmonella
but is there something I should be concerned about?

(6) Bringing them home - It's only about a 10 minute drive, is there anything I need be concerned about other than keeping the car reasonably warm?

(7) Cats and chickens. I am, of course, going to keep them away from the little chicks, but when to I get to stop worrying over the cats and chicks? I want to start bringing them out for some play time when things get warmer (I live on the west "coast" of Michigan and I am still buried under snow,) but I am afraid of leaving them unattended.. the smallest of my cats (5 pounds) brings in rabbits bigger than she is.. is she ever going to give up on trying to eat the chickens when they will be something totally new to her?

(8) Feed - Everywhere I read says something completely different on when to feed what to the chicks / chickens! I am now completely lost! Any guidance in this area would be much appreciated.

(9) Fly how high? I've reads lots of things that say the chicks start flying anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks, but how high are we talking about? The tub we'll be using is about 13 inches deep, not high enough? The door opens in otherwise I wouldn't really be concerned about them escaping the tub, but I wouldn't want anyone to get squarshed
especially knowing that the 3 y/o will want to be in and out of there constantly.

(10) Scratching - I've read that the chicks should start getting to scratch at real dirt by the time they are a week old, but (!) ain't no way, we're totally still going to be buried in snow and freezing cold by then. What to do?

(11) Is there anything I am not worried about yet that I should be worried about?
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Congrats on the new babies! I'll try to answer you as best I can...

1. The bathtub is fine, just make sure there is enough bedding material that the chicks are never directly on the newspaper. It is too slick, and can cause spraddle leg. Pine shavings are fine for small animals, it's cedar shavings you don't want. I have always used pine shavings for all of my chicks, and adult chickens. Also, pine shavings stay clean longer. Straw is not absorbent, will be messier, and smell worse.

2. Ask the store when the chicks arrived. As long as they've been there for at least 24 hours, and everyone looks active and happy, eating and drinking, you should have minimal to no losses due to shipping, etc. I never buy chicks the day they arrive at the feed store.

3. Put a thermometer down on the bedding surface. It should be 95 degrees the first week and decrease by 5 degrees each week thereafter until 6 weeks of age, when they don't need a heat lamp anymore unless it is very cold outside. I use the 250's.

4.They have boxes.

5. The chicks absolutely may have salmonella. Don't let the kids kiss the chicks, or put them near their faces. And they should ALWAYS wash their hands well after handling them.

6. No worries for a 10 minute drive, they'll be fine.

7. If your cats are hunters, the birds will likely always be in danger from them. My cat would take on my large fowl birds if she got half a chance.

8. I ALWAYS use medicated chick start & grow. I used non-medicated once, and I lost 2 of my favorite chicks to coccidiosis. After they are about 12-15 weeks of age, I switch them to Purina Flock Raiser (or other all purpose poultry feed). I don't start them on layer feed until I start seeing eggs.

9. yeah, bathtub isn't deep enough to last too long. I'd say by three weeks or so they'll be able to fly / jump out of there.

10. NO! I NEVER put young chicks on the ground. There are WAY to many parasites, etc from wild birds that they can pick up, and being so tiny it won't take much of an infestation to kill them. Likely they would be dead before you had any idea there was a problem. Purina start & grow has grit mixed into it. If you use get a different kind, make sure it's in there, or the feed store will have "chick grit" available.

Sounds like you've got your bases well covered!!
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Welcome to BYC! I started with chickens over the summer and the people of BYC have been great. Please visit my BYC Page for my blog links that you may find informative or amusing.

Wow, lots of questions!

Be sure to read this BYC Article. It is the sticky at the top of the Raising Baby Chicks topic.

I have nearly zero experience raising chicks, but I am planning to hatch some out soon.

1) Be careful with shavings since they have to learn not to eat them. And change it often -- cleanliness keeps them alive. 250 Watt indoors may be kind of hot, but the chicks can self-regulate my moving close/far.

2) Hope for the best!

3) I read that it is not super critical to adjust the temp so precisely, but just to generally reduce the available heat. You need to keep the light high enough they cannot touch it. Make sure it cannot contact anything that burns. Basically, provide 100ish degree heat someplace neutral where they can congregate (no square corners) or move away as needed.

4) I hear TSC provides a box.

5) Not sure about chicken-to-human diseases, but I would be very concerned about a 3yo handling chicks.

6) Belt the box to the front seat and crank the seat heater? Monitor to make sure they do not overheat. Once BYCer lost a batch due to a car heater that cooked them on the way home.

7) Never mix them.

8) Feed chicks with Chick Starter. If you feed treats, then provide parakeet grit free choice. Switch to adult feed after using of the chick starter. Do not feed layer feed until they start laying eggs.

9) No clue, but you can use a cardboard sheet to block them in. And LOCK THE DOOR. A 3yo has no business going in there except when you go too.

10) You could put a tray of sand in there for them.

11) I am going to subscribe so I can get tips too.

Good luck!
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Oh, yay! Thanks, guys, I wasn't expecting any responses so quickly, but hopefully checked

Duh on the salmonella.. I was thinking along the lines of amphibians, but I totally know eggs can carry it, of course chicks can. We've been vegan for 7 years and will be starting to eat eggs when our chickens start laying them, I haven't had to think along those lines in a long time.

My 3 y/o will not be handling them on her own, only with help, and is a very careful and gentle little person. There are plenty of kids her age I wouldn't even consider letting handle babes of any sort, but she is very capable of handling safely with supervision. She's visited and held the chicks at TSC a couple times now since they came in this week and done a fabulous job. She is so excited about the chicks and sweet, she's been picking names already and has big dreams of the chickens riding on her shoulder.
The door will absolutely be locked so that she is not going in on her own, but I'm just trying to be extra careful and would prefer they can't get out of the tub. I would be worried about anyone opening the door into them, myself and husband included. Any suggestions on covering / raising the height in a tub? I have plenty of chicken wire, but would have to think of a way to lay it on the tub. Maybe one of our baby gates can stretch it.

How old should they be before getting a tray of sand, will I need to make sure they are still eating enough food if there is a tray of sand, or should I only be putting it in for a period of time? If they have a tray of sand, do I forget about grit?

So far only one thing is seriously standing out, and it is seriously standing out. The cats. And right now the only thing I can think to say about that is
We are fencing in a large area for the chickens to roam attached to their barn, which they will be shut in at night. The fence is 4 foot, but there's no way that will keep the cats out. And there isn't any way I can think of to keep the cats out. Uh... anyone have experience in getting cats used to chickens?
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I'm by no means an expert, but here's a couple things I've read. (I'm raising my first group of chicks right now too!)

1) I know a lot of people on here use pine shavings with no problems. I read somewhere to put down pine, then put a layer of papertowels over that just for the first day or two to make sure they know where the food is first. I did that and it's worked great.

2) My local TSC had all the chicks mixed and didn't know what was what. I went to Orschelins and they had each breed in seperate bins and also has sexed runs (pullets only) and straight run (pullets and cockerels) (pullet=female, cockerel=male) Every TSC is probably different, but I had a better experience at Orschelins.

3) I started my light about 18 inches, and it worked out fine. The key is to set it up a few days in advance so you can check the temps and get it right BEFORE you bring chicks home.

4) They have boxes.

5) Obviously salamonella like you mentioned and just how fragile chicks are. Don't forget they are only a couple days old. I would wait until they're a bit older to allow interactions with the kids.

6) Drives fine. I don't know if this matters, but keep the box closed. The confinement will help them relax a little.

7) I'd never let a cat around a chicken.

If your feed has grit in it, you don't need to offer grit of any kind. If it doesn't, then yes, sand would suffice for the grit.
The fenced area will need to be covered in some fashion anyway, or you'll have to worry about aerial predators too...
(1) To really secure the heat lamp against fire, you need to double secure it, with two lines. A material like plastic coated clothesline is good for this as it is easily cut and twisted to secure. Don't count on the hangar that these heat lamps come with. It needs to be strongly enough secured that a bump, or a chicken, will not dislodge it by flying into it or landing on it. Be sure it has a ceramic, not a plastic, base for the bulb. A small chain and ceiling hook are very handy for raising and lowering the light.

(2) It's a possibility. Sometimes there are horror stories of losing the whole batch. But -- the vast majority come through just fine. It really depends on the PO, and to some extent on the weather. Do talk to your postmaster a few days before the shipment, to tell him they are coming. In my case they took my name and phone no., and called early in the morning, so that I could drive there and pick them up. I was back home before the PO opened. Most post offices do the same.

(3) you can use an ordinary old fashioned incandescent bulb -- if you can find one. You can also use a red party bulb. Chances are in your house you won't need a 250W heat lamp. Don't worry about measuring heights. Pick up an inexpensive thermometer and get the whole setup ready a couple of days early. Turn the light on and check the temp later. You and I won't be able to predict what will work best until you set it up and try ir out. The chicks themselves will raise the temp in there just a little. You will soon learn to read their actions which will tell you to raise or lower the light, and you won't need a thermometer. They should alternately nap and run around during the day, in several cycles -- the nap may be only a few minutes. If they sleep almost all the time they may be too warm. If they huddle in piles on top of each other, they are definitely too cold. After a couple of weeks they will almost not need added warmth when indoors; they grow fast.

(4) and (6) they'll have something, but you can take a shoebox along to be sure. For a short drive they need nothing except a lid on the box and a few airholes. Paper is better, for cutting holes and tossing when you get home (yes, they will.)

(5) Actually it is remotely possible they will, but this should not be a concern, the exposure will be minimal if it is there. Simple handwashing and common sense, not eating after the chicks and such, will be fine. Some hens do pass salmonella along in the eggs, usually in small quantities. Like so many germs, mild exposure is much better than none at all, as we build resistance this way. There's nothing else they will give the kids, to my knowledge. Small children and chicks have been mixing for decades.

(7) Usually domestic cats leave chickens alone -- when the chickens are grown. Typically the cat approaches, gets a firm peck, then keeps her distance. They will eat young chicks, though. And those are general statements. Feral cats have definitely been known to kill a chicken; it's just not common. I wouldn't chance it for a few months with a cat that brings home rabbits -- maybe not ever. They will let you know -- just keep a hose handy. Amazing what a blast of water does to a curious cat, isn't it?

(8) Pick out a feed store that you like and buy chick starter, medicated with amprolium. This is my opinion, of course, some people prefer unmedicated. this particular medication is absorbed by the cocci and inhibits their growth -- it really isn't absorbed by the chicks and you are not feeding an antibiotic. But you are helping them build a natural immunity so this will be present when you take them out for a romp in the sun -- which you can no doubt do sooner than you will dare. I would make sure it was not medicated with anything else, most likely an antibiotic. It may come in mash or crumbles, which is just how finely it is ground. I never had a chick who had a problem with either. A 50 lb bag is not expensive, maybe $12. A garbage can makes a great storage container for it. It's important that it be stored in a dry place because if it molds it is not usable. Around 2 months, when the feed bag is empty, you can switch to grower. Mix them together for a day or two when switching. Or -- around here everyone sells "starter/grower." It is always medicated with amprolium. So I feed that from day 1 until they start laying.

(9) They will be flying or jumping out of that tub in the first week or 10 days. If you have an old window screen poked away somewhere it would be great. I bought a roll of plastic netting in Lowe's garden center for about $5, but it's flimsy, it will hold the chicks in easily but you'll have to duct tape it to the tub or something. Everyone comes up with a different plan; you'll figure out something. At least in the bathroom they won't go far, but without a cover you'll get tired of hunting them down pretty quick. They fly better before they mature, when their weight holds them down some.

(10) Well, you could figure out a way to relax a little and let the panic subside!

Really, things do go wrong sometimes, but usually it's a fun, rewarding and fascinating experience. And if you have a problem you know where we are.

Somewhere you asked about bedding and I missed it. Probably the most common is pine shavings covered with paper towels for a few days, until they learn the shavings are not the food. It's not pine that is said to be so rough on their lungs, it's cedar. But they're all aromatic and a little irritating. Some people use cedar, or a little cedar mixed into other bedding, in a well ventilated coop, without a problem. I wouldn't try it on new chicks.

You could also use a few layers of that rubbery shelf liner, puppy pads, adult incontinence pads, shredded paper -- most anything. Some people use old towels that they shake out, wash and reuse, but you need to be careful there are no loose strings as they will eat them. Sheets of newspaper when they are young is a no-no; it will cause them to slip, and they can end up with deformed legs.

They are getting about 300 feet of fencing, we wanted them to have more room than enclosing would make possible. I realize they will have some aerial danger, but they will have access to the barn and the area is sparsely populated by trees and close to the house. Hopefully the danger from hawks and things will be minimal... In our area, I am mostly trying to keep them safe from the coyotes, foxes, raccoons and opossums.

As far as the cats go.. well, they are indoor / outdoor and spend most of their time outdoors in the warmer months. I do keep them in at night because we've had some fox scares, but this won't matter on the chicken front anyway as they will be secured in the barn at night. Keeping the cats out of contact with the chickens once the chickens move outside is not going to be possible. I guess we're just going to have to go for it, be as assiduous as possible, discipline (hose, lol) when needed, and hope for the best. We'll see what we can do to introduce them to one another before they just have access and try to teach them the chickens are not to be messed with. We've got a couple hundred acres of county woods connected to our property and to be honest I am hoping the cats will be helping keep away many of the other predators. It's only our tiny female that brings in things like rabbits, blue jays, and robins, everyone else pretty much sticks to small squeaky things and smaller birds. Or, in the case of our 18 pound boy, butterflies, grasshoppers, and one time a rock.

We did have rats a couple years back that they learned to mostly ignore after the rats punched them in the nose a few times.. they never leave alone smaller mammals, like the various mice, moles, and baby rabbits that we occasionally rehabilitate, or the small birds, but the rats gave them what for. I guess I was thinking that plenty of farm cats live with chickens, and though I'm sure they started off used to one another maybe, I thought perhaps chickens could make themselves enough of a nuisance once they were a bit bigger that they'd leave off.
There is a lot of advice floating around BYC for coops and pens. Here are my tips (mostly learned from BYC).

Build a sturdy run for chickens -- about 10 square feet per bird is recommended, but more is great. I used 4x4 treated posts with welded wire farm fence. I covered the top with poultry netting. You might also want to bury an apron of welded wire around the perimeter to discourage diggers. I think you should put a skirt of hardware cloth around the lower 2-3 feet to stop reachers like raccoons and cats. Consider an electric fence.

Build the coop like Fort Knox -- about 4 square feet per bird is recommended. Cover openings with screwed-down hardware cloth. Chicken wire is for interior chicken guidance only because it is worthless against predators. Use screws for building the coop because you will need to change it after you think of a better way to arrange things.

Since you have free range cats, you might want to wait until the chickens are bigger (and meaner) than the cats before you let the chickens free range. Be warned that free range chickens risk death from all sorts of predators.

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