Knowing how to care for new chicks is key for healthy birds

Spring always brings new life to the farm, often in the form of newborn farm animals. Chicks are one of the many new lives that tend to show up on the farm this time of year, so start preparing for their arrival before placing an order with the hatchery or visiting the feed store.

Brooders: Baby chicks require warm, draft-free housing for the first few weeks of life. There are several options available for brooders, such as plywood boxes, empty water tanks, etc. Michigan State University Extension recommends about 0.5 to 1 square foot of space per chick. The bottom of the brooder should be lined with 3 to 4 inches of absorbent bedding, such as pine shavings, horse bedding pellets or straw. Each brooder will need at least one heat lamp, depending on how large the brooder is, to keep temperatures between 92 to 95 degrees. Heat lamp bulbs are typically 250 watts, and red bulbs are recommended so that the chicks can sleep with the light running, and to prevent pecking and cannibalism.

If chicks are staying away from the lamp, that is a sign they are too hot, and the height of the lamp should be adjusted. If all the chicks are clustered under the lamp, they are too cold, and the lamp should be adjusted.

Feed and Feeders: Most of the chick feed on the market is medicated to prevent coccidiosis.

This feed can be offered to your chicks via a number of different types of feeders – tube feeders, trough feeders, or simply a shallow pan, depending on the number of chicks being raised. While the best option might seem to be purchasing the small feeders for chicks from the display at the feed store, Jeremy Chartier with Countryside Daily recommends that producers consider adapting full-size poultry equipment for chicks, to avoid having to purchase more equipment when the young birds hit their growth spurt.

“If you’re brooding birds in a small box, the upright chicken feeders and waterers do make your life easier. But when you’re brooding on the barn floor, your birds can use adult equipment just as easily as chick specific equipment, with some adaptations. Full-size feeders are just as effective at delivering feed to chicks as they are for mature birds, but chicks are vertically challenged, so be sure to place full-size feeders at ground level and ramp up bedding to meet the lip of the feeder,” he said.

Waterers: Plenty of clean, fresh water should always be available to the chicks. Waterers can be gravity-fed, automatic, or simply a shallow pan. Pans will need emptied and changed often to keep the water clean – many producers opt for the gravity-fed waterers or an automatic watering nipple system for convenience and cleanliness.


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