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Valley Hatchery Guide to Raising Mail-Order Chicks

The chirping of baby chicks is one of nature’s most pleasing and happy sounds. Now that you have decided to add these precious little birds to your home and ordered them from Valley Hatchery, it’s time to prepare for their arrival.

Check List:

  • Brooder 
  • Bedding 
  • Brooder Lamp
  • Feeder 
  • Waterer 
  • Food
  • Sav-A-Chick Packet or Sugar

Brooder for baby chickens

A brooder can be any box-type or container space, big enough to provide your chicks with enough space to eat, drink, sleep and play. The brooder shouldn’t be too big as the temperature inside will be difficult to control. Chicks are not capable of regulating the heat on their own, so they depend on the environmental temperature.

The top feature of a suitable brooder is its accessibility for quick and easy maintenance.

Some easy brooder setups include stock tanks, melon or pumpkin bins, or chick brooder panels. We do not recommend using storage totes, rabbit/small animal cages, or aquariums. If your brooder does not have a top, we recommend creating one with chicken wire or similar material. It doesn’t take long for chicks to start to gain a little flight!

When they are little, chicks don’t need lots of space. But considering they will stay in the same brooder for at least 5-6 weeks, sufficient space is necessary for a healthy life.

It is hard to say how much space chicken needs in different stages of their growth. It largely depends on the breed. Some breeds grow faster, some are more aggressive than others. The best advice is to observe your chicks, and when they start to look like they are being crowded, it’s time to move them to a bigger space.

Sanitize the brooder before placing the chicks in it. It’s recommended to use chemicals with an all-natural enzyme that helps protect your birds from mites, lice, fleas, and ticks.

Bedding for brooder

Pine flakes or shavings are the most practical bedding. Do not use sawdust, sand, coffee grounds, cedar, cypress, straw, or hay. All are potentially dangerous to chicks. The material must be dry and easy to replace regularly. Changing bedding should be frequent. It is recommended to replace the bedding at minimum every other day until they transition to coop.

Once chicks arrive

Have your waterer clean and full of warm electrolyte water (Sav-A-Chick or if not available mix 3 tablespoons of sugar to 1 quart of water.), have your feeder clean and full with Chick Starter. The required temperature should be established in the brooder before chicks are placed in it. Because of the instinctively roaming nature of chickens generally they find the food and water without any assistance, as long as it’s available. However, we recommend gently dipping each chicks beak in the water as you unbox them and introduce them to the brooder. After the chicks have had time to acclimate, the electrolyte water can be removed and replaced with warm tap water. Chicks should not be given cold tap water, the warm water helps avoid the chicks systems being shocked.

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Temperature of chickens’ environment

The brooder’s temperature is the most important in the first few days of a chick’s life. The brooder lamp is an essential part of the setup. A thermometer should show 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit in the brooder before chicks are placed in it, and it should continuously remain on that temperature for the first eight hours. It is important your brooder is setup so that chicks can escape direct heat, there should be enough room the chicks can move away from the heat source.

Observing your chicks will indicate the conditions. Chicks tend to chirp loudly, group, and pile up when it’s cold, which can lead to suffocation.

Mail order chicks have been through two to three days of transit. Transit can be stressful, and the chicks can lose body mass. They require a lot more heat on arrival compared to chicks hatched at home or picked up at a feed store.

We recommend using a heat lamp for at least the first seven days. After seven days, it is safe to transition to a heat plate, if desired. Upon arrival, the floor temperature under the heat lamp should be 100-105 degrees for the first eight hours. Heat lamps are crucial for the success and survivability of mail ordered chicks. When mail order chicks arrive their body temperature is low, the heat lamp provides heat and warms the air around them. A chicks normal body temperature is around 104 degrees, the heat lamp will aid in getting the chicks body temperature up after being shipped. Heat plates do not provide enough heat to successfully raise mail order poultry. Precautions should be taken to safely use a heat lamp; the safety guard should be attached as well as double securing your lamp.

Reducing temperature over time

You will eventually move chickens outside, so it is important to adjust them to outdoor temperature gradually. The first eight hours in the brooder, keep it at 100-105 degrees. After the chicks are acclimated and have warmed up after their journey, then it can be kept at 95-100 degrees, once the chicks are a week old, you can start lowering the temperature by 5 degrees weekly.

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Light

Brooder lamps will provide chicks not only with heat but also light. The lamp should stay on 24 hours a day. If you use a heat lamp the entire time brooding chicks, one week before moving chicks outside, you should turn the lamp off during the nighttime to adjust the birds’ night-day cycle.

It is important to note, Teflon coated bulbs are toxic to chickens!

Water

Clean water is essential for chickens at any stage of their life. Dirty water dishes are the source of the majority of diseases that can harm your birds. Chicks, especially waterfowl, contaminate water with bits and pieces of food. Valley Hatchery offers specially designed water dishes that will minimize contamination. Plastic or metal waterers are easy to clean and sanitize, and their design prevents birds from stepping into them.

Water must be changed a few times a day and sanitized every couple of days.

Water protector natural enzymes are a great idea. Adding them to the water will prevent the buildup of film, residue, and natural contaminants (droppings).

Food

What do chicks eat?

Every farm store has a variety of chick starter food. Speak with the Nutritionist at your local feed mill to learn about the options available to you. We recommend 20% starter crumbles; you will want to decide if you want medicated or non-medicated feed. It is not recommended to give baby chicks raw food, like vegetable leftovers, bread, or other human food. Hold urges to feed fresh veggies and treats until they are older!

How much food do baby chickens eat?

Chickens are known for a constant appetite. They are always hungry and in search of food. It’s best to keep the feeder full all the time.

Where to store the food?

Whether it’s for baby chicks or mature chickens, any food should be stored in a dry, sanitized, and pests-free area. Mice and rats can contaminate the food with various diseases and parasites.

Purpose of different food

Depending on the purpose of your flock, there are different types of chicken food. Unique mixes created for newly hatched chicks, egg-laying hens, meat birds, or free-range chickens are available at farm stores.

The food for egg layers is recommended for chickens 18 weeks and older, while food for meat chickens is introduced at an early stage, during their first week after hatching.

Standard chicks, waterfowl, broilers, guineas, and turkeys all require specially formulated feed and need to be brooded separately.

Healthy chicks

Keeping a healthy flock is the ultimate goal of every breeder. Keeping a clean and sanitized environment is the foundation for healthy chicken. No medication will help your birds if their water, food, or living space is dirty and contaminated. However, there is medicated food on the market and water supplements that will ensure good health.

It is recommended to consult veterinarian specialists if you decide to treat the birds with antibiotics, any specific medication, or vaccine.

Lethargic Chicks

If the birds are lethargic or have pasty butt starting, add 4 tablespoons of Raw Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (with the mother) to every quart of water for 3-5 days.

When to introduce chicks to outdoors?

When chickens start flapping their fully feathered wings and even fly around the brooder, it’s a good sign that they are ready to change the environment. This transition happens around 5-6 weeks of age. That’s the time when chicks also start to look like mature chickens, only smaller in size.

It’s important that the temperature outside is warm enough and the chicks are acclimatized.

Chicks should be alone together for a week or two to get familiar with the environment, know where the food and water are, and destress from relocation. After this adjustment period, it is all right to let them free-range and merge with the older flock. Letting chicks outside too early can lead to many issues.

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