SPRING = BABY ANIMALS!
It fascinates me how Mother Nature creates animals to procreate in such perfect timing that allows babies to be born RIGHT at spring. Each animal has different biology, each animal has different gestation periods, but they give birth according to their own specific ‘perfect timing’. Does it amaze anyone else like it amazes me?
That’s not what I am here to talk about though. Spring is my time for BABY CHICKS! Chicka-Chicka-Yeah-Yeah! Spring is a time for new life – animals and plants alike, and I do my part by getting cute little balls of fluff… every spring. 🙂
I was hoping to hatch some babies this year, and I still might. But right now I am way too anxious for colorful eggs and my favorite farm store got a ton of new babies in… I couldn’t resist. Seriously, who can? Show me that person and I will call them a liar.
Let me educate you on something backyard chicken owners know as ‘Chicken Math’. A normal person may see 25 chickens, a chicken owner will see 8.
You go to the store to get ONE chick (likely story) you leave with one (four) chicks.
This allows us to purchase chicks every spring and not have to feel guilty because we probably do not need more chickens. But they sure are cute, and we can always sell the eggs, right? PLUS that freeloader, Big Red, she has been slacking in the laying department. Little Blue went broody, so she won’t be laying for AT LEAST a month. The big bad hawk is bound to swoop down and steal a few chickens this year, so we have to account for that. AND DID YOU HEAR the feed store just got the chicks that will lay OLIVE GREEN eggs?! We definitely need one (four) of those. That chicken will have the prettiest coloring, we will get two (eight) of them.
So when you go to the farm store to pick up feed and you hear the faint ‘cheep cheep’ from somewhere in the store, you follow that noise, you fall in love, and you purchase those chicks. You are now part of the ‘Chicken Math’ club – the group of people that can NOT count a proper amount of chickens to save our lives… but have you seen our flock? Have you seen our egg baskets?
The other rule of this club, besides being unable to count poultry, is that you must obviously take care of these fluff butts. Giving chickens proper care and attention is important, no matter the life stage. Don’t be bad at math and being a chicken tender (hehe). Just be bad at math. End rant.
What to Buy for a Brooder
So you fell in love with the little pinheads, now what? Now you need to be the mommy hen. Keep them warm, fed, watered, and loved. To do this, purchase these:
- Plastic Tub – you may also use a stock tank, kiddie pool, or other shallow container
- Heat Lamp – see note below for color choice
- Chicken Wire
- Wood Shavings
- Feeder & Waterer
- STARTER Chicken Feed – this is higher in protein to grow some healthy birds
- Optional: ACV (apple cider vinegar), and VetRX
Heat Lamp Note: Chicks need to be in a 90°F house. Unless you are keeping your house/garage/barn/etc… at that temperature, you are going to need to purchase a heat lamp. These will probably be placed next to the chicks, ever-so-conveniently. In my experience, the RED lights are hotter than the white lights. Also to note – some people think the RED lights are going to keep the chicks from pecking each other.
How to Set Up a Brooder
Now, you’re probably thinking, “how do I house chicks?”
You can do this a multitude of ways, but I like to keep it simple. Take your plastic tub and put a light layer of wood shavings on the bottom. Fill the feeder and place in a corner of the tub, fill the waterer and place it next to the feeder. Be sure the feeder and waterer are level, or they will make a mess.
For any livestock water it is good to add ACV (with the mother) to the water. This keeps the digestive system clean, and overall health proper. VetRX has MANY uses, so I recommend you purchase that as well. For chicks, it is good in the water as it keeps them alert and awake. They like to sleep, and may be trampled if they are too sleepy. I just find it in best practice to add a few drops of VetRX to their water as well.
Next, place the chicks in the tub. Be sure to dip each bird’s beak into the water so they know where it is. I even do this with adult birds entering a new territory, (i.e. if a bird comes in the house for infirmary, if the birds get housed with the sheep, or if you purchase a new bird). Then, cut a piece of chicken wire a little larger than your tub. fold in any sharp bits, and then fold to mold your plastic bin.
Finally, place the heat lamp on the chicken wire, or hang it above the chicks if your situation allows for that. Typically I take that metal protector off my heat lamp and lay the lamp right on the chicken wire. After a few weeks I add the protector back on to cool-off the brooder as the chicks grow. Eventually you may remove the lamp. Do this at your own risk as heat lamps get VERY hot. Some people keep a thermometer in their brooder to be sure the temperature does not exceed 90°F. I like to place the heat lamp about the middle of the brooder, aim it to one direction – away from the food and water. This allows half the brooder to be fairly hot and the other half to be cool. If the chicks are feeling warm, they can move to cool off, and in this case, eat.
If you ever see your chicks cuddling together, although this may be cute, it may be a clue that your chicks are too cold. You may need to ramp up the heat. My chicks tend to cuddle at night, but they walk and sleep more independently during the day.
4 Signs of a Sick Chick – How to LOVE Your Chicks
Chicks are easy to care for if you purchased them from a quality source. As I have stated before, I enjoy purchasing chicks from Anoka-Ramsey Farm & Garden here in Minnesota because they always have a great selection, their chicks are always healthy, and the staff are very knowledgeable and caring.
Despite purchasing quality chicks, there are some diseases/illnesses that chicks just get. I may not use technical terms, but I am working from experience and not a library book. This is what I look for in my chicks:
- Pasty Butt – This is when chicks get fecal matter stuck to their butt. All you need to do is wash the bottom off in warm water and gently dry the chick. If the poop stays on the chick too long, it can prevent the chick from pooping, and thus get the chick sick.
- Failure to Thrive – this is a broad category that probably covers a bunch of illnesses, but they are all treated similarly so I do not get hung-up on what is wrong, just how to fix it. If a chick is acting overly tired, getting bullied, not eating, or just looking smaller than the rest, this is not a good sign. Chicks know when a bird isn’t doing well and they instinctively pick on them. Separate this chick out into another brooder to prevent illness spreading and bullying. Give this chick ACV and VetRX in the water, and if you can, make their brooder slightly warmer. Pay extra attention to this bird. When it perks up slightly, I give it one more chicken friend because chicks do not like to be alone.
- Mushy Chick – I am not sure I have ever experienced this. I have lost quite a few chicks in my day, so it is hard to say if this was the cause. By the time you find a dead chick, it is not a pretty scene. Mushy chick is when a chick’s underside is mushy. This is likely incurable because it is from the hatching condition, but it does not hurt to try. Separate the chick out and be sure to keep the brooder clean and dry. Give ACV and VetRX and slightly raise the temperature of the brooder.
- Eye Illnesses – I have had chicks peck each other’s eyes. Or if you have a feather-footed chick, their feathers might get dirt in their eye when they itch themselves. Sometimes chicks are learning to scratch themselves and gouge their eye. Who knows? If their eye looks red, inflamed, blue, or anything that is NOT normal – I would get Terramycin. This is about $20 for a TINY little tube. OUCH! However, it lasts FOREVER. Rinse the chick’s eye with water (or saline solution) and put the tiniest dab of Teramycin on the eyeball. Do this until a few days after the eye clears up. I separate these chicks out as well, just to be safe. Like I said – chick’s smell weakness.
That’s it. Four simple things to watch for in chicks that have mostly the same care plan and are fairly easy to spot. You will probably lose a chick or two, but don’t fret. The more experienced you get, the more you understand this is just the process of Mother Nature sorting out the weak. Consider the source and breed of chicks as well. I have found Cochin chicks to be pretty sensitive chicks, but EXTREMELY hardy adults. Don’t be scared, I love my Cochins, just maybe buy an extra 5 (10). For my complete-guide to chicken care, read my How to Start a Backyard Chicken Flock post. And, if you inevitably get stuck with a rooster that you want to keep, read my How to Train a Rooster post.
As I always say, join some Facebook chicken groups – those folk are SO HELPFUL. If you are ever questioning what is wrong with a bird – chick or full-grown, they are there to help. Maybe a bit crazy at times, but aren’t we all?
When you hear the chirps in the store, or read the words ‘CHICK DAYS’, let your heart race, your palms sweat, and run over to the fluffy nuggets. Buy or dust off your brooder and be the big momma hen. Dream of the days you will collect gloriously fresh eggs and watch the birds pick the bugs out of your lawn. Watch out for common illnesses, and act accordingly.
Oh, and DO NOT forget the wonderful rule of CHICKEN MATH. 🙂
If you ever have any questions, or ideas for future blogs, comment below or shoot me an email!
From the farm,