Please think of this post not so much as The Lion King’s Scar singing with creepy hyenas, but channeling more the singing goat from Hoodwinked. (You can watch the goat here if you want a good laugh) Plus that makes more sense for our farm talk. Today I will be sharing some thoughts that I hope will help you be prepared to raise your flock of chicks. Now that we have that established lets hop to it!
***Have what you need ahead of time!***
I cannot stress this part enough, because believe me you would rather have me stress it here than you be stressed later. BEFORE purchasing your chicken’s setup your brooder, pick your location, and build your coop and run. This seems like a no brainer, I realize, but if any of you are like me, the excitement of researching and picking the chickens you want and ordering them and thinking of the adorable, cute, fuzzy chicks soon to be in your possession take over your thoughts. Plus you have plenty of time before they go outside, right!? During that daydream their living space just flew the coop. And then things like this start happening…chicks in their bin are now in your laundry room stinking it up and getting chicken dust everywhere, finally you get a spot set up in a storage space in your garage, but they are starting to fly now and are ready to go out to the coop, but it isn’t built and you come home to find they have all flown out of their bin and are walking and pooping all over your garage and perched on the hot water heater, and stuck behind things. Sound like a nightmare? It is! In fact I have tried to block it from my memory, but for your sake and to spare you from a similar experience it was worth reliving. So, the moral of the story is have everything ready before your chickens come, and always have a backup plan because, as you will probably find, as I have, with animals and farming, things rarely go as planned. (Isn’t that the case with most of life?) Oh, in case any of you were concerned, I deep cleaned my laundry room a couple of times once we got the chicks out.
Here is a list of supplies and things to keep in mind while raising your chicks in your brooder.
- Housing: You will need a place to keep the baby chicks until they are ready to go outside. I used a 35 gallon Sterilite container (32 ½ x 19 ¾ x 18 5/8) to keep my chicks in. I only started with 5 to 7 chicks at a time so this was plenty of space. If you have a shed or barn to put the chicks brooder in that is awesome! We did not have either of these things, so we kept them in our garage, which also works just fine.
- Heat: Your chicks will need a heat lamp to keep them warm. You can purchase these at most hardware stores or feed and seed stores. I recommend using an R-40 250 W Red bulb. For the first week the temperature should be around 90-95 degrees. It is recommended to reduce the heat by 5 degrees each week after that until the chicks get their feathers around 5-8 weeks old. You can use a thermometer, but I do not. You should be able to tell if the temperature is too hot or cold by the way the chicks are behaving. If they are panting and far away from the lamp they are too hot and you need to raise the lamp. If the chicks are huddled together right by the lamp it is probably too cold and the lamp needs to be lowered. Be sure to have places in their brooder that are cooler where they can go to get out of the heat if they want. Be sure to put their food and water away from the heat lamp.
- Bedding: You can use pine shavings, hay, or straw. I personally prefer using the pine shavings, but it really is completely up to you. The only thing I would caution with hay is that it can lead to mites on your birds. Now before a freak out happens, the mites cannot live on humans. No worries on your end (sigh of relief!) however, this is not good for your chicks, and would need to be treated. I didn’t want to take the chance and went with the pine shavings.
- Water: I went ahead and bought a 1 gallon waterer since I knew they would also need it once they went out in the coop. You can see the one I purchased here. It worked well and unlike a bowl, I did not have to worry that they might drown. I have read of others who recommend changing the water daily. Although I have never changed their water daily I have always provided a consistent and clean water supply. And our chickens have all been very healthy. I have upgraded to a 5 gallon waterer since we have increased our flock size. Found here.
- Feeder: You will need to purchase a feeder for your chickens at some point. I did not have room for a feeder and a waterer in my bin, so I used a glass Pyrex bowl which worked great. I bought a 7 pound feeder for when they were ready to go outside. Found here. Since then I have also upgraded to a 30 pound feeder. Found here. You can purchase a chick feeder, but I did not find it is necessary, so save the money and put it towards other supplies that are a must.
- Feed: You can purchase chick food that is medicated. I did not want to use the medicated feed, but again it is up to you. I used the Purina Layena Crumbles Premium Poultry Feed. The crumbles are good especially for chicks since it is small and easy for them to eat. When they are grown you can continue to use either the crumbles or switch to pellets. You will also want to get a bag of oyster shell for them to eat when they start laying. This helps the chickens get calcium so their eggs are good and strong and not soft or poor quality. An alternative is saving the egg shells and crushing them up and feeding them to your flock. Whichever you choose is fine, just make sure they are getting the calcium they need.
- Health: Chicks are prone to get what is referred to as “pasty butt”. (Yes, it is as gross as it sounds) This is where their droppings stick to their bottoms and they are not able to relieve themselves. It is important to check your chicks every day for this because if it is left unattended they can die. To remove the droppings soak the area with warm water and gently remove the buildup, and pat dry once finished. Just think of it as changing a diaper.
This should get you well on your way as you start raising your backyard chickens. If anyone has tips to add please do in the comments! I would love to hear other homesteader’s advice and tricks of the trade.
Coming up soon on the blog I will share info on our coop and run, and how we built it.
*Note: My chickens for the most part are dual purpose breeds. They are good for meat and egg laying. The feed I used is good for layers. However, if you have meat birds, you would probably want to look into a high protein feed to help them develop and grow faster.