You have chosen your breeds, placed your order and are waiting for the arrival of your new chickens.
Well, instead of sitting and waiting, you should make sure you have everything you need and that it works well in advance of the arrival of your chicks!
There are a few things specific to new chicks that you will need to have in place, tested and ready to go. We are going to go through a checklist we made and make sure you have everything you need.
Your brooder can be as simple as a cardboard box- however it needs to be in a secure, safe place.
It also needs to be draft proof. Fresh air can flow over the top of the brooder, but the air contained within in it needs to be at a constant temperature.
As you can see, I made mine from a plastic tote box. This will hold about 5-10 chicks for the first couple of weeks. After that they need more room, so plan accordingly. The bigger your brooder area is, the less you will have to keep ‘up sizing’.
If you can place the brooder in an empty coop, when the time comes you can simply take the brooder out, and leave the chicks in the coop.
The best thing to use for chick bedding is pine shavings.
If you are using a container with a slippery base, such as a tote box, you might want to put down some paper towels underneath the shavings. This will help them keep their balance for the first few days.
Pine shavings are fairly inexpensive. You can also use peat moss, crushed corn cobs, finely shredded paper or chopped straw.
The bedding needs to be about 1-2 inches thick, and it should be changed daily.
Any wet litter needs disposing of as this can cause mold possibly leading to pneumonia.
3. Feeders and Waterers
Now I know you’re thinking can I use my existing adult feeders and waters and the answer is no!
The feeders and waterers need to be chick sized.
The feeders can be either the trough type, or small plastic tubs which you have in your house. Large pie pans really aren’t suitable since the chicks will walk through the feed pooping as they go.
Chick waterers are quite shallow dishes- this is intentional because chicks can very easily drown in the water. I like to put a few pebbles or marbles in the water pan to ensure they don’t fall asleep face down in the water- yes, it has been known!
You can take the marbles out after a couple of weeks.
The waterer pictured has some glass beads in the base to stop a chick from falling into the water. You can use this type of drinker, or you can train them to ‘chicken nipples’ early. If you use the nipples, make sure everybody is allowed access to the water source.
Chicks can’t eat layers pellets, they need to eat chick starter feed- either medicated or un-medicated.
They require high protein feed for the rapid growing they will be doing. Chick starter feed is very fine crumbles so they can eat it without a struggle. You can feed it dry out of the bag, or make it into a wet mash for them- if making a wet mash it needs to be the consistency of smooth oatmeal.
Choose your feeders and waterers based on the number of chicks you are getting. If you are only getting a few, a round plastic or metal feeder will work fine, but for more chicks you might want to have a trough type feeder. It accommodates more chicks and there is plenty of room to accommodate the more timid birds.
Make sure these items work properly before your chicks arrive so you don’t have a moment of panic!
5. Heat lamp
I have saved the best for last – the heat source/lamp. This is probably the one item that always has me checking the brooder several times a day!
Baby chicks are unable to maintain body temperature for the first critical days, and you will notice they will all huddle together for warmth.
During these first few days you are going to have to supply the warmth they need. The temperature needs to be around 95F for the first week.
After that, you should drop the temperature by 5 degrees/week.
At week 9 you should be around 65F minimum. Once the chicks have done their second molt (around 7-12 weeks) and have their ‘big girl’ feathers, they should be able to maintain their own temperature, unless it’s particularly cold.
Heat lamps are fabulous at keeping the chicks nice and warm. You can even use an infra-red bulb to prevent chicks from ‘picking’ at each other from day one. However, it cannot be over emphasized that they are probably the number one source of coop fires/deaths per year.
If you do use a heat lamp – as I do, be absolutely sure it is secured at the height you wish it to be, using a chain to hang it is a good idea. Loop the wire over a beam or hook, use a wide plastic tie to secure it and then duct tape it too! If you have the clamp on type, triple secure that as well. It takes less than 2 minutes to start a fire with a heat lamp.
If you can set up all your items in one place ready for the chicks that’s great, but if not, make sure everything is kept together so you don’t have a mad dash to assemble it all as they arrive!
Chicks Arrival Day
On the day your chicks are due to arrive, turn on the heat lamp a few hours before they arrive. Check the temperature on the floor and try to maintain it at 95F. They will learn where the warmth is and explore from there.
As you take them out of their travel box, make sure you dip the beak of each chick in the water. This teaches them how and where to drink.
With the feed you can simply scratch at it with your finger- they will get curious and start scratching for themselves.
The water should be fairly near the heat source but not too close. They dislike cold water and really warm water will grow bugs.
After their journey, they will likely eat, drink and sleep.
Observe over a period of a few hours and check if the heat is ok for them. If they are scattered to the edges of the box- it’s too hot. And if they are clustered together under the light- they are too cold.
They should be scattered all over the place when the temperature is just right.
If you’re looking for more information about what to do on their arrival day, read our full article on it here.
The care of new chicks can be daunting if you don’t do your homework.
Having all your equipment and supplies ready to go is a big step in the right direction. Reading as much as you can about the basic care and needs of chicks is highly recommended, not only to alleviate many of your worries and anxieties, but also so you can realize anyone can do it!
Once you have had the pleasure and fun of watching and holding your little peeps, you will be hooked!
Let me know below how you prepare for the arrival of your chicks…