In the incubator: Chicks can survive up to three days on their yolk sac in the incubator. When a broody hen hatches her chicks, she waits until most or all have hatched, and so the first chick out is not guided to food and water until the whole brood is ready. However, the sooner they get a drink, the better. Wait until all of your pipped eggs have hatched, check the remainder with a flashlight to make sure you haven’t missed any pips, and then remove the hatched chicks to the brooder.
In the brooder: (Incubated chicks or mailed chicks)
- As you place chicks into the brooder, dip each chick’s beak into the water. Make sure they drink. They will tilt their little heads back and smack their “lips.” This makes sure they know how to drink, where to drink, and to drink.
- Then, if you are using an EcoGlow Brooder, set each chick next to the brooder and nudge their little butts under it. If using a heat lamp, just set them down.
- If you are using a heat lamp, place a thermometer in the brooder at chick height. They should be 95 degrees during their first week, 90 their second, 85, and so on. Accomplish this by raising the heat lamp. Don’t expect the clamp to support the lamp. The light can tilt, fall in, start a fire, and so on. I secured the hook on the back of a lamp using a chain and S-hook. Use an infra-red heat lamp, not a clear or white bulb. The red light discourages pecking and provides a slightly more natural day-night cycle as the white light of day is absent at night.
- If you are using an EcoGlow, don’t worry about raising or lowering temperatures; the chicks will self-regulate with the amount of time they spend under the brooder. Also, such a brooder will allow a natural day-night light cycle and will not encourage pecking.
- Use a few inches of pine shavings on the floor. Do not use cedar; the oil/fumes are harmful to the chicks. Cover the shavings with paper towels for the first three days. This will prevent them from eating the shavings instead of their food and guard against misshapen feet.
- On the first day in the brooder, sprinkle some of the feed onto the paper towels to encourage them to eat. Have their food bowl ready. Use a feeder with little head-sized holes; this prevents them from scratching all of their food out onto the floor, and later, into their litter. Only use medicated feed if you have some reason: stressed chicks, hot and humid weather, poor sanitation, etc.
- Place marbles, small rocks, or similar in their water. These should be tall enough to be above the water line but spaced far enough apart to have water between. Believe it or not, chicks will do anything including falling asleep in their water. The marbles will help prevent drowning. But it is a pain to rinse out the shavings and poop from the water and somehow strain out all of those marbles to put back in. Which leads me to…
- Add a hamster waterer to the brooder after a few days and phase out the regular waterer. If the hamster waterer creates a damp patch beneath it, place a plastic lid or dish beneath it and clean this frequently. (Believe me, it’s easier than cleaning the waterer.) This also gives them something to do; a bored chicken pecks other chickens. It may seem that they are not getting enough water, but they are; much less is wasted.
- Additions to the water: For the first few days, I like to use Sav-A-Chick nutrients/electrolytes in the water to get them off to a vigorous start (way overpriced online, $1.99 at Augusta Co-op [farm store]). You can also use sugar water, 3 tablespoons to a quart of water. This is a must for shipped chicks; use a higher concentration of sugar or electrolytes if they are in particularly bad shape after shipping. After the first 2 or 3 days, switch to organic apple cider vinegar (ACV). Add 1 teaspoon per gallon for…. always. For chicks, this helps to prevent some of the most common diseases by raising the acidity of the water. It also helps to prevent parasites and worms and algae growth in the waterer as well as helps hens absorb the calcium they need to lay strong eggs.
- Check the chick bottoms every day for at least the first week, and longer if you are having problems. Look for dried poop on their vent. If you find dried poop, soak their little behind in warm water, or if is just a bit, use a warm wash cloth to loosen the poop. Just picking it off might pull their feathers and skin. This is called pasty butt and is a result of physiological stress. Make sure that their water has vitamins or vinegar and that the chicks have enough room and are not picking at each other. Be careful not to confuse the dried remnants of their umbilical with poop; leave the bit of umbilical. Their vents are higher up: Look down their back and then around their bottom, and the vent is the first opening you see. (You may also see a pink bump near the end of their spine. That is simply their oil gland.)
- Chick poop and breath (actually, chicken poop and breath at any age) contains a lot of moisture. However, we all know what can occur in damp, warm conditions. Check the litter for damp spots a few times a day and remove the damp litter. Change out large proportions of the litter daily.
- Do not cook with any nonstick cookware while chicks are in your house. The fumes can kill them. (Kinda makes you wonder about nonstick, huh.)
- Make sure there are no drafts into the brooder.
- Make sure they never run out of food or water.
- Give the chicks 1/2 a square foot each for the first two weeks and be prepared to increase this to 2 square feet per chick by the third week.
- Chicks are ready to live outside when fully feathered, at about six weeks. If it is warm during the day as well as the night, this can be sooner. If you want to put them outside in the winter, run electricity to the coop and string up a heat lamp in there.
- Try never to brood a chick alone. Try to get another chick from a farm store or another owner. Chicks can die of loneliness. If you must brood alone, make sure to give the chick a lot of attention. Also, put a stuffed animal into the brooder for it to cuddle for comfort.
- If you have several groups of chickens to tend, care for the youngest group first and work your way to the oldest. Older chickens have developed resistance to bacteria which the chicks are not ready for.