Caring for Baby Chicks
Caring for baby chicks is much easier than you may think. There are four basic common sense rules to remember. They need water, food, light and warmth. You can get everything you need in a quick trip to your local farm supply store. Rooster Hill Farms keep a small supply of necessary items on hand.
1. Water. Your local farm supply store (I highly recommend Southern States Farm Supply Stores. I especially recommend L.L. Goodnight's Southern States on Saw Road in China Grove, NC.) can sell you red plastic water bases that fit on any regular quart or half-gallon fruit jar. Keep it full of fresh clean water. Nothing will kill your baby chicks quicker than not having fresh drinking water (nothing, except maybe your household dog or cat!).
2. Food. You can get Chick Start'n Grow at Southern States too. While there, you can get a galvanized feeder base to fit on a fruit jar as well.
3. Light & Warmth. L.L. Goodnight Southern States also sells reflective heat lamps and bulbs. Though a little more expensive, the red bulbs last longer and do a better job with the chicks. Hang the lamp about 18" above the bottom of the coup floor.
As the chicks grow, they exchange down for feathers; therefore, they need less and less heat. The temperature under the lamp should be 90 - 95 for the first week. Reduce the heat (by raising the lamp) to 85 - 90 for the second week, 80 - 95 the third week, and then 75 - 80 for the fourth week. By the time the chicks are four weeks old, they are fully feathered and no longer need heat. At four weeks, replace the reflective heat lamps with a 40 watt lightbulb. The chicks will find the light comforting. The 40 watt bulb can be removed when the chicks begin to roost.
4. Where to Keep Your Chickens. As many as 20 baby chicks are completely safe and happy in a large (24" wide X 36" long X 18" high) cardboard box with shredded newspaper on the bottom (wood shavings are good, but sawdust will cause them to have respiratory distress). I recommend an enclosed large dog kennel for up to 30 chicks. Most people keep the box in an inside porch or backroom. This arrangement should work well until your chicks are four or five weeks old.
When fully feathered, your chicks no longer need light or heat. At this age they need a coup and roosts. If you have six chicks or less, a Rooster Hill Farms Henpen is a great place to keep your chickens. Rooster Hill Farms sells Henpens or you can build your own from samples found on the internet. Henpens are mobile coups that allow you to free-range your chickens while keeping the safe from predators.
It is important to continue to feed your chickens the Start'n Grow until they lay their first egg. Then switch them over to Layer's Mash or Layer's Pellets (I've discovered chickens waste much less feed when I feed them pellets instead of mash). Chickens begin laying eggs between 20 and 24 weeks of age, depending on the breed.
5. Roosts and Nests. To stay healthy, by the time they are four weeks old chicks need a place to roost off the ground. The best material for constructing a roost is a cedar tree branch. A regular 2X2 with rounded edges works well (You can rip a 2X4 and run it through a router with a roundover bit to make the rounded edges). Make sure the diameter is at least 2" (larger diameters are okay, even for four-week old chicks). Allow 8 - 10 inches of roosting space per chicken.
You will need only one nesting box for every four or five pullets. (Hens don't sleep in the nesting boxes, they sleep on the roosting perch.) Bed the bottom of the nests with straw, wood shavings or shredded paper. Most pullets lay five or more eggs per week.