Raising Baby Chicks

So we said we would never do it again, but then my husband saw the bantam chicks while at CAL Ranch (one of the local farm stores) and couldn’t resist. So after swearing that we would never brood chicks in the house again, I have had baby chicks in my living room for the past 2 weeks.

Yup right in my living room…

Luckily the weather is getting warmer and not freezing at night anymore (fingers crossed) so yesterday I was able to move the brooders out into the greenhouse yesterday. Maybe after I air out the house for a day or two it will stop smelling like a barnyard.

So what does it take to raise baby chicks? Honestly it’s not too difficult. The toughest part is making sure they haven’t filled their water up with wood shavings for the thousandth time. We have raised chicks a few times and currently have 31 laying hens. We have ended up with only a few roosters over the years but have ended up butchering and eating them.

The equipment we have used to raise chicks has been pretty minimal. Here’s a list of what we use:

Medicated Chick starter (feed)

Large Plastic Storage Tub

Heat Lamp with clamp

Heat Lamp Bulb

Pine shavings

Chick feeder trays and waterers

This waterer is up on legs which keeps it infinitely cleaner than the ones without legs.

We use a large plastic storage tub for a brooder box, some people use a cardboard box, but if you don’t have enough bedding in it, or if the water gets spilled then the bottom of the box gets soggy. Then we put down a layer of pine shavings to give a layer of insulation and to sop up any liquid or birdie poop. You need to put down an adequate layer of bedding to keep their environment clean. We put down about 2 inches. This layer of bedding can be changed out as necessary.

This year we are trying something a little different in regards to bedding in the brooder. This year put down a layer of sand about a half inch deep on the bottom of the brooder box. This offers the chicks some grit. We followed that up with a layer of pine shavings a few inches deep. Instead of changing the bedding out every week or so, we are just leaving it and adding extra layers of bedding as needed. We’ll see how it goes this year. We may choose to do things differently next time.

After the brooder is set up with bedding add your heat lamp and bulb. To start with you will want to have this down close to the chicks, only a foot or two above them. The temperature needs to be about 95 degrees for newly hatched chicks and then to acclimate them you slowly raise the heat lamp a few inches to decrease the temperature about 5 degrees each week.

When we first bring the chicks home we use a medicated chick starter in hopes that they get off to a good start. We also dissolve electrolytes and probiotics into our chick’s water for the first week or so.

As the chicks grow they will get bigger and begin to grow feathers to replace their fluff. When they are fully feathered and it is staying above about 50 degrees at night your flock is mature enough to be moved out of the brooder and into its own chicken coop.

Things to note when brooding chicks:

Chickens make an insane amount of dust when they are in brooders. Although they are easy to care for it is good to consider your options for where you will brood your chicks before bringing them home. We raised our first flock in our garage and that worked really well. The smell was in the garage and so was the mess. But, since moving out here on the farm the only place to brood them where they wouldn’t freeze to death was in the house itself. After doing so we now know that chickens make a whole lot of dust! Our house became very dusty very quickly with a thin layer of dust on every surface. And while it isn’t the worst smell ever, a brooder box can become quite stinky quite quickly.

Chicks can hop out!! And they will if the top of their brooder is left open. They need airflow so that their brooders don’t become humid and wet, but the chicks also need to be kept in a warm draft free environment. To mitigate this issue we built some frames with chicken wire on them to put over on the top of the brooders to keep the birds in their box.

Halogen light bulbs can explode! If the bulbs that go to the heat lamps get even a drop of water on them, they can explode. We have actually had this happen twice. The first time was when we were brooding our very first 8 chicks in our garage. My oldest son was 3 at the time and was in the garage playing with his chickies. I was in the kitchen doing dishes but with the garage door open to listen for the boys. All of a sudden there was a huge explosion noise followed by screaming. I ran to the garage which was pitch black after the bulb exploded to find out that my son had spit on the light bulb and caused it to explode! Luckily everyone was ok.

So there’s the good the bad and the ugly. Brooding chicks is pretty simple and can be done in just about any space that is big enough for a brooder box. You can do it in your house, but after our experiences doing so, I wouldn’t recommend it. It can be very dusty and stinky, but also fun to have the chicks in close proximity for kids to play with. Happy Brooding!

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