This article to offer guidance to those who are starting to keep Backyard chicken. Chicken keeping is not a difficult practice as many of us do think. But to start it you must begin from a point and that is what my article is going to be based on, how to raise baby chicks.
As with many baby animals. Baby chicks are both more fragile and resilient than most of us would expect. Caring for baby chicks do not need any special education but preparedness and a lot of gentle attention. Before looking for where to acquire the chicks or bringing your baby chicks, there are things you need to take into consideration and preparations you must make, all these are discussed in details in the following sub-topics.
Rules and Regulations – Guiding and restricting laws.
Keeping a few chickens in your backyard garden for some free, fresh eggs can be a rewarding hobby. While there are no laws preventing you from rearing them, it is advisable to check with your town or municipality to find out if there are rules and regulations restricting backyard chicken keeping or controlling the number to be kept. It is also important to look at your property deeds or consult your landlord to make sure there are no agreements preventing the keeping of livestock.
What is the purpose? – Benefits of rearing chickens.
The benefits of keeping chicken go beyond the delicious fresh eggs they provide. Having backyard chicken is so cool due to the following benefits:
- Laying fresh eggs for your breakfast table.
- They are great pets to have around.
- Create excellent fertilizer.
- Help clean your yard.
- Chicken are easy to take care of…
- They help to control bugs and weeds naturally.
- Provide fresh, home-grown meat.
Acquiring baby chicks – make appropriate decision.
Generally there are several sources where you can acquire your baby chicks. Decision of where to get chicks solely remains yours. Below is the highlight of the sources where you can get your chicks:
- Incubation– This is where you can buy fertilized eggs and then take them to a poultry keeper who have an incubator who will incubate them for you at a small fee. I do find this one to be cheaper than buying the chicks from a hatchery or feed stores. There are several disadvantages with this source, for example, it is not easy to establish the sex of your chicks hence making you acquire ‘straight run’, the chicks are not given care which they would have got if they were in a hatchery and finally, it is not easy to know the breed of your chicks.
- Hatcheries – This is a facility where eggs are hatched under artificial conditions, especially those of the fish and poultry. If you want specifically hens to lay eggs or cockerels for meat, this is the best source to acquire your chicks. Reason being they offer ‘sexed’ chicks (This means you can choose either female or male) and they have a guaranteed 90% accuracy rate. To find hatcheries around you, just go online and you will get a dozen of them.
- Local feed store – Another place you can easily get chicks is from your local feed store. Depending on the feed store, they might have the chicks separated by sex and breed, or they might have them listed as ‘Straight run’- this means the chicks are mixed up both females, males and even on breeds. If you don’t need roosters in your chickens then avoid buying straight run chicks. At a local feed store, you will acquire chicks cheaper than from the hatcheries.
- Local backyard chicken keepers – You can also acquire your chicks or even pullets from a neighbor who is practicing backyard chicken keeping. This neighbor must be allowing his hens to lay eggs and then get broody so that they can sit on their eggs for 21 days for them to hatch into chicks. The problem here also is the risk of getting straight to run which can be a bit messy if you get chicks which are all male and your intention was to have hens which will lay eggs for you, this can be a great disappointment.
Brooding of baby chicks – chicks depend on you for all their needs.
Having finished considering where to acquire your chicks, it is important to realize that the baby chicks are totally dependent upon you to meet their need. You must ensure that the chicks get proper environment, nutrition and protection. Brooder equipment should be set at least 24 hours before your chick arrive.
Brooding refers to the period immediately after hatch when special care and attention must be given to chicks to ensure their good health and survival. There is need Brooding because, a newly hatched chick has not developed the mechanism to regulate its body temperature hence it cannot maintain its body temperature properly for the first few weeks and it can be affected by low temperatures.
Heat from external sources need to be provided to the chicks in order for them to take sufficient feeds and water to avoid retardation of growth and poor development of internal organs responsible for digestion. If this happens, the chick will not be able to digest the yolk completely.
Brooding can be classified into natural and artificial brooding. Natural brooding is done with the help of broody hens after hatching, up to about 3-4 weeks. On the other hand, artificial brooding is where chicks are reared in the absence of a broody hen. It is mainly aimed at providing the right temperature for the chicks while they are being fed, given water and protection against predators.
Factors to consider when doing brooding;
- Before receiving the chicks;
- Brooding house/shed must be cleaned thoroughly.
- Soak the floor preferable with a strong disinfectant.
- Curtains to be used around the brooding area should be soaked in disinfectant and hanged in the sun to dry.
- Wash and disinfect all the feeders and drinkers.
- Prepare chick brooder guard using cardboard sheet, aluminum sheet or coffee wire. Make a ring and fill it with litter materials such as large wood shavings from pine tree and straw. Avoid using wood shavings from cedar tree cause they are toxic and again don’t use saw dust cause they are dusty, can cause dampness and chicks can also confuse them with feeds.
- Place the heat source at the center of the brooder ring. Heat sources can be domestic heaters ( 1 for 100 chicks), Infrared lamps ( 250 watts, 1 for 250 chicks) and pancake heater (1 for 1000 chicks).
- Provide foot baths at the entrance of the brooding house with a disinfectant.
2. Introduction of a day old chick into the brooder;
- Light the brooder heat source an hour prior to chick arrival so that the ring temperature can measure 32°C
- Inspect and count the chicks keeping the records.
- Release the chicks one by one into the brooder ring after dipping their beaks in water.
- Wait for some time to allow the chicks to drink water and keep feeds in a chick feeding tray or clean egg tray.
- For the first 3 days watch the chicks at 2-3 hours interval to see whether they are taking feeds and water.
3. Feeding chicks during brooding period;
- To ensure that all chicks get feeds, use of supplemental feeder trays at placement is recommended, use organic chick starter mash.
- Trays should be provided at the rate of 1 per 100 chicks and should be placed between the main feeder and drinker. These supplemental feed trays should be provided for the first 7-10 days.
- For the first fortnight, feed trough height should be adjusted that they rest on the litter to ensure that all chicks can easily access feeds without having to climb onto the feeder.
- Feeders should be raised incrementally throughout the growing period so that the lip of the trough is in level with the back of the chicks.
- Provide electrolyte, glucose and vitamins in the chicks’ drinking water for first 2-3 days to overcome the transit stress.
- Ensure the drinkers are cleaned at least twice a day and filled with fresh water.
- Change brooder litters or bedding at least thrice a week in order to avoid the building up of molds which can affect the well-being of the chicks. To do this you can put the chicks back to their box they were brought in or use a large trough/basin then remove the old litters replacing them with new and fresh litters.
4. Heat and light management while brooding;
- Ideal brooding temperatures are measured 5cm above the litter surface.
- Evening is the best time to observe the chicks and make temperature adjustment.
- Use the behavior of the chicks as a guide to know whether the condition in the brooder is good, cold or hot. If the chicks are all under the heat source, it’s too cold; if they are all far away from the heat, it’s too hot; if they are clumped away from the heat, it’s drafty; if they are milling about in all areas of the brooder, the temperature is correct.
- Another way of monitoring brooder temperature is by starting at 95°F (measured near the heat source at chick height), dropping the temperature about 5°F each week until the chicks are feathered or ambient temperature is reached.
- Lighting for 1 day old chicks should begin at 20-22 hours per day. Reduce day length weekly to reach approximately 12 hours of light at 8 weeks of age. During brooding the light should be at the brightest intensity to encourage chick activity thus enabling them to locate feed and water. For the first 7 days, bright light should be provided in the brooder but gradually reduced to prevent cannibalism.
5. Check on humidity and ventilation;
- Managing the brooder ventilation rates to keep relative humidity between 50 and 70 percent is recommended to minimize ammonia production and dust. Ammonia is a gas that has negative impact on birds health and performance.
- Ventilation is needed to regulate temperature and remove carbon dioxide, ammonia, other gases, moisture, dust and odors. Fresh air must be introduced uniformly, mixed well with house air, and circulated properly throughout the house.
6. Sanitation and diseases;
- For maximum survival rate and minimize disease problems, buy chicks from a reputable source. Most commercial hatcheries vaccinate their chicks for Marek’s disease at hatch so this should not be a problem.
- Most starter feeds contain a coccidiostat to reduce the potential of coccidiosis in the chicks ( None medicated feeds are available). Antibiotics are available at local feed stores but should be used only when necessary and according to instructions on its label.
- Sanitation is the best defense against disease problem. Keep your brooder clean, feed only fresh and none moldy feeds, clean drinkers and feeders daily and keep your chicks relatively isolated from other birds if there are.
Conclusion – Introduce the grown chicks into their coop.
I hope that this article has given you the real guidelines on how to raise your baby chicks. We have learned what to consider before start raising baby chick, where to acquire them and the things to consider while brooding your chicks. When baby chicks have reached six weeks in age you can introduce them to their coop which you had built. Ideally, chicks will not require a heat source when moving them from brooder to the coop but you should ensure that the outside temperatures is above 65°F. If the temperatures are lower than this then continue using a supplemental heat source withdrawing it gradually.
If there are any comments, concerns or questions you would like me to address you can drop them below and I will be happy to have a look at them as we both learn together raising healthy chickens which will provide us with eggs, meat and company, thank you!