Whether you have newly hatched chicks from your home incubator, chicks from your local farm store, or have ordered day-old chicks and received them in the mail, caring for chicks is simple, yet important to get done correctly!
For the sake of this conversation, let’s assume you have ordered chicks from us and are received them through the postal service. All of our day-old chicks are shipped via USPS Priority Mail Express. The priority express service no longer offers an overnight option; for most locations the chicks will arrive after two days. Because of the way a chick is designed, absorbing the egg yolk right before hatch allows the chick to survive well for up to three days after hatch, which affords us the time to send them via mail. You will receive a tracking number from us the day your chicks ship, and they will be held at your local post office for you to pick up. You will receive a phone call from the post office when they arrive and it is critical that you pick your chicks up ASAP. We do offer a 48-hour live chick guarantee, as long as chicks are picked up with 2 hours of arriving at the post office. Please contact us about any chicks that arrive deceased, or die within the first 48 hours. Outside of that timeframe, any health issues leading to death are likely related to the care they are receiving and are the responsibility of the customer.
A chick brooder can be made out of many different types of things, from a wood box, to a feed trough, a rubbermaid container, baby gate structure, or old bath tub. The options are endless! The sides need to be high enough that the chicks can’t escape. As the chicks get older and start to grow feathers, you may need to create a top for the brooder if it does not already have one, to prevent them from flying out. It is important to keep the brooder clean and dry. This is the lost labor intensive part of the chicken rearing process! Paper towels or puppy pads make a great material for the brooder for the first week or two. Newspaper is a bad idea as it is much too slippery for chicks. After a couple of weeks, the chicks will love a switch to wood shavings as they start to learn some natural chicken behaviors such as dust bathing. Just remember: CLEAN and DRY!
Having your brooder space set up prior to receiving your chicks is essential. Be sure to turn your heat lamp or heat plate on at least 12 hours in advance to allow the space time to warm up and regulate. Temperature in the brooder should be 90-95 degrees F for the first week or two, and can then be gradually decreased by 5-10 degrees each week as the chicks age and start getting feathers. We highly recommend this heater from Rent-a-Coop. Our chicks love to get cozy underneath it and it poses much less of a fire risk.
The chicks should immediately have access to fresh, clean water in a chick waterer. It is a good idea to gently dip the beak of each chick into the water so they know where to find it when you first place them in the brooder. I highly suggest mixing a chick electrolyte solution into the water for the first few days to give the chicks an extra boost after traveling. Your chicks will be very tired the first few days and sleep a lot. This is normal! Quiet chicks are happy chicks. You also need to provide the chicks with a chick starter. Your local feed store can help you identify the right feed for new chicks. At around 18 weeks of age, most chicks can start being transitioned to a layer feed.
It is important to observe your chicks regularly. Happy, healthy chicks will quietly go about eating, drinking, and exploring, then meet back up under their heat sources for some nice long naps. Chicks in distress are loud and noisy, seemingly agitated. If your brooder is too warm, the chicks will congregate in the farthest corner of the brooder away from the heat. If you see this behavior, it may be time to adjust your lamp.
Keep a look out for pasty butt! It is pretty easy to identify in chicks, and is exactly as it sounds. Untreated pasty butt can have serious health repercussions for the chicks. If you see a chick with pasty butt, gently remove the poop with some warm water or a baby wipe. It will likely happen again to the same chick, so make sure you keep checking back. A splash of apple cider vinegar in the water seems to be a really good preventative for pasty butt!
Another common chick ailment is spraddle leg. The chick will appear to be doing the splits, making it very difficult for the chick to walk. Taping the legs together at a appropriate spacing with vet wrap, or using a chick hobble, which can be easily found on Amazon are both quick and easy ways to remedy spraddle leg. Here is a more in-depth article on treating spraddle leg in chicks.
Once your chicks are fully feathered, or the outdoor temperature is in the 60’s or higher, your chicks can move to their permanent coop. Soon you will be enjoying eggs and watching their personalities really come to life!