Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Let's Get Started...
What you will need:
Chicks: You may order them by mail order catalog or from your local feed store. I see in my McMurray Catalog that the going rate for a female chick is about $2.50 and up and for a rooster, the price is from $1.20 and up. The Bible said that sparrows were selling 2 for $.01 in Jesus' day. Wow, what inflation!
A space for your chicks: Baby chicks need a warm place to be for the first weeks. They need a place that is not drafty and allows them to have enough space to run and move about freely, getting in and out from the warmth. A brooder box can be made simply out of anything. You can use a cardboard appliance box with a heat lamp above it, you can use a wading pool, an aluminum stock tank or a large Rubbermaid tub to give you some ideas. First of all you will need approximately 1/2 sq. ft. of space per chick. The floor will need a steady temperature of 90-95 degrees for the first couple weeks. I use a heat lamp or two, depending on the season and where you will be housing your chicks. Often early spring can still be very chilly here in the North in my chicken coop. I prefer red heat lamps because they are not so bright. It is said that bright lights can cause chicks to peck at each other, which is not good. In one side of my coop, I block off an area for my chicks with square bales of hay or make a board frame in a corner. I like to use the rule of thumb: if it feels cozy to you hand under the lights, then your chicks will be warm enough. For some DIY brooding boxes, click here.
Feed & Water: When you get your chicks home, make sure that each one drinks a little water. Dip their little heads in the poultry waterer and soon they will be dipping their beaks into the water and raising their heads to swallow it down. It is very important to get each one started individually. Also you may like to put a newspaper down and sprinkle some of the feed on it. The chicks will naturally begin pecking it and eating. Fill small feeders for them once they get the hang of eating off the floor in about one day.
Feed the chicks a commercial "chick starter" (18% protein) feed which you can purchase from your local feed store. I like to keep them on this for the first 4-6 weeks and gradually add other grains like cracked corn, wheat, oats. When feeding the heavy , you will feed a high protein feed called "grower" (22% protein). This feed is also fine for your other chicks that will lay eggs. The meaty birds will also enjoy going to cracked corn, but usually prefer the "grower" feed.
I like to add 1-2 t. of sugar to my chicks' first gallon of water. It gives their bodies a little extra energy as they start on their first feed and water. Always give your chicks and chickens fresh water daily and never let them dry out. You will need to get a watering fount for your chicks. I like to put mine on a board so it stays level and up out of the bedding. Have a 1 gallon waterer for each 20 chicks. In a month or so, you may want to put another gallon water fount or a 2 gallon fount in their coop.
Keep bedding clean. After the first few days of using newspaper under the chicks and changing it daily, I change bedding. I put a layer of wood shavings down first (for absorbency) and then top it with a layer of straw. Check to see if any of the chicks are having trouble with their rear ends pasting up. Sometimes they have manure stuck to their bottoms which ends up plugging them up and killing them. Pull this off and keep bedding clean to prevent pasting. I usually keep adding a little new bedding (straw or wood shavings) daily until they are about 2 weeks old. Then I clean out the pen and put all fresh bedding down. (If you are raising Cornish X Rocks, they really do poop a lot. You'll need to keep changing bedding more often with this breed.)
You can purchase all kinds of feeders at your local farm/ranch supply store or feed stores. Use a 2 ft. long feeder for each 50 birds. After four weeks increase the feeder to 2-3" of space per bird. You may also find other containers that will accommodate your birds better than the little feeders. The thing to remember is that chicks will walk around in their feed and make it messy, so it's best if they can't hop into their feeders.
Grit is something you will eventually want to provide your chicks with. I usually don't do this until the chicks are around 2 months old. Ask your feed store man for the proper size for the age of your chickens. Commonly, you will get crushed oyster shell. Grit allows the chickens to digest their food better.
Plenty of space
As your chicks grow, they will require more space. Chicks will peck one another to death if they do not have enough space, are too hot, or do not have enough ventilation. If you notice them pecking at one another, give them more space and reduce heat. Mature hens will need 3-4 square feet per bird to keep them happy. More is always better, especially if hens must be confined during winter months.