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Essential Secrets to Raising Healthy Baby Chicks

Essential Secrets to Raising Healthy Baby Chicks

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Raising baby chicks can be one of the most rewarding ways of starting or perpetuating a wonderful chicken flock. Finding chicks is easy enough, but sometimes starting them can be a little trickier. There are secrets to starting a young flock which not only ensure less heartache during their brooding time, but also lead to a lifetime of vigor. Knowing the secrets to success for raising chicks makes all the difference.

 

Baby chicks: what you’re up against

 

To best care for baby chicks, it helps to understand what is happening in that crucial first week after hatching.  At this point, the chicks are weaning off of their yolk nutrition, adapting to a new environment, and learning to eat and drink.  Your job is to help them face all these challenges in the best possible way so that the foundation of their lifelong health is established.

 

Doing so means providing the following:

  • The perfect balance of temperature in the brooder.
  • An environment that encourages chick curiosity and hunger.
  • Nutrition for the hatching and newly hatched chicks
  • Additional nutrients to boost immunity and energy in the chicks.
  • Clean water / hydration.
  • Emergency nutrient supplements to boost weak chickens.

 

Brooder temperature affects more than most chick-owners think.

 

Newly hatched chicks and all young birds need a nice warm environment starting between 95 and 99 degrees for the first week, decreasing each week thereafter until the birds are fully feathered. Additionally, the brooder should have a range of temperatures to allow the chicks to keep comfy and healthy.

 

Every brooder should contain a basking area, usually the area where the heat source is closest. Chicks should also have an area of the brooder where they can escape the heat if it is too much for them while still remaining free of drafts. Placing a brooding heat source in one half of the brooding area allows chicks to move closer or further from the source as needed.

 

Watch your chicks; they will tell you whether or not their environment works for them. Think of this as a chick party: you want all your chicks to mingle neither staying clumped up in one group, nor standing at the edges trying to escape the heat. Chicks that huddle and cheap loudly are often too cold. This should not to be confused with chicks sleeping together for the comfort of it; let’s face it, wouldn’t you want to sleep against a nice fluffy baby chicken, too?

 

Remember: chicks that are too cold will not eat. Chicks that are too hot will become dehydrated. Both situations are a big problem for chicks, so make sure your babies are warm and comfy.

 

Speaking of party – the more the merrier.

 

Chicks do best when kept in groups of larger than three.  As tempting as it is to keep 2-3 babies together, there are reasons that more babies mean fewer problems.  Baby chicks actually energize each other and encourage each other to eat and drink.  Natural curiosity is triggered when the babies see other babies eating and drinking. Sleepy or disinterested chicks wake up and become more energetic if their peers are bumbling into them.

 

However, take caution that all babies are eating and drinking and the smaller, meeker babies are getting their turn.  If you notice some are not gaining weight and body mass, breaking them up into two groups – one containing the quieter babies – may help everyone get their share.

 

What you put in is what you get out of your flock.

 

The first food that babies get is the most important.  All baby chicks should have a diet of chick starter or starter grower of a high quality; this is not the time to economize.  Make sure your chick starter or starter-grower is medicated for those first weeks of life with a coccidiosis preventing agent such as amprolium.  Calf Manna makes an exceptional Chick Starter that easily provides the types of nutrients, energy, and protection for a chick.

 

A good complete starter or starter/grower designed for chicks at the age of week 1 onwards will provide pretty much everything that a chicken needs nutrition-wise; be sure not to cut it with grains and treats.  However, that food has to be digested and its digestion depends in part upon good bacteria in the chicks’ digestive system.

 

Encourage nutrient usage and discourage coccidiosis with probiotics.

 

Baby chickens have been enclosed in an egg and their bodies do not come with bacteria that usually lives in a normal chicken’s body.  Once chicks have hatched, suddenly they are exposed to bacteria everywhere – good and bad; in this new frontier, the bacteria that gets established first and strongest is the one that will take over.  Additionally chicks and chickens alike depend on good or “beneficial” bacteria to provide a lifetime of health and to absorb the nutrients from their food.  The chicks’ futures depend on good bacteria colonizing the digestive tract immediately; that’s where you come in.

 

In a brooder situation, the easiest way of ensuring good bacteria thrive in the chicks is through the use of probiotics, living good bacteria that colonize the gut.  Offering a little yogurt in a spoon once a week or sprinkling a probiotic powder over the feed once a week really goes a long way towards helping gut health.

 

Clean water; an often-overlooked health tonic for chicks.

 

Clean water is one of the most important aspects of keeping baby chicks that most people overlook and then have to remedy.  Baby chickens are klutzes; while they’re learning to control those long legs, they will often end up walking in their poop and then their feed and water.  It is very important to make sure that their water is always fresh and clean.  Lift the waterer above the floor by 1 inch to keep chicks from stepping in and fouling their water.

 

Cleaning the waterers nightly is also important.  Clean fresh water is enticing to baby chicks and will encourage them to drink more often and more volume.  Hydrated chicks are healthy and energetic chicks which will more likely grow to be healthy adults.

 

Chick savers are an important weapon against weak chicks.

 

Everyone who is raising baby chickens should have a product such as Save-A-Chick powder or Poultry Nutri-Drench in their toolbox.  These products are really a must-have for anyone raising baby chickens, and it’s no slouch for adult chickens either.  These are vitamin products that can be used in the water temporarily or dropped onto the side of the beak.

 

Both products contain a chick-safe version of vitamin B, a very important vitamin for babies who are losing vigor or under stress.  Vitamin B will not only encourage energy but also boost appetite, a true life-saver for any chick that for some reason may not have the energy to eat otherwise. Having these products in your cabinet will also benefit adult chickens if they ever lose their vigor or refuse to eat or drink.

 

Meeting the challenge of raising chicks reduces challenges later.

 

Raising baby chickens need neither be complicated nor heartbreaking.  Knowing these secrets to true chick health means that your babies will get the type of start needed for a strong foundation and a lifetime of health and thriftiness.

 

Nathalie (Ross) Norris is a writer, animal lover, and native Texan. Her love of keeping chickens started at a young age. Many years later, she find that her favorite part of keeping chickens is helping others to enjoy it as well.

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