Safe Handling Practices
Safe handling and cleanliness should be a priority and a common thread through
all your practices. Micro-organisms, particularly salmonella, are ever present in
both oral and fecal matter of animals. Care must be taken to prevent the transmission to people. Always, wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling
pets or livestock.
General Chick Care
You will want to be prepared well ahead of the arrival of your chicks. We've put this page together to help you do just that, prepare. Shipping is very stressful on new chicks and when they arrive you'll want to get them into their new environment as soon as possible - immediately! Having your brooding space prepared will be easier on both you and your chicks.
Delivery and Pickup
If you're not picking up your chicks directly from our hatchery or your local feed store your chicks will be arriving via USPS to your local post office. Your postmaster will call you when they arrive. We urge you to pick them up directly from your post office as early as possible. It is also recommended that you let your postmaster know, in advance, that you are expecting live chicks and the approximate date of arrival. They do appreciate the heads up to be on watch and listening for them.
A sufficiently sized cardboard box works well for a brooder and provides an effective draft shield. Cool drafts are bad for chicks, causing chills, huddling which leads to suffocation, and possible respiratory problems. However, keep in mind, chicks do need plenty of fresh air - just not cool drafty air. Remember too you will need a heat source for your brooder. See note under Sanitation.
Some form of bedding or litter should be put down to cover the entire brooding area to a depth of 1-2 inches. Some good material to use would be wood chips or peat moss. Never use cedar shavings which can be toxic to chicks or sawdust which can cause impaction when eaten. Use of either of these materials can result in death. Remember, little chicks will pick at everything!
Many folks are inclined to use paper material - we DO NOT recommend its use. Any slick surface material could cause the chicks to slip resulting in spraddle legs - legs sprawling out from under the chick. This resulting joint injury from spraddle legs if not immediately corrected is irreversible.
A heat source, preferably heat lamps or light bulbs, capable of maintaining 90-95°
in the brooding area is essential. We suggest you turn these on and test them in advance, taking your current weather conditions into consideration. Check the temperature using a thermometer at the chick level, 2-3 inches above the floor.
There are 250 watt heat lamps designed, and recommended for this purpose; be very careful using these products as they can get very hot. The brooder also must be of sufficient size to allow chicks to move away from the heat source.
As the chicks grow, decrease the brooder temperature by 5° each week until you reach 70° or the chicks are totally feathered. Once feathered the chicks shouldn't need a heat source.
A single 250 watt heat lamp is generally sufficient for approximately 100 chicks.
You can raise and lower the lamp to adjust the chick level temperature.
Water at brooder area temperature (90-95°) should be available immediately to the new chicks. There are many different styles of poultry waterers from which to choose. Start with a 1 gallon waterer per 100 chicks. Cooler water is not recommended as the chicks are already stressed from transport and are thirsty; drinking cool water can cool their bodies creating chills, even to the point of shock. After the first 24 hours you can provide tap temperature water.
Remember too, water should be given to the chicks for an hour before introducing food. This gives them a chance to hydrate before consuming dry food. Should your chicks, or other fowl, be slow to find their waterers adding brightly colored marbles will attract them to investigate and drink.
An 18% protein chick starter crumbles from your local feed store should be given after the chicks have had their first hour of access to water. We recommend spreading the food on a paper towel on the floor of the brooder for the first 24 hours. This stimulates the chicks to eat. Introduce them to the feeder later. When feeding, allow for sufficient space that all can feed without crowding. Crowding at the feed or water area creates stress which may lead to pecking at each other. The chicks should have food and water available to them at all times.
If your chicks are overly stressed upon arrival, you may add one-fourth cup of sugar to each gallon of water for the initial watering before giving food. Use fresh water after this initial dosage. If you want to provide additional vitamins and/or electrolytes do so after allowing a couple days of fresh water. Whatever vitamins or stress pack you choose, always follow the manufacturer's directions for use.
Watch for a condition referred to as "pasty butt" or "pasting up". Stressed chicks may have diarrhea or very sticky (pasty) stools which will stick to the chicks. The result is a blocked rectum. Remove this manure daily by pulling it off gently or better yet is to wash it off with warm water and a cloth. This condition should clear as the chicks grow and begin to eat the chick starter. If the chicks also appear droopy you may use a sulfa (anti-microbial) type drug following the manufacturer's directions.
Before your chicks arrive make sure your brooder and surrounding brooding area have been cleaned and preferably disinfected. This area should also be free of other poultry.
The chicks will get food into the waterers which will sour very quickly under the warm brooder conditions.. Algae may also become a problem. In either case the waterers become prime breeding ground for bacteria and in turn can cause chick sickness. The feeders and litter will also need to be cleaned and replaced as needed to maintain a sanitary environment for healthy chicks.
Domestic Pets and Predators
Don't overlook your loveable family dogs and cats. Just as you will want to protect the chicks from wild predators don't forget about your domestic pets. Easily accessible chicks have a way of bringing out the hunting instinct in animals.