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It can be hard to know how to raise your chicks naturally, but in this post I will tell you everything you need to know. I will let you know how you can raise your chicks from brooder to coop, and I will tell you how you can do all this with tried and true natural methods.
Where and how to buy chicks
Before we get into raising chicks we first need to talk about buying them. There are many ways you can get your chicks; the main options are feed stores, local hatcheries, and online hatcheries.
This is probably the most common way to buy chicks. Usually everyone has a co-op or a feed store close to them. There are a few things you should watch out for before you buy from a feed store though. First you should examine how they house there chicks. The chicks should not be in a cramped, cold, or wet brooder. All these things can lead to premature death and sickness. You should also examine the chicks health by making sure they are not lethargic, panting, or sick. One way to test if they are sick is to run your hand across the top of the beak. If it is wet then they may be sick.
I have bought from two different local hatcheries and have been well pleased with both. The great thing about this is that you get your chicks as soon as they hatch out of the egg. You know that the birds have not been traveling for a long time or sitting in a feed store. Another benefit of a local hatchery is that the chicks are usually cheaper than feed stores or online. You eliminate the middle man, and if you pick them up you do not pay for shipping charges.
I have also gone this route when buying chicks. It really is amazing that they can ship birds through the mail to your local post office. I had a good experience when I ordered online. This is a great option if you do not have a local hatchery or feed store or if you simply want a rare breed. The way it works is once the chicks have hatched they pack the orders and get them to the post office ASAP. Then they might fly or drive the chicks to your local post office. Right before the chicks hatch they swallow the yolk sac. This will give them enough nourishment for 72 hours. Therefore, they must get the chicks to you within 72 hours of hatching.
There are a few supplies that you will need before you can raise your chicks. Most of these items are not expensive, in fact you may already have some in your house. You will need to supply them with water, food, shelter, bedding, and heat. Let’s break down each one.
This is called the brooder and is the most important thing for brand new chicks. For my brooder I use a kid’s swimming pool and make tall sides out of cardboard. I have also seen people use plastic totes, galvanized troughs, cardboard boxes, wooden brooders, and many other things. Here are a few things you want to look for when selecting a brooder. Has tall walls and keeps drafts out. Chicks are prone to chilling so make sure your brooder is draft free. You will want tall walls because once the chicks are a few weeks old they will try to escape from the brooder. Another thing you want to look for is a big brooder. You do not want your chicks on top of each other. Get creative and see what you can use for a brooder.
Another necessity for chicks is some source of heat. Chicks normally will huddle under their mothers to stay warm, but most likely you will not be able to have an older hen. That is okay because there are many other options to keep chicks warm. I have used a red bulb heat lamp to raise my chicks. This is a very inexpensive option for starting the chicks off. There are also dangers with heat lamps as they have been the number one cause of coop fires. Some less dangerous options are heat plates. These plates are raised off the ground and allow the chicks to huddle under them to stay warm. This acts like the mother, is less dangerous, and keeps the chicks from having light on them at all times. The way they used to keep chicks warm that did not have mother hens was to place them next to wood stoves. This kept the brooder nice and warm but meant that the chicks had to be kept inside. Another electricity free option was to fill a mason jar with hot water and wrap it in foil and cover the brooder with a wool sweater. Although you may not want to use these old fashion ways they are good to keep in mind in case the power goes out.
Chicks are going to drink the same water that you and your family drink. They will need a special dispenser for this water though. You can find these at feed stores and they are very inexpensive. The advantage of having a special waterer is that the chicks do not get soaked, drowned, or make a very big mess. For new chicks make sure when you fill up their waterer that it is not cold water but room temperature. Cold water could shock the chicks. For the first week of having chicks you will want to make them a water elixir. This simple recipe gives the chicks probiotics, electrolytes, and calories. I usually give them this on there first few days to give them an extra boost. Here is a recipe that I have used.
- One cup warm water
- 2 teaspoons black strap molasses
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/8 teaspoon pink Himalayan salt
- 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Mix all these ingredients together and give them to your chicks. Here is why I have each ingredient listed. Black strap molasse’s for calories, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Baking soda for electrolytes. Salt for electrolytes. Apple cider vinegar to aid with digestion, immune system, and to prevent coccidiosis. It is best to dip each chicks beak into the water that way they will learn how to drink.
Chicks are going to need a bagged feed that you can most likely find at a local feedstore. When you shop for this feed make sure that you buy chick starter feed that is in crumbles. This is the feed that they will eat until they are 8 weeks old. There are two types of feed that you can buy for chicks medicated and non-medicated. My personal opinion is that non-medicated feed is better for your new flock. Others say that you should buy medicated feed to prevent sickness. You will have to make your own decision on this point. You will also need to buy a feeder for your chicks.
For my brooder I use pine shavings for bedding. They smell nice, absorb liquids, and are soft on the chicks. These pine shavings are my favorite thing to raise my chicks on. When you buy these MAKE SURE THAT YOU DO NOT BUY WOOD SHAVINGS. Mixed wood shavings might include cedar which can get into the chicks nasal passages, clog them, and eventually kill them. Chicks are very sensitive to cedar dust so please double check to make sure that you buy pine shavings
Where to place your brooder
If you get your chicks at an extremely cold time of year you may want to place them in your house. You will only want to do this for the first week as when they get older they will bring a lot of dust and smells into your house. I place my brooder in my garage and am able to keep it warm enough in there. This keeps the mess out of the house, but it is close enough to the house that you can check on them frequently
Setting up the brooder
If you do choose to set up your brooder in the garage you may want to put a layer in-between your brooder and the concrete floor. This will keep the brooder warmer. Next fill the bottom of the brooder with pine shavings to about 2 inches deep. If you are using a heat lamp you will want to suspend it in the air. I use a thermometer in the bottom of my brooder to get the temperature between 90oF-95oF. This is the temperature that chicks need for their first week. Now you can add in your food and water. I use wooden blocks under the waterer and feeder to keep the chicks from getting shavings in their food and water. Now you can add in your chicks.
For this first week it is best to wait 24 hours before you start to handle your chicks. Remember to be gentle with these brand new chicks, but also hold them enough after the first day so that they are docile around people. This first week is one of the most fun times when raising chicks.
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