Newborn chickens are delicate and require special care in order to stay healthy and grow into productive, adult birds. Because the babies can live off the nutrients from the egg yolk sac for two or three days after birth, hatcheries can ship them all over the country. Preparations taken ahead of time will help to provide your chicks with the proper environment. Given the right shelter, food and nurturing, baby chickens stay quite content.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Brooder box or cage
- Hooded heat lamp
- Small chain
- Sawdust, wood chips, litter or crushed corn cob
- Plain newspaper
- Water fount
- Chick starter feed
- Screen cover
Prepare a newborn chicken brooder that has a source of heat, water and food. The small birds cannot regulate their body temperature, so they must have a heat lamp for the first few weeks of life. A basic brooder consists of a hooded, infrared heat lamp that can suspend over a cardboard box, wooden box or a commercially made wire cage for baby chickens. Make sure the heat lamp hangs over the centre of the brooder, and close enough to keep the temperature between 32.2 and 35 degrees Celsius for the first week. Raise the lamp each week to decrease the temperature by five degrees until the baby birds reach four weeks old. They won't need the lamp after four weeks, as long as temperatures remain 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Provide enough space for the chicks to huddle under the light without crowding and so they can move away from the heat if necessary.
Spread 1 to 2 inches of sawdust, wood chips, crushed corn cob or litter over the brooder floor. Cover the bedding with plain newspaper for the first few days to prevent the chicks from eating the bedding. Proper flooring keeps the bird's legs and feet healthy, and provides a dry area. Remove the newspaper after a few days to prevent wet bedding and bacteria.
Purchase starter feed for baby chickens at any feed store and feed it to them until they reach 6 to 8 weeks old. Feed and water must be placed in more than one place of the brooder, away from the heat, so all of the chickens can eat and drink at the same time. You can find non-tipping, water founts at the feed store, which also keep the water constant. Shipped baby chickens need water immediately after arrival, so you will need to gently dip their beaks in the water to encourage them to drink. Sprinkle some feed on the newspaper at first and observe the chicks to make sure they find it. Keep an eye on the babies until they adjust and know the food and water locations. The right temperature will cause the chicks to move about freely, rather than huddling under the lamp constantly or staying completely away from it.
Tips and warnings
- Water must be available to baby chicks at all times.
- You can purchase antibiotic powder from a feed store for the bird's drinking water if they look lethargic or sickly.
- Do not hang the heat lamp by the cord; use a chain for a secure suspension.
- Make sure the heat lamp does not hang close enough to the cardboard or bedding to start a fire.
- Use a hard glass bulb in the heat lamp to prevent shattered glass from splashing water.
- Keep a screen cover over the box to protect the chicks from house pets and small children.
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