Chicks 101

Best Practices for Happy, Healthy Chicks

You’re adopting a baby chick from us! Congratulations and if this is your first foray into chicken farming, we hope you love it as much as we do. Remember, we’re always here if you need help.

Glossary

straight-run (unsexed): a chick that is usually 0-3 months old and we cannot yet tell the sex of the bird.  50% hens and 50% roos expected normally.

pullets: a young female bird that is usually less than 5-6 months and not sexually mature.  Small breeds such as the Serama and d’Uccle mature sexually at 5 months. Standard size breeds tend to mature sexually at 6 months.  Mature sexually means they are laying and we call them a hen.

hen: a sexually mature, laying female bird.

cockerel: a young male bird that is usually less than 5-6 months and not sexually mature. Small bantam sized breeds such as the Serama and d’Uccle mature sexually at 5 months. Standard size breeds tend to mature sexually at 6 months.

rooster: a sexually mature, male bird.

pet quality: a bird that is not 100% perfect breed standard for our breeding program.  These are still great birds and often a great deal.

Health and Biosecurity

NPIP Participant

We participate in the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP), a voluntary, free program that was established in the 1930s by the United States Department of Agriculture as a joint, cooperative program with federal, state, and industry partners. NPIP regulates egg-transmitted and hatchery-disseminated diseases of poultry and establishes standards for evaluation and certification of poultry flocks and hatching eggs which keeps flocks free from devastating poultry diseases. Over 95 percent of the United States’ breeding and hatching industry participates in NPIP. In Florida, the program is administered by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). While participation in NPIP is voluntary, flocks must first qualify as “Pullorum-Typhoid Clean.”

You can see our NPIP status here (we’re on page 27).

In order to protect Florida’s poultry industry from serious disease outbreaks, the Florida NPIP Program tests for the following highly contagious diseases, which pose a serious threat to the economic viability of the state’s poultry industry.

The objective of the Florida NPIP Program is to monitor for, and prevent/control, poultry diseases that can be devastating to the state’s poultry industry. Part of this objective is to provide education and assistance to backyard flock owners (noncommercial birds and other poultry) on best management practices for disease prevention and control.

The program also provides guidance in maintaining sanitary environments for raising poultry and implementing biosecurity measures to protect flocks from disease as well as prevent disease.

This is why we do not allow visitors to visit the birds on our farm. A pathogen could be on your shoe and infect our entire flock.

Please ask is you would like to see more pictures of birds or habitats beyond what we have provided on our website or social media. We’re happy to share. This is also why we only add birds to our flock that come from NPIP compliant poultry operations. It is also why we do not accept returns or exchanges on birds.

To become an NPIP Participant, a participant must:

  • Submit a completed application to FDACS, Division of Animal Industry.
  • Have premises and facilities inspected and approved by an FDACS inspector.
  • Confirm the flock tested negative for Pullorum-Typhoid.

Participation in the NPIP program will help maintain a healthy poultry industry in the state of Florida and allow flock owners ease in moving hatching eggs and live birds to shows and exhibitions. FDACS will issue a certification card and flock approval number once flocks qualify for NPIP. To maintain NPIP status, flocks must be tested annually.

We practice specific biosecurity procedures as suggested by the USDA.

Visit the USDA website to learn how you can help “Defend the Flock”.

How we care for our Chicks

Fertile eggs are collected from our hens each evening and stored for no more than 7 days at 60-65 degrees and 75% humidity, with daily rotations. We then set the eggs in our incubator for their 21 day incubation period.

When chicks hatch, they are removed to a heated brooder which is housed in our climate controlled barn, which is distanced from our main chicken area. This is important towards maintaining biosecurity. Chicks are kept at 95 degrees for the first week and provided fresh medicated chick feed and water multiple times a day. We try to avoid lots of handling of the chicks during the first week or two as it can stress the chicks and lower their immune response to natural pathogens in the environment.

We guarantee all of our chicks will be healthy when they leave with you, but can make no guarantees beyond that as chicks are very fragile and stress, slight variations in temperature, or even your home environment can quickly affect their health. One week old chicks require that they be kept at 95 degrees the first week, reducing by 5 degrees each week until they feather out. Beyond temperature, common pathogens such as coccidia can live in environments and even if you have birds now, they might have an immunity. When the new chicks are exposed to your birds’ bacteria, the load can quickly overload their undeveloped immune systems.

Our NPIP/AI certification will be renewed May 26, 2020.

We will We do not offer refunds or exchanges of livestock.

Picking up Your Chicks from Oleno Farm

Different flocks have different levels of natural immunity to common pathogens.  It’s important not to transfer these between flocks. For this reason, we do not allow visitors to our chicken habitats as we do not wish to expose our birds to unknown potential disease vectors. Quite simply, you could have chickens at home that seem perfectly healthy, but they have different pathogens that they have immunity to, but our chickens don’t… or visa versa. These invisible pathogens are impossible to detect and we like to play it safe. This protects your new chicks, too!

Pre-paid Pick up Saturday

Our farm hours are Saturdays 10-4 pm by appointment.

When you purchase, add a comment and let us know a two-hour time frame during that time that you will be picking them up. On Saturday morning, text us and let us know that you are on your way. We will then safely and securely box your chicks up and have them waiting for you when you arrive. We will have you stay in your car and we will load the chicks in for you. If you do not pick up your chicks on Saturday, you will forfeit your purchase. By purchasing these chicks you agree to these terms. If you are unavailable on Saturday, please see our separate listing where you can purchase a different pick-up time for $10.

Shop and Set up before you pick up your chicks

If you need to pick up supplies, there are feed stores in High Springs and Alachua. Supplies are also available at Rural King and Tractor Supply in Gainesville and Lake City. We have linked the items we recommend to Amazon through our affiliates account if you–like us–like to order everything on Amazon. Plan to have all of your supplies in place and set up at home BEFORE you pick up your chicks.

Leaving your chicks in the car while you “just run in for a few minutes” is dangerous and can create stress on the chicks due to temperature variations and extremes. You also will want to avoid exposing your chicks to pathogens that are common in establishments that sell chicks and chicken supplies to the public. Here is a quick link to search for feed stores in the area. We also recommend Amazon and have provided linked images below when we recommend a product.

When  you get the chicks home

When you get your chicks home, you’ll want to give them time to adjust. They’ve just left the only home they’ve ever known. Once they’re settled in, give them a few hours to recover from their journey. There will be lots of peeping, that’s ok.

Try adding a few dried meal worms to their box so the begin to associate you with food and treats.

On the second day home, you can begin handling your chicks. Wait, who are we kidding–you’re never gonna wait 24 hours! In any case, closely supervise children when holding chicks. Even very young chicks can fly and a fall from a couple of feet can be deadly. Be careful and patient with your little peepers and your little humans.

Supplies

Housing

You will want a secure place for your chicks to live. This is usually a brooder box. While there are many commercial varieties available, many people find success with a dog kennel or a plastic storage tub. Do not use containers with wire bottoms as this can injure the chicks feet. Do not use containers with slick surfaces as this can prevent proper leg development in the chicks. Make sure each chick has about 7 square inches to move around freely and prevent chicks piling up and injuring each other. You will want to make sure the sides of the container are tall enough to prevent chicks from escaping.

If you are keeping the brooder in a garage or barn, you will want to make sure that no predators (cats, dogs, rats, snakes) can get into the brooder. You will also want to be sure that there are no drafts which could chill the chicks. Ensure that your brooder has good ventilation. Your chicks will need lots of oxygen, so you don’t want to put a lid on them. Try cutting a piece of chicken wire or hardware mesh to fit the top of the box. Don’t use anything flammable. The most important thing in chick housing is that the environment is dry and clean so that you do not create an environment that breeds disease. When outside temperatures are above 70 degrees and you have a safe outside enclosure ready, you can move chicks that are 6-8 weeks outside to their homes.

Bedding

You’ll likely want to have some sort of bedding available to make cleaning your brooder box much easier.  Remember, chicks poop a lot and you want to keep their little feet clean and not have them pecking at their poop. We find that pine shavings work great in a thin 1″ layer.  Don’t put them to thick for tiny chicks. Another approach for chicks that are just a few weeks old is to buy a cheap roll of papertowels and line the bottom of the box.

This bedding or lining can be changed quickly every day and it will help you keep an eye on their poop-a great indicator of chick health. We have also used sand, straw and rubber non-slip mats. You could use grass or some other soft material.  The most important thing is that it is clean and soft and dry and free from insects or pathogens.

You can also add a little Diamotaceous Earth to you bedding to help with potential mites or worms. Food grade DE is very safe, as long as you– or the chicks don’t breathe the particles when adding it to the bedding.

Temperature

The biggest threat to chicks beyond predators, is incorrect temperature. You want to keep them warm. Really warm. Most chicks don’t die from dehydration, or hunger or illness–they die from being the incorrect temperature.

For example, if you’re adopting chicks that are 4-5 weeks old, you would want to keep them somewhere where the temperature doesn’t fall below 70 F degrees. If you are adopting chicks that are 1 week old, you would need to make sure the temperature stays between 90-95 degrees.

Supplemental Heat Sources.

Please note, heat lamps are extreme fire hazards so safety first, and use good judgement.  You don’t want to catch anything on fire, especially your chicks. They clamp on, but we suggest setting up a second way of mounting so if the clamp slips, there is something else holding it in place. We started using 250 watt ceramic heat lamps last year and we really love them. They are available in a variety of wattages and they don’t put out that creepy red light that will keep your chicks awake at night and disrupt their circadian rhythms.

We also have been using this heating pad made especially for chicks. It’s been durable and easy to clean.

I like using it in addition to the heat lamp for birds that want to be a little bit warmer than everyone else. It works through radiant heat so the chicks warm up when they are in physical contact with the pad.

There are other versions of this type of system available that we have not tried:

You need to get a simple thermometer to make sure that your chicks are the right temperature. I like one that registers all-time high and low temperatures so I know if the brood box is getting too hot or too cold with our fluctuating Florida temperatures. This is more important if your brood box is outside or in a drafty barn. Be sure the batteries in your digital thermometers are replaced frequently to ensure accurate readings.

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If you go this route, we recommend buying several thermometers as they have varying calibrations. Again, keep those batteries fresh for most accurate readings.

We are also big fans of infrared thermometers like this one which provide very accurate and precise temperature measurements.

If everyone is huddled under the heat lamp, it could be too cold. If everyone is spread to the edges of the brood box, it could be too hot. Chicks that are too hot will also spread their wings and pant. By the time chicks show signs of overheating or being too cool, they have usually already suffered stress that can compromise their immune system. Trust your chicks over the thermometer. You can adjust the heat lamp temperature by raising and lowering the height of the lamp in relation to your brood box.

Food and Water

Now that your chicks are secure and warm, you’ll want to think about water and food.

There are a million ways to do this, but if you’re going with the storage-tub brooder, you will not have a  lot of space.

Our youngest chicks use a small waterer with a screw on base.  This works well for up to a dozen baby chicks but you’ll need to constantly monitor the water level because it can evaporate quickly under the heat lamp.  Also if you’re using pine shaving as bedding, they can get into the water and leach it out quickly draining the water you just filled.

I recommend adding a little lime and little to your water. We ONLY use First Saturday Lime because it’s very safe. It can reduce bacterial loads and keep algae from growing in your water. For a screw on type waterer, a pinch or two should be plenty.

Next, you’ll need a way to give them food. You can put food in shallow dish, but we like to use the screw on base feeder as well.

Note that you can use large glass mason jars with either of these bases and it makes for much easier clean up.

I recommend sanitizing your food and water dishes as least once a week.

At this point, you’re almost ready for chicks.

You will need to purchase something for your chicks to eat. You can get chick starter at the local feedstore, Tractor Supply or Rural King. You can choose either medicated or unmedicated. I tend to choose medicated, because baby chicks can have very delicate immune systems. Medicated gives you a bit of insurance against inevitable issues with bacteria and parasites. If you are organic, you will want to choose the unmedicated feed.

I also like to add Diamotaceous Earth to the chickens food to help reduce the chance of parasites.

Another thing that is nice for your birds is to give them dried meal worms as an extra protein source.

It’s also a nice way to bond with them and promote hand feeding.