Chicks 101

Everything you need to know when you take your chicks home.

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

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 breeds such as the Serama and d’Uccle mature sexually at 5 months. Standard size breeds tend to mature sexually at 6 months.

roo: 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.

Supplies

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.

When you come to the farm, try to bring a storage tub with a lid or a cardboard box. We usually have a box lying around, but since a storage tub makes a great DIY brooder, why not bring one and have it ready for your babies when they’re back home.

When you arrive, we’ll greet you and ask  you to sanitize the soles of your shoes and you hands. This is to make sure–especially if you have chickens–that we don’t share any germs. Different flocks have different levels of natural immunity to common pathogens.  It’s important not to transfer these between flocks.

Depending on the age of your chicks, you may or may not need to purchase a heat lamp base and bulb.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.\

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 lining can be changed quickly every day and it will help you keep an eye on their poop-a great indicator of chick health.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.