Chick days are upon us, and before you take home a colony of chicks by impulse, take a moment to verify that you are ready to receive them. Below you will find some critical key points that are essential for the survival of your new feathered friends.
Regardless of their intended purpose, chicks need some essentials to properly develop into healthy productive members of our home flock. Day-old chicks we often find at the feed store are sold in small groups for a reason: they are fragile individuals. Take a moment to review if you are ready to get some from the feed store or receive them directly from the hatchery.
An adequate brooder should have the following elements:
- Proper and constant temperature usually provided by an incandescent light.
- Solid sides
- Absorbent litter to keep the chicks dry
- Enough space for chicks to develop properly
Solid sides on a brooder are essential to block wind currents which can cause extreme fluctuations in temperature inside the brooder. Choose pine shavings, kitty litter or other absorbent material to use in the floor.
Proper square footage per chick should be provided since they will grow fast and will spend at least 3 weeks of their lives inside the brooder. Each chick will need to have 6 to 7 square inches of space inside the brooder to develop without stress. Competition for space can increase bullying and encourage pecking.
Addressing the temperature issue
Adequate temperature is one of the most important factors that affect young chicks. Due to their small body size and lack of permanent feathers, day-old chicks are not able to properly regulate their body temperature. Placing a heat lamp at the proper height will help to keep them warm and healthy. The optimal temperature for day-old chicks should be 90 – 95°F at a height of 2.5 inches from the ground to stimulate adequate conditions for chicks to roam and eat inside the brooder. To provide them with the supplemental temperature our babies need to survive, use an incandescent bulb. The typical red color you often find in these brooder lights discourages chicks from pecking their peers, reducing the social stress in their new colony.
Check the distribution of chicks inside the brooder to determine if your chicks are too warm, too cold, or adequately heated. If the chicks are huddled together in a close group, this is indicative that they are cold. To address this issue, lower the lamp gradually until they spread out evenly throughout the enclosure. Chicks that are too warm will generally stay away from the heat lamp and will be found in the corners of the brooder rather than evenly spaced. Adequate temperatures will promote an even distribution of chicks throughout the brooder.
As the chicks mature, they will need less temperature supplementation since they will grow and produce adult feathers, which are more efficient in trapping body heat. Raise the lamp so you are reducing the brooder temperature by 5 degrees per week until you can remove the lamp (when they are fully feathered). Make sure that the temperature is checked every day at least once to avoid accidental stress to these vulnerable young birds.
Meeting their nutritional needs
Young chicks need significantly different feed than laying hens and older birds. Starter-grower feed is higher in protein and minerals than adult formulations. The nutritional requirements during the first growing phases of the chick’s lives require 20-22 percent protein during the first 6 weeks of their lives. From week 7 to 14 the protein requirement drops to 16-18, and from 14 to 20 weeks in age, it drops further to 14- 19 percent. Energy requirements stay relatively similar from day 0 to laying at 1290 to 1315 kilocalories per pound of feed, while calcium needs increase dramatically when the birds mature and start laying.
Check your feed tags and make sure that chicks get a high protein, low calcium diet until they start laying eggs. Feed storage is another critical aspect of raising healthy chicks, which often gets overlooked by backyard flock owners. Store feed in a rodent-proof container, since these pests can carry diseases that can affect our young birds. Also, avoid moldy feed since mold can cause respiratory issues as well as toxins that will make our chicks sick.
For further information, please contact our office and we can provide further guidance.
Transitioning your young birds
After approximately three weeks of age your chicks should be fully feathered and can be transitioned into cages or runs. Young birds should never be mixed with their adult counterparts. Keep your youngsters separated, but with some contact with the rest of your colony for several weeks if this is an option.
There is a practice called “all in-all-out”, which applies to poultry production at all levels. This term refers to the action of avoiding mixing flocks for health reasons. Avoid comingling birds from neighboring properties to reduce the chance of contracting diseases. Also, avoid the contact with wild waterfowl since they carry many infectious diseases that can be harmful to your home flock and even to humans.
Finally, contain your birds in predator-proof environments where they can enjoy a healthy, productive life.
Contact us for more information!
If you have further questions on raising backyard poultry, please contact us at the UF/IFAS Extension Hardee County office by calling 863-773-2164 or stopping by at 507 Civic Center Drive, Wauchula FL 33873. We are here to provide you with educational resources that can improve your agricultural venture or operation.
- Preparándonos para recibir los pollitos – UF/IFAS Extension Hardee County (ufl.edu)
- Coccidiosis in Backyard Chickens – UF/IFAS Extension Polk County (ufl.edu)
- Coccidiosis en Pollos de Traspatio – UF/IFAS Extension Polk County (ufl.edu)
- AN-170/AN182: Care of Baby Chicks (ufl.edu)
- AN239/AN239: Raising Backyard Chickens for Eggs (ufl.edu)