When they are obtained while they are just a few days old chicks are very dependent on their new owners. There are five critical factors to pay attention to:
- Water You may have to teach your chicks to drink by gently dipping their beaks in water. Make sure all the chicks have constant access to a water supply that is not low enough for them to climb into or deep enough for them to get soaked.
- Warmth Until they are 6 weeks old your chicks will not have enough feathers to stay warm on their own. The brooder is the enclosure you provide for your chicks. The brood lamp is the heat lamp. Safety first: the brood lamp should be positioned so that there is no danger of causing a fire or of the chicks overheating. The lamp should stay on 24 hours a day for the first 6 weeks. Ninety to ninety-five degrees is the optimum temperature for the first week; you can drop the temperature by 5 degrees each week until the end of the sixth week, when the chicks can be moved to a predator-proof coop or pen. The brooder is ideally circular in shape (so that chicks cannot get stuck in a corner) with walls made of solid material such as cardboard, rather than wire or mesh. It should be large enough that the chicks can regulate their temperature by moving towards or away from the lamp, but small enough that no part of it is too cold.
- Walking Chicks need a non-slip surface to walk on. A fine mesh window screen placed over newspaper provides this and is relatively easy to clean. Wood shavings may work, but sometimes chicks will eat them. Sawdust or hay are too much of a fire hazard when combined with a brood light.
- Food Starter feed from a large commercial brand such as Blue Seal is fine. Provide them with as much feed as they want. We think it is a good idea to use a medicated starter feed to prevent parasitism in your young chicks, but do not allow older chickens, or other birds or animals, access to the medicated feed.
- Clean their bottoms When your new chicks arrive they may have had loose droppings that stuck and dried to their bottoms during shipping. This can be a serious, even fatal medical problem. Examine your chicks carefully and remove any adhered droppings by moistening them with warm warm and and gently pulling away soiled feathers.