New Country Organics' Beginner's Guide for Raising Chicks
Getting chicks for the first time is a very exciting experience. After all, who wouldn't want to have such an adorable and lovable creature? While chicks may be cute and are certainly a great segue into agriculture, they can be a handful and a bit scary for first time owners. This guide will answer the questions you may have when getting your new "pet" flock of chicks this spring! Before you get your chicks to their new home, here are a couple of things you will need prior to the chicks' arrival:
A place to call their own. This can be anything from a box, aquarium (without the water, of course!), or brooder panels specifically made for raising chicks. Newspaper can be used to line the chick area, but it is best to also use hemp bedding, as the newspaper does not provide enough traction or support for chicks' feet. Hemp bedding is very absorbent and is a less dusty alternative to typical animal bedding options. Space is also important, as chicks love to play and need sufficient space to do so.
A quality heat source is also needed to keep the chicks warm until their adult feathers grow in at approximately 5 to 8 weeks of age. We recommend using Premier 1 Heat Plates, as they are much less of a fire risk. Chicks huddle underneath the plate, which mimics the presence and warmth of a mother hen. The temperature is much more easily controlled than that of a heat lamp and the plates can be raised as the chicks grow in height. Whatever heating method is used, ensure that adequate ventilation is provided to minimize fire risk but maintain proper temperature.
A fresh, consistent supply of water is very important in raising chicks or any animal. Water is often considered the #1 Forgotten Nutrient in livestock operations, but it is critical to every function of the body. We recommend using BriteTap Automatic Chicken Nipple Waterers, as they can be easily attached to any watering system and are built to keep water sources as clean as possible. Traditional chicken waterers are easily contaminated when chicken droppings fall into the base of the waterers, potentially leading to disease if not cleaned consistently. Chicks and adult poultry can easily be trained to use a nipple watering system, leading to much less headache in management. When you first introduce your chicks to their new environment, you can add 3 Tbs. of sugar per quart of water or 1 crushed clove of garlic in order to entice them to drink. Whether using a traditional watering system or the BriteTap, gently dip the beaks of the chicks in the watering source to teach them to drink. Change and clean the water source daily. To keep possible dampness from occurring, you can place a small towel underneath your waterer to absorb any spillage. Replace this towel every day to prevent pathogen build up.
A quality feed source is also very important. We recommend using an enclosed feeder with holes big enough for the chicks to peck through the open slots. The slots are big enough for the chicks to reach the feed, but generally small enough to prevent feed contamination from fecal droppings. The feeder should be kept full, as it is generally recommended to feed free-choice for the first few weeks of life. When you introduce your chicks to their new environment, dip their beaks into the feed to teach them the location of the feeder and encourage them to eat. We recommend feeding New Country Organics Starter Feed for the first 4 full weeks of life. When the birds are 5 weeks old, we recommend that they be transitioned to New Country Organics Grower/Broiler Feed and kept on it until slaughter or until they are 16 weeks of age. After 16 weeks of age or when the first egg appears, we recommend transitioning to New Country Organics Layer Feed, which is the last transition. At this point, the birds are fully grown.
Grit is also an important part of poultry diets. Grit is stored in the gizzard, which is the part of the digestive tract that mechanically breaks down the food and aids in the grinding of food particles. We recommend providing Starter Grit for the first 4 weeks of life, Grower Grit for weeks 5 to 16, and Layer Grit for adult birds. Oyster shell can be used for adult hens as both an added calcium source and a source of grit. It is generally provided free-choice so that hens can self-regulate their calcium intake according to their individual needs.
In considering when to move your chicks to an outdoor coop, it is important to consider a series of factors. First and most important is outside temperature. If temperatures are below 65 degrees and your outdoor coop does not have a heat source, it is best tow wait until outside temperatures reach at least 60 to 65 degrees before transitioning your chicks. Second, your chicks should be fully feathered by 6 weeks of age, which indicates that they are prepared for an outdoor transition. This varies by breed, so it is important to evaluate each breed separately. Third, be sure to predator-proof your coop area, as the chicks are still at a vulnerable age. For the first few nights, it is important to keep the chicks inside the coop to acclimate them to their new environment. After this period, the chicks may be allowed to free range inside their chicken run or your designated chicken area. Once you have reached this point, you have succeeded at raising chicks to adulthood. We wish you the best of luck in all your chicken endeavors!
As always, should you have any questions along the way, please do not hesitate to Contact Us and we would be happy to help!