How to Care for Baby Chicks the First Two Weeks
How to nurture and care for a chick during the first two weeks of its life.
A newly hatched chick is tiny. It’s delicate. It’s fuzzy. And, it must be said, so cute! It is also extremely vulnerable to the whims of a hard world. The chick needs all the advantages it can get. And once you’ve made the commitment to step in as mother hen, offering the advantages is in your hands.
You thought ahead and set up a good brooder that will be a good home for the chick. And, of course, its mates. Chicks are social animals that need companionship, which is why they thrive in a flock. They need a flock, so hens forth — er, henceforth — we talk about your chicks. All of them, a natural overflow of cute!
If you have yet to set up a brooder, check out the article in the Learning Center called, “Setting Up a Brooder.” It will get you all caught up and ready to bring home chicks.
To summarize, your brooder is large enough for the number of chicks you plan to raise and is equipped with a feeder and waterer. It has an inch of pine shavings for bedding and a heat lamp or electric chick warmer. The heat lamp has a red bulb, and it can be raised and lowered to regulate heat on the birds. If you are all set, bring home the chicks.
That inch of large flake pine shavings you laid down will provide the chicks the dry, warm environment they need. Shredded paper and fine wood shavings have micro filaments that can cause respiratory problems in the birds, so using the large pine shavings is a good choice. The pine shavings will also help the birds get a leg up on life. Literally. Raising chicks on newspaper, plastic or an otherwise slick surface may cause their legs to splay, making walking difficult or impossible. Spraddle leg can be a permanent condition if left uncorrected, resulting in distress in the chick that can lead to death.
Spot clean the bedding every day and change it fully every 2-3 days.
Without a hen to warm the chicks, the substitute is a warming pad or heat lamp. The most common option is a heat lamp. A radiant heat lamp will heat the chicks’ bodies and provide them the comfort to shelter and sleep.
The heating lamp is safely secured, right? A knocked over or fallen heat lamp is a fire risk.
Also, have you made sure that your secured heat lamp is height adjustable? To adjust the heat from a heat lamp, hang it starting at 18” to 24” from the chicks. The proper temperature for the chicks should range between 85- and 90-degrees Fahrenheit. Use an outdoor thermometer designed to measure air temperature to ensure a suitable climate for the chicks.
Of course, the best way to monitor the heat is to pay attention to your chicks! They will tell you if the temperature is comfortable. If the chicks tend to huddle under the light, peeping loudly, it is too cold. If they are always to the edge or away from the heat, it’s too hot. If they’re spaced out, pecking around, going about their business in a way that that looks casual, they’re comfortable.
The red heat bulbs you chose for the heat lamp is a good choice. It does not resemble daylight, like a white bulb, and helps chicks sleep at night. Also, the red light is not harmful to the chicks’ eyes and tends to keep chicks from pecking at one another.
Water, then Food:
Chicks are on the fast-track to becoming chickens. It’s hard to believe that the tiny fuzz balls you just introduced to your brooder will be full-grown chickens in a matter of weeks. For healthy, natural growth, they need nutritious food and water. Daily.
Start with Fresh Water
Once you introduce baby chicks to a brooder, provide them water — just water — at room temperature for the first couple of hours. This gives the chicks the opportunity to rehydrate before they feed. If the chicks seem unsure around water, feel free to dip their beaks into the water. They will catch on and take it from there.
Electrolytes and probiotics can also be provided to your chicks through water. These come in bulk packaging or in pre-measured quantities that can be diluted with water. The electrolytes provide energy and help to keep your wee ones hydrated while the probiotics help aid in digestive health. The two can be used alone or combined for ultimate health. (Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions and recommendations.)
When the chicks are hydrated, you can provide them with chick starter feed. A starter feed with a minimum of 18 percent protein is ideal. It gives the chick the boost needed for early growth, with all of the protein, vitamins and minerals they need to grow into strong and healthy chickens.
If you purchase your chicks at a Murdoch’s store, they will be unvaccinated. For non-vaccinated chicks, we recommend an FDA-approved medicated feed, to prevent coccidiosis, a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract. However, if you have purchased vaccinated chicks, then you are fine to feed your babies a non-medicated chick starter.
Once you have these basics in place, you are ready to welcome home your new chicks!