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Where should I keep my chicks & what should I keep them in?

Chicks have very specific requirements during their early development. Heat is one of the biggest factors in keeping them healthy. They require a 95 degree temperature for the first week of their lives, then the temperature can decrease by 5 degrees each week.

They need to be kept somewhere free from drafts as this will constantly change the temperature in their brooder. The bathroom, a spare room, or even a warm laundry room works great! Stock tanks or Rubbermaid storage tubs make great temporary homes for chicks.

We don't recommend cardboard boxes because the chicks can peck through cardboard if left in it for long periods of time. Cardboard is also a fire hazard.

Why do I need pine shavings?

We always recommend pine shavings because they are soft and very absorbent. But most importantly, they keep you chicks from developing spraddle.

When on slick surfaces, like cardboard or newspaper, chicks can slip. After repeated injury, their legs and feet will point out to the sides, making walking and standing difficult or sometimes even impossible, without correction.

It's easier to prevent spraddle from happening than to treat it after it's happened.

How long do chicks need to be under a heat lamp?

You want to keep them under the heat lamp until they are almost fully feathered and have been acclimated to cooler temps by decreasing the brooder temp about 5 degrees per week. After they are fully feathered out (about 8-10 weeks), they can then be transferred outside. They may need a lamp or to be brought inside at night however, if the temps are below 30 degrees.

When can I put chicks outside?

Chicks require warmth in the first few weeks of life (95 degrees the first week then decrease the temperature 5 degrees each week). However, after about 8-10 weeks, your chicks will be fully feathered out. At this point, they can be outside in temps as low as 30 degrees and a heater can be placed in their coop if the temperatures drop below that mark.

How long do ducklings need to be under the heat lamp and when can they go outside?

Ducklings under three weeks old cannot maintain their own body temperatures so it is essential that you keep them inside and under a heat source. At three weeks old, you will not need a heat lamp, and at about six weeks old, ducklings can live outside.

Why do I need a red bulb?

We recommend red bulbs for a few different reasons. First, the red light is less harsh than white on a chicken’s delicate eyes.

Also, while the red light provides the heat they need to regulate their body temperature, they can still differentiate between day and night with a red light. This helps them to grow properly.

Lastly, chicks are very attracted to the color red. They will peck at anything red until they destroy whatever it is (including a spot on another chick!). So, if you shade their entire world in red while they are chicks, they are less likely to pick on each other.

How often should I clean out my brooder?

As often as possible! The cleaner the living environment, the healthier your chicks will be. They will also be less likely to get sick or contract diseases. We spot clean everyday but we recommend stripping out your entire brooder at least once a week.

Goslings and ducklings should be cleaned twice a day, everyday. They tend to play in their water and will completely soak the shavings surrounding their water.

Don’t forget to wash your hands after cleaning or handling any poultry!

Will my chicks return to their cage when let out to roam?

If you provide your chicks with a safe spot to roost, along with food and water, they will naturally come back to that spot in the evening.

You can also train them by providing their daily treat (no more than 15% of the total diet) as the sun begins to set. As you give them a treat, use a signal noise (like a whistle or clicker) to call them. Then after you have let them out to roam, if you want to gather them up, repeat their 'treat signal' and they should come running!

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Egg Production

When will my chickens start to lay eggs?

Egg production depends on the breed and the individual bird. The average is four months but breeds that develop more rapidly could start laying sooner. On the opposite side, some breeds develop more slowly and may take about six months before they start laying.

How will I know when my chickens are ready to lay eggs?

Look for your birds to have bright red combs and wattles, to squat down when you come near, and for the pelvic bones to separate slightly. Prepare nesting boxes ahead of time. A training egg may also help train your birds where the best spot is to lay their eggs.

How many years will a chicken lay eggs?

A hen will continue to lay long into her life - not as consistently or regularly as a young hen, but some will lay as long as 6 years.

Which chickens lay the largest eggs?

A few breeds that are known for their above average egg size are Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Welsummers, and Delawares.

Do you need a rooster to make the eggs chicks? Exactly what does the rooster do?

Roosters are great for protecting your hens. You do not need a rooster for your hens to lay eggs, but if you want fertilized eggs to produce more chicks, then you need a rooster.

I have one chicken that just laid an egg. The chicken is still on MEDICATED starter feed. Is there a withholding period?

We have been told by our feed companies that the medication that is used in today's medicated chick starters do not have any withdrawal period. The medication they use does not affect the egg (or meat) quality.

We do recommend that you switch the birds over to a Layer ration as soon as you are able, in order to support the laying bird.

How long are farm fresh eggs good for?

After approximately three weeks eggs start to decompose. If the egg is refrigerated, the decomposition will be slower than if they are stored at room temperature.

If you're not sure, put the egg in water. If it sinks it is good, if it tips with one end higher than the other end you need to use it quickly, and if it floats throw it out!

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Is it okay to have just one chick?

We do not recommend that you keep only one chick. Chickens are flock oriented, and rely on each other for protection, social interaction, and their overall well-being. A chicken by itself will stress herself out, which may affect her ability to survive.

We recommend that you take home three chicks simply because they have a high mortality rate, and it’s always great to have another on ‘just in case’.

What is the easiest chicken to raise?

There are several chickens that are very easy to raise. Standard breeds like Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, Barred Rocks, etc. tend to be self-sufficient and cold-hardy, making them a good choice.

How much can I handle my chicks?

During the first 2 weeks we recommend you handle them as little as possible. This is a critical time and they are so fragile that even the slightest squeeze or fall can seriously injure them. Once they start to grow bigger we recommend you handle them often. The more you handle them as chicks the more social they will be as adults.

Just make sure anyone who handles them washes their hands immediately afterwards.

If there is the possibility of a rooster in a group of pullets purchased, how soon will you be able to tell?

There is about a 10% chance that you could get a rooster - at about 6-8 weeks you should see the telltale larger comb and wattle and hear the crowing.

How do you tell males from females in young chicks?

When you ask for pullets at the store - these will be 90% accurate as females. Sex Link breeds are also a good way to go as they are pretty foolproof. As they are growing, it usually takes several weeks to tell the females form the males. Roosters have larger combs and wattles and will eventually crow.

If we only want chicks for a week or so, will you take them back?

Murdoch's does NOT accept returns on poultry under any circumstances. If you are going to purchase chicks, it is your responsibility to re-home them as well. It's best to plan ahead and have a home lined up before you purchase your birds.

You can also try posting them on Craigslist.org in the Farm & Garden section. You are also more than welcome to post a flyer on the bulletin board in our store.

I want to get chicks and turkeys (or ducks). Can I raise them all together?

Yes, you can! However, turkeys are more susceptible to blackhead disease. We recommend either raising turkeys and chickens by themselves and introducing them later in life or keeping your brooder and coop very clean. The disease is transmitted through chicken feces and can live in infected soils for up to 4 years. When starting all these birds together, make sure that you feed flock raiser or meatbird feed.

DO NOT FEED MEDICATED CHICK STARTER! Originally wild birds such as ducks and turkeys are not able to process the medication and it will become toxic to them.

How soon can you put chicks with bigger chickens?

As soon as the chicks are fully feathered and have been acclimated gradually to outside temps (around 5 to 6 weeks) they can start to be introduced to your existing flock. Check out this blog post to help with that process: http://scoopfromthecoop.nutrenaworld.com/how-to-introduce-new-birds-to-your-existing-flock/

What do I do if I have an aggressive chick or two and I'm certain that space is not an issue?

If they have plenty of space you may try using a red lamp (more calming) and providing them with a distraction. Hanging shiny new washers so they dangle in the brooder is a good way to get them focused on something other than their neighbor! If those don't work, then separating will be your other option.

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Health & Nutrition

What is pasting and why is it important?

Pasting is when a chick couldn't quite pass and it becomes dried on his backside, clogging its vent. It's very important to remove the paste because if your chick is unable to pass anything, it can become very sick and even perish if left untreated.

We recommend getting some warm water and a pair of rubber gloves and gently working it off the chick. The water will cause it to soften and will eventually come off.

Often times, poo simply becomes stuck to a chick’s down. While this is unsightly, it is not pasting. Pasting only happens when the vent becomes clogged. You can however choose to clean up the mess.

Do I really need electrolytes?

Yes! Our chicks are shipped to us once they are dry from hatching. They have not had any food or water since the time of hatching, and need the electrolytes to help rehydrate them.

Just a pinch in their water (the water should look like pale lemonade – you do not want your water to be electric yellow) helps keep them healthy. Do this for the first few weeks for your baby chicks, and on hot days for your adult chickens.

We recommend changing your chick’s water every day to prevent the water from getting slimy from sitting under the heat of the brooder.

Why should I feed a medicated feed? How long should it be used?

We recommend a medicated feed to prevent an outbreak of coccidiosis in your chicks, which usually shows up in young chicks between 3-6 weeks of age. This disease is easily prevented by using a medicated starter feed. Once your birds are 7-8 weeks of age, you should be able to switch their food to a non-medicated starter feed.

How long do they have to stay on a starter feed?

To help your chicks reach their full potential, we recommend they stay on a starter feed for no less than 18 weeks.

What is coccidiosis?

Coccidiosis is a parasite that thrives in damp conditions. It can make your chicks very sick, very quickly and even lead to death if left untreated. This is a highly contagious disease, and it can destroy an entire flock within days. Symptoms include diarrhea (usually with blood), a lack of growth, lethargy, and decreased feed and water intake.

What do I do if my chicks contract coccidiosis?

If you detect coccidiosis, provide some form of antibiotic in the water (such as Oxytetracycline) to ALL the birds, even if some don't look infected. If the chick won't drink on its own, you can "force feed" them using a small syringe and a cup of warm water with medication. Place one drop at a time on the side of the beak and the chick will drink it.

When can I start feeding them “table scraps”?

For the first several weeks we do NOT recommend feeding anything other than their starter feed. They need to be on a high protein feed in order to meet the demands of their growing bodies. Once they are fully established on their feed and are eating and growing well, then you can add the fun extras (like mealworms) to their diet. If you are going to feed extras, please remember:

  • Always feed grit free choice separate when offering anything extra to their diet. This helps them digest and process their food.
  • Avoid raw potatoes or avocados which contain harmful toxins for birds.
  • Don't feed anything that is spoiled or rancid.

Is it ok to feed my chicks and ducklings the same layer feed?

We carry 'All Flock' feeds that will meet your whole flocks nutritional needs. Naturewise or Country Feeds Layer 16% are also great choices for feeding both species.

What is the best way to keep meat type chicks from over eating?

Removing food at night (but NOT water) after the first week is a good way to limit the amount of food your chicks are eating so that they don’t get too big, too fast.