Congratulations on your decision to add chickens to your homestead and on your journey to Food Independence! It is a big step and a rewarding , I am glad you decided to join us. If you have read part 1 and 2 you are ready to go, if not here is the link to one and here is the link to part 2.
Part one I discuss things to consider when ordering chickens and how many you should order. Part two I go over the supply list (copied below) and our start-up cost.
So you have ordered your babies, now what? Depending on where you ordered your chicks the delivery date will vary. We ordered ours from the Cackle Hatchery and they ship over 100 thousand chicks a week! I was told my chicks would be shipped within three weeks so I thought I would have plenty of time to get my ducks in a row before they came. Low and behold I received an email the very next day said I would have them within 4 days! Yikes! So it is nice to have everything you need BEFORE you order your chicks.
** NOTE: Our experience is with Pullets (female chickens/Hens) so if you are ordering Cockerels (male chickens/Roosters) then you will want to do further research to see if they need any additional care.
When placing your order make sure you are completely informed about the gender of your order (see part one), the breed, and how many will be shipped.
You will have the option of adding vaccines to your order as well as adding care kits.
We ordered the basic care package that consisted of:
Fast Start Chick Packet
Shipped with your chicks and this pack includes: Probiotic, 2 oz cup of HydroAid gel attractant, Thermometer, Care sheet/instruction sheet, Safe Handling of Poultry sheet, Vitamins and Electrolytes. Highly recommended to order with your chicks for $6.99
You can also include vaccines. We added the Marek’s vaccine but didn’t include any others. It is not necessary to order the vaccinations, it is a personal choice and one you should research before deciding.
Marek’s disease is a highly contagious viral neoplastic disease in chickens. It is named after József Marek, a Hungarian veterinarian. Occasionally misdiagnosed as anabtissue pathology it is caused by an alphaherpesvirus known as ‘Marek’s disease virus’ (MDV) or Gallid herpesvirus 2 (GaHV-2). The disease is characterized by the presence of T cell lymphoma as well as infiltration of nerves and organs by lymphocytes. Viruses related to MDV appear to be benign and can be used as vaccine strains to prevent Marek’s disease. For example, the related Herpesvirus of Turkeys (HVT), causes no apparent disease in turkeys and continues to be used as a vaccine strain for prevention of Marek’s disease (see below). Birds infected with GaHV-2 can be carriers and shedders of the virus for life. Newborn chicks are protected by maternal antibodies for a few weeks. After infection, microscopic lesions are present after one to two weeks, and gross lesions are present after three to four weeks. The virus is spread in dander from feather follicles and transmitted by inhalation
Setting up your Brooder
Estimate you will need 6″-1′ sq ft of living space per chicken. You will want to make sure your brooder is in a draft free location, safe from predators and little hands (aka my 2-year-old).
When placing your bedding in the bottom of your brooder (We recommend large pine chips, not small) make sure it’s a couple of inches deep to provide warmth and something they can scratch in.
For the first 24-48 hours, cover the pine mulch with paper towels and change as needed. When the chicks arrive and are placed in their new brooder it will be hard from them to tell the difference between their bedding and their food. To help avoid this confusion, place the paper towels down and then you can remove after the first couple of days.
Heat Lamp with 250 watt red bulb. This is very important to your chicks survival. They are hatched at 99-99.5 degrees, the brooder needs to be as close to this temperature as possible for the first few days of life. Make sure your brooder is set up, the heat lamp is on and the temperature is regulated before bringing your babies home. You can adjust the heat by raising or lowering the heat lamp over the top of the brooder. Many do this by securing a 2×4 or a piece of sturdy wood across the top of the brooder. We have cabinets above our brooder and secure our lamp with wire to the cabinets. Try to position your lamp in the middle of the brooder and not at one side.
Place your thermometer on the floor of your brooder to keep track of the temperature.
Temperature recommendations from the Cackle Hatchery:
Floor temp under heat source:
1 day old 100- 101 F
2-7 days old 95-99 F
8-14 days old 90-94 F
Then reduce 5 F per week until the temperature matched the ambient temperature
I live in SC and the temperature is already 90 + degrees outside so I am keeping my brooder at 90 F
Watch your chicks closely, their actions will tell you if they are comfortable or not. If they are all huddled under the heat lamp, they are too cold. If they are all huddled in a corner away from the heat lamp and their mouths are open, they are too hot. If they are scattered all over the brooder, they are just right.
You will need to add clean marbles to the bottom of your waterer to avoid accidental drowning for about one week, after that you can safely remove the marbles. Their water will need to be warm (not hot) for the first 48 hours as well. After 48 hours you can give them room temperature water but not cold, the cold water will upset their digestive system.
When you first get the chicks, take each one out of the box individually and dip their beak in the water. You may need to do this more than once. It is VERY important that your chicks drink water immediately and continue to do so. They have traveled far after birth with nothing to drink and can die from dehydration. Do not offer them any food until you are sure they have drank water. After you are positive they are hydrated, offer them food with suggestions below.
For the first 48 hrs I only used the bottom of the water feeder filled with water until they got used to it then I added the mason jar filled with water.
Adding Apple Cider Vinegar
As I’ve said, I am raising my chickens naturally and will use only natural remedies to treat my chickens, after all they are my food. It is recommended to add 1 Tbs per gallon of water for your chickens per week.
When my baby pullets were just three days old they were displaying sick behavior and the hatchery where I ordered them said to give them apple cider vinegar in their water. I have already done my research and knew I was going to add it to their water when they moved to the coop so why not now? ACV promotes gut health and supports their digestion.
Try to place the chicks water off the bottom of the cage a little (not too high they won’t be able to reach it) or build a little ramp to the water. This way their water will stay cleaner. Be prepared to change the water often, very often.
Your chicks will need starter feed for the first couple weeks of life. I am following the Fresh-Eggs-Daily feed guide as I feel this is the best for my chickens. During the first 48 hours give your chicks food in a small dish or saucer on top of the paper towels. After they have had a drink of water sprinkle a little feed above the dish so they can hear the noise and guide them to the food dish. After 24 hours you can add their feeder and sprinkle food above again and guide them to the food. Leave the small dish in their brooder until they get used to eating out of their feeder then you can reserve the dish for treats.
Eggs: Now this may seem weird or gross but you will need to feed your baby chicks hard-boiled eggs or scrambled eggs. This is a great source of protein for their little growing bodies. This will NOT cause them to develop egg eating behavior. I feed my flock of 15 chicks two hard-boiled eggs daily, mashed up of course. You can continue this treat throughout their entire lives but it is not necessary when they start foraging for bugs.
Herb Treats: I began feeding my baby chicks fresh herbs at 5 days old. I use: Oregano , Parsley, Peppermint, Lemon Balm, Nasturtium, whatever fresh herb I have on hand. Don’t overdo it and make sure your herbs are free from any chemicals.
Sod/Grass: At 5 days old I began digging up small sections of sod, dirt and all, and giving it to my chicks. They love to scratch and forage, this little treat helps encourage that and gives them a head start for their outside world. Again, make sure if you give your chickens sod or grass that it is free from chemicals.
Grit: Offer your chicks free choice Grit. Free Choice refers to a separate dish than their food. I use the bottom saucer of a terracotta pot . This is especially important if you are giving your chicks anything other than starter feed. They need the grit to help them digest. I bought one with added calcium so their wasn’t a need to offer separate free choice ground oyster shells or egg shells.
Things to look for:
There are a lot of things that can cause Pasty Butt and if left untreated your chick can die, however, it is easy to spot and treat. Out of 16 chicks I had to treat four.
1) First: Identify. Check your chicks daily during this first week
Here is an example of what to look for. When you notice one of your chicks have pasty butt, do NOT try to pull the poo off.
2) Carefully place the chicks bottom in a shallow bowl of warm water to loosen the stool.
3) Gently remove the poo and make sure the vent is clear.
4) Pat dry and dip a clean Q-Tip in Organic Coconut Oil and gently rub on vent.
After a couple of days of a regular diet their digestive system should regulate and pasty butt issues should disappear.
Lethargy, Sluggish or Otherwise Abnormal Behavior:
Baby chicks are very delicate and even in the best of care some loss of life is to be expected from time to time. The best defense is early detection. First you will want to seperate the chick from the rest so they don’t get pecked on or trampled. Keep warm and draft free. I used a shoe box and placed it in the brooder half under the heat lamp. I also placed a seperate therometor in the show box so I didn’t make it too hot or too cold. A sick chick may not be able to show the signs of discomfort.
If the chick is unable to stand or feed itself you will need to feed it through a small eye dropper.
Mix water with a small amount of ACV (1Tbs per gallon of water) and add Nutri-Drench to their water. You will need to offer a chick that can not drink on their own water about every 1/2 hour or so.
Mix their starter feed with a little warm water, scrambled egg and mush into a paste, think enough to use an eye dropper with and offer the chick food. You may have to force feed. Always follow-up with water.
There really isn’t an exact science when caring for a sick chick. Sometimes you will have to resolve to just being there for them until they pass and know you did your best.
A basic First Aid Kit is a must when chicken keeping and a good thing to have right from the start. Fresh Eggs Daily has a wonderful guide( Click here to see list)
Hold and Love
Of course you will want to let your chicks adjust for the first couple days and get their temperature regulated but after that feel free to hold often and love, love, love. Keep in mind they can not be kept from a heat source too long so make your visits short but frequent. Handling often helps form a pet chicken that will be comfortable being handled.
They grow QUICK o make sure you always have the camera ready
Start-up Check List
- Brooder-this will be your chicks first home click here to see examples
- Heat Lamp Clamp Lamp
- Heat Lights 250 watts Red Heat Bulbs you will need two in case one burns out
- Feeder You want something small the chicks can easily eat from
- Water Dish This dish screws on to a mason jar and works great for brooder’s (I will use the nipple system in the coop)
- Litter/bedding (I use pine chips. Do not use cedar as it causes respiratory issues. Hay and straw can harbor mold. Sand has sanitary issues)
- Thermometer (I ordered mine from the hatchery but you can order on Amazon or a local feed store)
- Starter Feed (They will eat this until they are 8 wks old then switch to grower feed)
- Diatomaceous Earth -Food grade
- Poultry Grit
- Apple Cider Vinegar (Braggs Organic Apple Cider Vinegar)
- Chick Hospital ( we saved the box the chicks were shipped in)
- First Aid Kit (this first aid kit from Fresh- Eggs-Daily is the one I use)
- Fresh Herbs
- Garlic Powder
- Perches, Cardboard Tubes, Mirror, Sticks*
- Roll of paper towels
- Eye Dropper
- Eggs (farm fresh preferably)
- 2 small saucers (like the ceramic bottoms to a small planter or a lid to a mayonnaise jar)
- Cardboard Box