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Raising Chicks

Chicken boy looking2_webChickens are perfectly suited to any backyard. Not only will they provide a continuous supply of eggs and help keep pests and weeds out of the garden, but if they are hand raised from a young age, they will also become fun members of the family.

Although little chicks are gorgeous, they grow into big chickens that need to be fed, watered and treated for pests and the job of cleaning out their pens isn’t always that fun so deciding whether you’re willing to do that for many years is an important part of the decision as to whether you really want chickens.   You also need to ascertain whether you have the space for chickens to free range during the day but be tucked away safe from feril cats and foxes at night.

Even when you think that you have covered all the bases in the decision process, you still must contact your local council to find out the chicken keeping regulations that relate to your property. Not all councils allow them to be kept and those that do have strict guidelines on how they are housed so that they don’t impact negatively on the neighbours.

PREPARING THE BROODER

Chicks can be purchased anywhere from 2 days old to several weeks. This may seem young but they are already well and truly on their own two feet and ready to get on with life although they still need to be kept indoors, out of drafts, and in a chicken brooder to keep them warm.

Chicks_HeaterThere are commercial brooders that can be purchased or hired but they are also quite easy to make using a large cardboard or timber box, plastic storage tub or, as shown below, a cage for small animals.   It’s a good idea to prepare this a couple of days before the chicks arrive to give time to regulate the temperature properly throughout the day and night.

Spread a good layer of paper towel, pine shavings or commercial bedding over the floor which will be changed frequently to keep it clean (avoid newspaper which gets slippery).   A shallow water container or chick drinker bottle, along with the feeder, will go at one end and the heat lamp will go at the other.

Chicks aren’t able to regulate their own body temperature so they need a heat lamp to provide them with warmth. Don’t place it in the middle of the brooder though as they like to run in and out of the heat to either warm up or cool down. Heat lamps used for reptiles work nicely for this job and are available from any Better Pets and Gardens store but ordinary light bulbs don’t put off enough warmth.

Place a thermometer on the floor of the brooder, not directly under the heater, and adjust the lamp until the area can be maintained at 35 degrees Celcius around the clock.

On the morning that the chicks are due to arrive, fill the water and food containers and turn their heat lamp on so that their new home is already warm and cozy.

BRINGING CHICKS HOME

Only buy chicks that look healthy, full of energy and don’t show any signs of diarrhoea. They should have already been vaccinated for Marek’s disease which is a virus that is highly contagious to chickens.

Transport the chicks in a small box lined with shredded paper. At home, as you place each chick in the brooder, carefully dip their beaks into the water dispenser and watch them swallow as this will help them learn where the water is so that they are sure to find it again quickly.

Keep an eye on them over the coming hours to make sure that they are eating and drinking and happy in their new home.

OVER COMING WEEKS

Chicks grow incredibly fast and don’t stay cute little fluff balls for long. They will become very active and start looking a bit motley as they go through the gangly teenage weeks.

As their feathers develop and they mature they become better at maintaining their own body temperature so the temperature in the brooder should be reduced gradually to 30 degrees Celcius after the first seven days and then to 20 degrees Celcius over the next four weeks.

If the chicks all huddle very close to each other, they are cold and the temperature should be increased by moving the lamp closer, but if they are all at the other end of the brooder they are too hot and the lamp should be moved further away.

At around 8 weeks, these little ones will be ready to move out of home into their own outdoor chicken coop.

To find out how to house and care for adult chickens, ask for our fact sheet called “Keeping Backyard Chickens”.

FOOD AND WATER

Chicks_FeedersFor the first 6 to 8 weeks, chicks should be fed only Chick Starter Crumble containing Coccidiostat to keep them disease free. Between 8 and 16 weeks they can progress to Grower Crumbles. By 16 weeks they are old enough to lay eggs and need to be fed Laying Pellets, shell grit and kitchen scraps.

Feed chicks out of a shallow dish or an automatic feeder and not scattered over the ground as this will help make sure that the food doesn’t get soiled or mixed up in the bedding.

Fresh water is very important to chickens at any age and should always be available to them. Automatic waterers are an easy way to ensure a constant clean supply.

HANDLING CHICKS

Chick_webIt’s a good idea to get the chicks used to being picked up and handled from a very young age as it will make giving them health checks when they are adults much easier. They will also become very friendly, just like any other family pet.

If children handle the chicks, make sure that they are always sitting on the floor so that, if the chick wriggles out of their hands, they will be close to the ground and not hurt.

 

For more information about rearing chickens, drop in to any Better Pets and Gardens store.

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