How Do You Care For Newly Hatched Chickens?

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“I just inherited my grandmother’s small farm, and I’m excited to start raising chickens! I’ve got my first batch of eggs in an incubator, but I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed about what to do once they hatch. Can you give me some detailed advice on caring for newly hatched chicks? I want to make sure I’m doing everything right!” Thanks so much, Sandra, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

How to Care for Newly Hatched Chickens: A Comprehensive Guide

Congratulations on your new adventure into chicken raising, Sandra! It’s wonderful that you’re taking the time to learn about proper chick care before your eggs hatch. Caring for newly hatched chickens can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it does require some preparation and knowledge. Let’s go through everything you need to know to give your little chicks the best start in life.

Preparing for Hatch Day

Before your chicks even hatch, it’s crucial to have everything ready for their arrival. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A brooder: This can be a large cardboard box, a plastic tub, or a specially designed brooder.
  • Heat lamp: Chicks need a warm environment to thrive.
  • Thermometer: To monitor the brooder temperature.
  • Bedding: Pine shavings or paper towels work well.
  • Chick feed: Specially formulated starter feed for chicks.
  • Water dispenser: A shallow dish or specialized chick waterer.
  • Feeder: A small, shallow feeder appropriate for chicks.

The Hatching Process

As your eggs start to hatch, it’s important to resist the urge to help. Chicks need to break out of their shells on their own, as this process helps strengthen them. Once a chick has hatched, leave it in the incubator until it’s completely dry and fluffy. This usually takes about 24 hours.

Setting Up the Brooder

Sandra, your brooder should be set up in a draft-free area of your home or a secure outbuilding. Line the bottom with bedding and position the heat lamp at one end to create a temperature gradient. The area directly under the lamp should be about 95°F (35°C) for the first week.

Temperature Management

Proper temperature control is crucial for chick health. Follow this temperature guide:

  • Week 1: 95°F (35°C)
  • Week 2: 90°F (32°C)
  • Week 3: 85°F (29°C)
  • Week 4: 80°F (27°C)
  • Week 5: 75°F (24°C)

Reduce the temperature by 5°F each week until you reach room temperature or outdoor temperatures (assuming it’s warm outside). You can adjust the height of the heat lamp to change the temperature.

Feeding Your Chicks

Newly hatched chicks don’t need food or water for the first 24-48 hours after hatching. They’re still absorbing the nutrients from their yolk sac. After this period, provide them with chick starter feed, which is high in protein and specially formulated for their needs. Sprinkle some feed on a paper towel or directly on the bedding to help them learn to peck and eat.

Hydration is Key

Water is crucial for your chicks’ survival. Use a shallow dish or a chick waterer to provide fresh, clean water. To prevent drowning, place some small pebbles or marbles in the water dish. This allows the chicks to drink without the risk of falling in. Change the water daily and clean the container to prevent bacterial growth.

Monitoring Chick Health

Keep a close eye on your chicks, Sandra. Healthy chicks should be active, eating, drinking, and growing quickly. Signs of illness can include:

  • Lethargy or inactivity
  • Failure to eat or drink
  • Pasty butt (feces sticking to their vent)
  • Abnormal droppings
  • Difficulty breathing or gasping
  • Drooping wings

If you notice any of these symptoms, isolate the affected chick and consult a veterinarian experienced with poultry.

Preventing Pasty Butt

Pasty butt is a common issue in young chicks where droppings stick to their vent, potentially blocking it. Check your chicks daily and gently clean any pasted areas with warm water and a soft cloth. Be sure to dry the area thoroughly afterward to prevent chilling.

Socializing Your Chicks

While it’s important not to handle your chicks too much in the first few days, gentle interaction can help them become accustomed to humans. Spend time near the brooder, talking softly to them. After a few days, you can start handling them gently for short periods.

Introducing Grit

After the first week, provide your chicks with some fine grit. This helps them digest their food properly. Chick grit is available at most feed stores, or you can use coarse sand.

Feather Development and Dust Baths

As your chicks grow, they’ll start to develop feathers. This process, called feathering out, typically begins around 1-2 weeks of age. During this time, you might notice them preening more often. Around 3-4 weeks, they’ll start to enjoy dust baths. You can provide a shallow dish with a mixture of fine sand and wood ash for this purpose.

Transitioning to the Outdoors

Sandra, once your chicks are fully feathered (usually around 6-8 weeks), they can start spending time outdoors if the weather is warm enough. Begin with short supervised periods and gradually increase the duration. Ensure they have a secure, predator-proof coop to return to at night.

Introducing New Foods

While chick starter should be their main diet, you can start introducing treats around 2-3 weeks of age. Chopped herbs, small amounts of fruits and vegetables, and even mealworms can be offered. Always introduce new foods gradually to avoid digestive upset.

Keeping the Brooder Clean

Cleanliness is crucial for chick health. Change the bedding regularly, especially around feeders and waterers where it tends to get messy. A clean environment helps prevent disease and reduces odor.

Encouraging Natural Behaviors

Provide opportunities for your chicks to engage in natural behaviors. Hanging a cabbage leaf or lettuce for them to peck at can provide both entertainment and nutrition. Small branches or perches can help them practice roosting.

Watching for Pecking Order Establishment

As your chicks grow, they’ll start to establish a pecking order. This is normal behavior, but keep an eye out for excessive bullying. If one chick is being picked on constantly, you may need to separate it temporarily.

Transitioning to Layer Feed

Around 18 weeks of age, you’ll need to transition your chickens from starter feed to layer feed. This transition should be gradual, mixing the two feeds and slowly increasing the proportion of layer feed over a week or two.

Final Thoughts…

Sandra, raising chicks from hatch can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Remember, the key aspects of chick care are providing the right temperature, nutrition, hydration, and a clean, safe environment. Pay attention to your chicks’ behavior and health, and don’t hesitate to seek help if you’re unsure about anything.

Thank you for reaching out with your question. Your commitment to learning about proper chick care before your eggs hatch shows that you’re going to be a great chicken keeper. Enjoy this exciting journey, and don’t forget to take lots of pictures – chicks grow up fast! If you have any more questions as you go along, don’t hesitate to ask. Best of luck with your new feathered family!

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