You’ve spent an agonizing three full weeks waiting for those eggs in the incubator to hatch. Finally, H-day has arrived! One by one, you see the hatchlings come out of their shells. Watching the cute baby chicks arrive is one of the most eventful moments when raising chickens. You’ll have mixed emotions- anxiety, excitement, joy, and maybe even fear. All related to the question: “My chicks have arrived, now what shall I do?”
There’s nothing to worry about as long as you’ve done a little homework. The chicks may be naturally fragile upon hatching but resilience is also among their inherent traits. You’ll be surprised how quickly they’ll be able to adapt to their environment and how they rapidly grow in just a few weeks.
We’ve made a guide on how to take care of your baby chickens right upon hatching until they are ready to move outside to the chicken coop.
Chicks are a bit stressed right after they break out of their shells. Breaking out of the eggs is no easy feat. It’s exhausting for the chicks as may be evidenced by their rapid panting. There’s no need to move them for now. Keep them in the incubator for some much-needed rest and heat.
Because of the yolk they have absorbed during the hatching process, no food or water is needed during the first 48 hours. However, getting them a little water is never a bad idea. Sometime within the first 24 hours of life, fill a small jar lid or cap with some fresh, clean water and place it inside the incubator. Make sure that the water level is extremely shallow to avoid drowning the chicks. Let them stay in the warm incubator for around 24-48 hours, just enough time to dry off.
You can now transfer them to a brooder (heated enclosure or box that will keep them safe). This will be their home for the coming weeks. The recommended size is around 1-2 square feet of floor space per chick. In the very beginning you can get away with less but keep in mind the chicks will grow quickly! The brooder (enclosure) should have a heat source, clean water, bedding, and a feeder.
As mentioned, your brooder will contain a heat source. The safest method for providing heat is using a heating plate made especially for chickens. You’ll want the temperature around the heating plate or heat lamp to be 95° Fahrenheit for the first week. If the chicks are huddling or bunching together under the heat source it means it’s too cold. If they are staying away from the heat source it means it’s too hot.
Other than heat, water is the most important element starting on day 3. Don’t use a bowl or dish as the chicks can drown. The brooder needs to contain a specific chick drinker/waterer. Take note that the chicks don’t know yet how to drink. You can help them by gently dipping their beak in the water just one time. This should be done with each individual chick. From then on, they should be able to drink on their own. Make sure the water stays clean, as dust and feathers can easily contaminate. At minimum, change the water daily.
You can also start introducing food around day 3. Start by giving them “starter feed” through a low-lying chick feeder. Once they identify their food, they’ll be cleaning up the feeder in no time! Don’t worry about the amount of food you are giving them. Keep the feeder full, and they will eat when they are hungry. After about a week you can start introducing grit to your little chicks. Grit helps the gizzard and the digestion of the food they eat. Just like the feed, most manufactures have a “starter grit” available.
On the seventh day onward, you’ll notice a lot of differences in your chicks’ appearance, size, and appetite. This is a time to pat yourself on the back. You’re doing good! Continue with the routine we’ve presented above. Going forward, there will be some subtle changes that will need adjustment. This includes an increase in the amount of feed they eat per day, a decrease in the required temperature level in the brooder, and adding a few varieties to their diet. We will discuss each of these changes below.
For the first week in the brooder, you had the temperature set at 95°F. For their second week, lower the temperature by 5°F. Going forward, you will continue to lower the temperature by an additional 5°F each week until they are ready to go outside to the coop. Depending on the heat source you are using you may need to change the bulb, move the lamp higher off the floor, or simply adjust the temperature using the dial. This is easiest when using a heating plate as opposed to a heat lamp.
Amount of Feeds Consumed Per Day
Don’t be surprised if your stock of starter feeds rapidly vanishes from the feeder. Your little chickens are voracious eaters! Expect to feed more than the previous day.
Adding Variety to Diet
Although the starter feed is considered to be the most complete food source for your chicks, adding a little variety to what they eat would still be nice. From the first week onward, you can start giving them treats.
Here are examples of treats for your one-week-old chicks:
This is the period when your little chicks undergo a lot of growth and developmental changes. They start to look awkward, their fur-like covering is replaced by true feathers, and their individual personalities start to emerge.
One thing for sure won’t change: Your little chickens are always eating! During the second to fourth week, take note of the following:
At this point, you’ve probably developed a nice daily routine. Keep doing what you’re doing! The biggest change going forward is the size of your chicks. Although they now have feathers and look like a regular chicken, they are smaller in size. They are not quite ready to enter the adult coop; however, they will need extra room. At minimum you should allow at least 2 square feet of living space per chicken. This probably means increasing the size of the enclosure, or putting them in a separate coop away from the other adult hens and roosters.
After the eighth week, they should be able to fend for themselves in the adult coop! If you notice the other adults picking on them or causing stress, it is never a bad idea to keep them separated for a longer period of time.
Congratulations! You’ve just succeeded in raising your hatchlings into their young adult stage. Raising chickens can be rewarding and fun once you get the hang of it. The tips we’ve presented above will surely help you and your little winged friends get off to a great start.
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