More About Chickens

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Baby chicks at feederThinking back to April, I did an article which discussed some points to consider prior to picking out baby chicks at your local farm store. I wanted to get producers thinking about all the things that we sometimes forget to consider before we go headlong into an adventure and end up regretting it in the end and ultimately giving up on the whole project. Now that producers have had a month to consider all that was discussed in the April article, such as how many and what breed of chicken best suits your operation, lets jump into how to care for your new baby chicks at home. 

When you bring home your new chicks keep in mind that day old chicks cannot maintain their own body temperature without supplemental heating. Therefore, you will need a brooder box for their first three weeks or so of age. On average a box measuring 2 ft wide x 3 ft long x 18 inches deep will house about 25 chicks, and can be adjusted accordingly for more or less animals. They will also need clean dry wood shavings (not cedar), dry sand, or other absorbent material in the bottom of the box in order to keep their environment clean and dry. Cedar shavings are dangerous for baby chicks and should not be used, use pine shaving instead.

For the size brooder box mentioned above, a single heat lamp should be mounted approximately 8 inches above the bottom of the box keeping the temperature around 95°F on the first day of age, and then reduce the temperature by 5° per week until you reach ambient temperature. If your chicks are huddled under the lamp, this is a sign they are too cold. Lower the lamp slightly. If they move away from the lamp or are panting, this is a sign they are too hot. Raise the lamp slightly. Producers should keep the lamp on day and night for the first three weeks, by this time the chicks should be about half feathered and the heat can be reduced. When well feathered the chicks can be moved out to an unheated coop. When introducing new pullets to their coop do not mix new pullets and older hens. 

Producers or prospective producers can find out more information pertaining to this article by contacting Kendra Fortner at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Jackson County Center at 828-586-4009 or the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Swain County Center at 828-488-3848 or by email at kendra_norton@ncsu.edu.