A Healthy Flock Starts with Healthy Chicks – A Guide to Hatching and Raising Chicks
As spring sets in, many people are deciding to purchase fertilized eggs or newborn chicks to start, or add to, a flock of chickens. Like the young of any species, chicks need to be carefully cared for and monitored to ensure they grow up to be strong, healthy, productive birds. Whether you decide to use your own fertilized eggs, purchase them or order chicks, be sure you are aware of the equipment and care needed to raise them.
Eggs or Chicks?
Will you buy fertilized eggs or day-old chicks? That is the first question you need to answer. If you already have hens and a rooster on your farm, you may be able to hatch your own eggs which will not have to go through the strain of traveling, likely increasing the probability of healthy chicks hatching. If you already have a flock, make sure to keep the chicks away from the others until they can take care of themselves for their safety.
If you decide to hatch eggs from your chickens, it is important to check that they are fertilized. This can be done with an egg candler. Candling will illuminate the inside of an egg so that you can see what is in the shell.
How to Hatch?
Whether you purchased eggs or are using your own, you need to decide whether you will have a hen hatch them or use an incubator. One benefit to having a hen hatch your chicks is that she will be able to teach them what food is good for them and how to get it. If you don’t have a broody hen on the farm when you are ready to hatch eggs, you will have to hatch them with an incubator. When using this method, be sure to have a monitor in place to let you know if the power goes out.
Hens cannot hatch a large number of eggs at once, so if you are looking to start a flock, you may want to use an incubator so more chicks can hatch. It is recommended to hatch shipped eggs underneath a brooder since you will need to purchase a larger quantity due to their decreased success rate.
Once you have chosen your hatching method and decided how many eggs you will be working with, get ready for a very long three weeks! That is about the time it takes chicks to hatch. Some eggs will take a bit longer to hatch, so be sure to keep them incubated for a few days longer if they haven’t hatched at that point.
Eggs in an incubator should be turned each day until the eighteenth day so that chicks will be in the correct position for hatching. If you aren’t using an incubator with an egg turner, be careful to wash your hands so that bacteria doesn’t get onto the egg. Turn the eggs at regular intervals, three to five times per day during this period. It is important to keep your incubator closed during the hatching period so that humidity isn’t lost. A lack of humidity increases the chance that your chicks will not be able to free themselves from their shell when they are ready to hatch.
On day 21, expect the chicks to start hatching. Once the babies have hatched, they should be left in the incubator to dry off and encourage other chicks to hatch. The drying period can take up to four hours, and removing the chicks too early will expose them to a chill. You should move them from the incubator to a brooder once they are dry. After the babies are born, it’s time to start caring for them.
Finding chicks a home
Like most babies, chicks need to be watched around the clock at the beginning of their life. It is good practice to dedicate most of your time to them for the first four weeks. First, chicks need a home. They can live almost anywhere you have space, but because they grow so quickly you should find a place that they can grow into. A garage, basement or storage shed will work just fine. Be prepared for a large mess, as chicks scratch at their bedding. When choosing a location, be sure it doesn’t have any cold drafts and predators can’t get inside.
What chicks need
Once you have chosen a location for your chicks, outfit it with all the necessary equipment and materials so they will be happy, healthy and comfortable. Chicks still need a heat source once they are transferred from the incubator. Brooders are ideal and can be placed right in the center of their living space to keep the area about 95°F at first. Every week, the temperature can be decreased five degrees as the chicks mature. You will be able to tell if the temperature is too hot or too cold based on where the chicks spend their time. If they are all trying to get under the light, they are chilly, but if they are avoiding the lamp, you may want to turn down the heat.
Chicks should always have access to lots of bedding. The material you choose should be absorbent, but not at all slippery. Make sure you change the bedding often, no matter what you choose, to offer your chicks a clean, healthy environment and to prevent respiratory problems from developing later in life.
Clean water and food are also important to growing chicks. Choose a waterer or drinker that is recommended for them to prevent drowning and as much mischief as possible. The less the chicks play in the water, the less you will have to change it. Feeders meant for chicks should also be purchased to keep chicks safe and feed clean. If possible, look for drinkers and feeders with some red coloring because it is very attractive to poultry.
Help them grow
Chicks grow quickly, but still need to be checked on regularly. Visit them several times a day to be sure they are all safe and healthy. They need to be cleaned up after constantly and should have access to very large amounts of food and water. Keep a close eye on how they are reacting to the temperature of their space and stay on top of changing their bedding.
Chicks can be permanently moved outdoors around four or five weeks of age as long as temperatures are warm enough. They should have a coop for nesting, so make sure you have one available when they are ready to move outside. Soon, they will be producing fresh eggs for you to enjoy!
Do you raise chicks? Share some helpful hints here.