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Preparation key to chick care

Jennifer Earing, PhD, PAS, TFC Nutritionist 4/27/2015

Spring is almost here, and soon 4-H’ers will be receiving chicks as part of the University of Tennessee’s long-running Chick Chain program that teaches kids the responsibilities involved in raising farm animals.  Many Co-op stores support Chick Chain through donation of feed or supplies.

Raising chicks can be an interesting and rewarding experience.  As with any endeavor, proper preparation is essential for success.  Here are some basics to consider:

•  Size and space. While poultry require less space than traditional livestock species, they do need some room to stretch their legs.  Larger breeds require more space than the smaller breeds, but an average guideline is 3 to 4 square feet per mature bird.  Bantam breeds, typically slightly smaller than larger breeds, require less space and feed but produce smaller and fewer eggs.

•  Eggs, meat, or both? Certain breeds are better suited for producing eggs of larger size and quantity.  Many layer breeds produce 200 to 250 eggs each year. Common laying breeds include the White Leghorn, Red Sex Link, Black Sex Link, and Rhode Island Red.

Other breeds grow more quickly and are more efficient at converting feed to gain, making them more suitable for meat production.  Meat birds generally reach maturity in 6 to 12 weeks, while egg-layers mature closer to the 20- to 22-week age range.  Meat breeds, such as the Cornish Cross, are typically larger in size and broader-breasted. 

Dual-purpose breeds — used for eggs, meat, or both — are not usually as prolific in egg production but lay reasonably well at 150 to 200 eggs per year.  While these breeds do not mature as quickly as the meat breeds, they tend to mature faster than traditional egg layers.  Common dual-purpose breeds include Rhode Island Red, Sussex, Plymouth Rocks, and New Hampshire. 

•  Nutrition.  Nutrients are vital to the growth of young birds and productivity of mature birds. Chicks (layers or broilers) should be started on a crumble or mash feed that has been formulated specifically for their nutritional needs.  A chick starter should contain between 18 to 22 percent protein, be relatively high in energy, and include an appropriate balance of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.  Co-op’s All Natural Chick Starter/Grower (#104) is great for the first several weeks of a chick’s life.  Resist supplementing their diet with corn, wheat, or other grains as this can create dietary imbalance and slow growth during this early period of development.  Baby chicks often need to be encouraged to eat, so place some crumbles on paper plates where the feed is easily seen.  Once the chicks begin eating out of the feeder, the plates can be removed.  Broilers can be finished on Co-op’s All Natural Starter/Grower while pullets should be introduced to a layer ration such as Co-op’s All Natural Layer Pellet (#114) or Crumble (#116) at 20 weeks of age or at the first layed egg.  Always provide access to clean, fresh water. 

Starting something new is always a little daunting.  However, if your new project this year is raising a group of chicks, be sure to visit your local Co-op for equipment, feed, health supplies, and advice to get your birds off to the right start! 

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