A Guide to Your Chick’s First Few Weeks

Feb 27, 2024

Bringing home a batch of adorable, chirping chicks is an exciting venture for many poultry enthusiasts this time of year. However, caring for these delicate birds during their first few weeks of life requires attention to detail and proper knowledge.
In this guide, we’ll explore essential tips and practices to ensure the health and well-being of your chicks as they embark on their journey to adulthood.
Provide a suitable brooder
The first step in caring for chicks is to set up a suitable brooder — a warm and safe environment where your new flock can thrive. A brooder can be a large cardboard box, a metal stock tank in a draft-free outbuilding, or a specially designed brooder kit. Ensure that the brooder is spacious enough to accommodate the number of chicks you have. You will need one-half square foot of space per bird for the first couple weeks, and then one square foot per bird after two weeks as they continue to grow. Use a screen or towels to cover the brooder, ensuring there is sufficient ventilation to maintain air quality.
Regulate the temperature
Maintaining the right temperature is crucial for the well-being of chicks, especially during their first few weeks. For the first week, the brooder temperature should be around 95°F, and then be gradually decreased by 5°F each week until they are fully feathered. A heat lamp or brooder heater can help regulate temperature but ensure there are cooler areas within the brooder for chicks to move away from the heat source if needed.
Use clean bedding
Clean bedding is essential for chick health and hygiene. Line the bottom of your brooder with sheets of newspaper, and then cover it with about 2-3” of bedding materials such as pine shavings, straw, oat hulls, or ground cob. Without this firm footing, the newspaper may be slippery for the chicks and their legs may not develop correctly, making the chicks spraddle-legged. Change the bedding daily to prevent the buildup of moisture and waste, which can lead to bacterial growth and health issues. Simply roll up the paper along with all the bedding material and throw it away before replacing it with fresh bedding.
Give access to fresh water and proper nutrition
Chicks require constant access to fresh, clean water to stay hydrated and healthy. Use shallow waterers or chick-specific waterers to prevent drowning accidents. If you notice your chicks aren’t drinking, dip their beaks into the water to get them started. For feed, begin by providing your chicks with a starter ration containing around 18-20% protein, such as can be found in Co-op’s All Natural Chick Starter/Grower feed.
Monitor health and behavior
Regularly observe the behavior and health of your chicks to detect any signs of illness or distress early. Healthy chicks should be active, alert, and have a good appetite. Signs of illness include lethargy, droopy wings, labored breathing, or unusual discharge. Chicks between the ages of one and three weeks old may develop a bad habit of picking around their tail stub, wing bow, or neck area. Consult a veterinarian experienced in poultry care immediately if this bad behavior or any others persist.
Socialize them
Chicks are social animals and benefit from interaction with their flock mates. Provide opportunities for socialization by keeping chicks together in the brooder and introducing them to new experiences gradually. Get them comfortable to human interaction by offering feed out of your hands and picking them up — just make sure you move slowly so you don’t startle them. You can also offer enrichment activities such as perches, mirrors, or small toys to stimulate their curiosity and promote natural behaviors.
Caring for chicks during their first few weeks of life requires attention to their basic needs including warmth, nutrition, and hygiene, but is a very rewarding experience. Visit your local Co-op for all the supplies you need to be successful in your chick venture, and don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you have about chick care. Find the nearest location here.
For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator.

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