Getting new chicks or preparing to start a flock? Caring for your new birds can look daunting, but with some cleanliness and a little common sense anyone can do it! Here are a few great tips to get you started.
1.Prepare your brooder and decide how many chicks you need. Sanitize your brooder before bringing in any new chicks. Even if you had chicks and it's been a whole year, clean! Clean out old chips and debris, clean waterer and feeder thoroughly using soap or disinfectant. You will need aprox. 1/2 square foot per bird to start with, but that will increase quickly to 2-3 square ft. as they grow (adult chickens need 10 square feet of area per bird). There should be room for your chicks to move freely away from the heat zone if they are too warm. Fill your brooder with 1-2 inches of large pine shavings or hay. DO NOT use fine sawdust or cedar chips in your brooder as this can cause respiratory issues with your chicks. Clean brooder regularly by removing soiled or wet chips and layering new ones. Do you have a heat lamp, and is it adequately secured? Make sure your chicks have a warm area and a cool area. Chicks need to be able to move back and forth freely to encourage strong development. It's a good idea to place your feeder partway into the 'cool zone' and your water entirely in the 'cool zone' to keep them moving back and forth. Check upcoming weather, are you prepared for heat or cold? Chicks can get too hot as well as too cold. Under your heat lamp should not be warmer than 96 degrees and should stay that warm for the first 2 weeks. Use a thermometer in your brooder so you don't have to guess. Please note that Bantam chicks require aprox. 5 degrees warmer than standard breeds. Start chicks strong with a complete starter-grower feed. Chicks require 38 unique nutrients from day one. To provide all of these nutrients, choose a complete starter-grower feed. You will need to keep your chicks on that feed until you see your first egg. Adding a Tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar per gallon of water is a great way to boost natural immunity in your chicks. After the first week go down to 1 Teaspoon per gallon. To much ACV can discourage enough drinking.
2. What breeds are you going to buy? Are you looking for fancy birds, good layers, colorful layers, crazy chickens, meat birds, friends? Do a little research or give us a call at 406-788-0436, we'd love to help you pick your breeds! We're also glad to special order any breeds we don't carry, as long as we have availability. There are definitely different personalities within chicken breeds, and the options are endless, but don't let the choices be overwhelming.
3. Your chicks arrive! If you've ordered your chicks then the post office will call you when they arrive. Pick up your chicks AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Sitting in the post office doesn't help them at all. If you choose to hand pick your chicks somewhere, be careful when handling them. Make sure you have a secure box (most feed and farm supply stores will provide boxes) and that they have proper ventilation. Either way you get them, take them straight home and put them right into your brooder. It is NOT a good idea to have chicks sitting in your vehicle, whether hot or cold outside. When introducing chicks to your brooder, take a few moments to dip each ones' beak into the water so they get a drink right away, and also so they know right where to go for water. Watch your chicks closely for the first couple days. If they're huddled under the heat lamp, they're cold. If they're spread out and panting, its to hot! Happy chicks should be going in and out of the heat area, eating, scratching, exploring and peeping happily. If you observe any sneezing chicks or weaker chicks laying down and being trampled remove them immediately and quarantine them until they are better or strong enough to return to the group. Your chicks have poop stuck on their butt? Starting life can be stressful and sometimes shipping stress or changing locations can trigger pasty butt in chicks. Wet the poop and remove it carefully (it's always a good idea to use gloves or paper towels, and wash hands afterwards!). Treat sore chick butts with mineral oil or cooking oil. Adding oatmeal to their diet can help with this. It's also a great idea to add probiotics and/or electrolytes to their water. Watch them carefully, untreated pasty butt can cause death. Don't handle chicks to much! Yes they're cute and fuzzy, but constant touching and handling can spread germs to your chicks. Always wash your hands before and after handling poultry, and please don't kiss them.
4. Your chicks are growing. As your chicks grow they will begin to get bored in the brooder. If possible let them run outside for a period each day, just make sure you have a secure area where predators cannot get to them. If you can't let them run, try giving them grass clippings or chunks of grass in sod to peck and scratch at. Installing a low roost in the pen will also give them some entertainment. Gradually raise the roost as they grow so they can roost at higher levels. During weeks 5-6 chicks will go through visible growth changes, including new primary feathers and a developing pecking order. Growing birds are now referred to differently. Pullet is the term for a teenage female, while a young male is called a cockerel. They may pick at each other and you will begin to notice who are the dominant chickens. Picking is not a problem as long as they don't gang up on one chicken. If they do it might be a good idea to remove that chicken until it's healed from the pecking. It's a good idea to keep nesting boxes OUT of the coop until you see your first egg. If chickens get started pooping and playing in them it's hard to get them to stop once they are laying. Until your chickens begin laying you should keep them on a starter/grower feed with at least 18% protein. This will prepare them with all the nutrients they need to start laying those good healthy eggs! Around 16 weeks is the time to add free range oyster shells to the coop. Try a small, separate feeder or someplace they can't scratch it out and waste it. Your pullets will need to start getting that calcium to prepare to lay good, solid eggs. And don't worry, they can't overeat Oyster Shells.
5. You found the first egg! That first egg will show up anywhere from ages 18 to 24 weeks, depending on the breed. Once you find your first egg, it's time to switch your girls to a good layer feed (after you finish your happy dance!). It’s best to transition over time rather than all at once. Mix the starter and layer feed evenly for four or five days. If birds are used to crumbles, start with a crumble layer feed. The same goes with pellets. The more similar the two feeds are, the smoother the transition will go. If you start having any trouble with soft eggs or funny looking eggs, try a high protein layer feed. Now is the time to install those nesting boxes. It really doesn't take much, one box per 6 chickens is plenty. Once you do install nesting boxes, try placing a few golf balls or wooden eggs in the nest, it won't take your girls long to figure it out! Want to make them cozy? Try adding carpet or fake grass to the bottom of your boxes (It's also a super easy cleaning trick, pull them out and shake them once in awhile for clean nests!). Straw and shavings also work, they're just more work to change and keep clean. And now, enjoy fresh eggs!!
6. Sick Birds? Nobody likes to have sick birds, but here a few preventatives and natural treatments if you do encounter sickness with your flock. Always be clean when entering your coop/chicken area. If you've visited other farms, feed stores, anywhere poultry or poultry owners roam, then it's a good idea to change shoes or sanitize the ones you have on. Shoes and hands are the top ways to spread diseases to your chickens. Always wash your hands before and after handling poultry. Oregano and other essential oils are a great way to naturally boost immunity in your birds, as well as Apple Cider Vinegar. It's super easy to add 1/3c. of ACV and 10 drops of Oregano oil to your water once a month to give them a SUPER boost. Don't use Oregano for more than 3 days out of the month. ACV can be used continuously without any problem to your birds, but to much in the water will discourage drinking so be cautious. If you start seeing runny noses or having sneezing hens, try treating them with VetRX poultry remedy. Keeping your coop dry and well ventilated prevents a lot of disease problems before they ever start.
7. Molting chickens Once the first egg has been laid, it’s business as usual for a while. Around 18 months, feathers will likely begin to cover the coop floor. Welcome to the season of molting chickens! The first molt usually occurs in the fall when days become shorter. Your flock will take a break from egg laying and shed feathers for a few weeks. This is a completely natural annual occurrence, the shorter daylight hours automatically signal your hens to decrease egg production. Sometimes you can put this off a bit by giving them extra light hours in the coop with a heat lamp or regular light bulb turned on a few hours morning and evening. Protein is the key nutrient in a flock’s diet to keep them strong during molt. This is because feathers are made of 80-85 percent protein, whereas eggshells are primarily calcium. When molt begins, switch to a complete feed with 20% protein. A high-protein complete feed can help hens channel nutrients into feather regrowth. Once birds begin producing eggs again, switch back to a layer feed to match their energy needs.
We're glad to answer questions and help out however we can here at Barnharts Feed and Seed. Come by and chat, or give us a call! 706-804-2461 For poultry orders or specific questions call Sarah at 406-788-0436 You can also check out our Poultry Page here on the website for current chick availability and pricing.