So, you’ve decided that no farm, ranch, homestead, or apartment (don’t worry we won’t tell the landlord) is complete without a few chickens.
I totally agree. Nothing better than fresh eggs from your own hens.
And maybe you’ve found a great source for mature healthy laying hens. A pretty rare feat. Not as rare as hen’s teeth but still.
Side note: hens don’t have teeth making them EXTREMELY rare.
If you are like most of us you will be purchasing chickens that are a few days old from the local feed store or an online retailer, also known as mail order chickens. I LOVE mail order chickens. More than seed catalogs and Amazon Prime, although I do also love those.
As you have probably guessed chicks can’t live in a mail order box, so what do you need before those adorable fuzzballs arrive?
Read on for our list of 5 Must Have Chick Supplies you need before you bring your new babies home.
Before they Arrive or Before You Leave the Feed Store :
Have a brooder.
Chicks do not do well in open cages or even fancy, new chicken pens. They need a brooder.
Don’t worry, this is easy. A brooder is just a fancy name for a container to house your chicks. Yep, you need a chick container.
This can be a Tupperware storage tote, a cardboard or wooden box, a kiddie pool or basically anything with solid sides, an open top and enough room for your chicks to run around. Rounded corners work best and it must have an open top for ventilation. If you have cats, dogs, or other critters around that might like a chicken nugget snack, you need to make sure and cover the top with chicken wire or something similar.
Have a heat source.
Without the right heat source, chicks can quickly become chilled and die. You MUST HAVE A HEAT SOURCE.
There are two options for heat. A heat lamp and a heat plate. The lamp is typically the cheapest option and is a clip-on or hanging lamp with a red or white bulb.
We have raised plenty of chicks with a heat lamp with no problems. I just raise or lower the lamp to adjust the heat. Remember to make sure the chicks can not reach the lamp. It also needs to be kept away from kids and pets.
As you guessed the downside of a heat lamp is that these can get very hot and can be a fire hazard if not monitored carefully. More expensive lamp options with better safety features and even thermostat options are available. But if you are going to spend the money on an expensive lamp, you may be happier with a heat plate.
The radiant heat plate stands on 4 legs and creates an adjustable space a few inches above the brooder floor. Chicks can huddle underneath for warmth; like hiding under a hen. The plate is safe to touch and is a better option, especially if you have small kids helping raise your chicken flock.
Whichever method you choose, both should be monitored daily to insure the correct temperatures are being maintained.
Want an easy way to know if your chicks are the right temperature? I’ve got a diagram perfect for that in the post Raising Chickens for Beginners, An Easy Weekly Guide.
Have chick feed.
There are commercial chick starter feeds available at your local feed stores. You must have chick starter. Not layer crumbles, mash, cracked corn, or anything else. Chicks have sensitive digestive systems when they are young and chick starter is designed specifically for them. If you are trying to figure out a way to create your own home-blend chick starter, my suggestion is, don’t. The chicks will only eat this for max 4 months and then you can home-blend all you want. For now, stick with the chick starter.
To help prevent pasty butt also provide chick grit. Want to know more about Pasty Butt? (I know who wouldn’t with name like that) Check out this post on the Worst Part of Raising Chicks.
Okay, you can wait until you get home with your chicks before you add this one. But you must have clean fresh water available for your chicks at all times. To prevent drownings and daily dish dumping you should go ahead and pick up a chick waterer at the feed store. They are inexpensive and will make your life easier. When you get your chicks home, gently dip their beaks in their water. Most of the time they will go ahead and take a drink. If they don’t, they will at least know where to find the water.
For the first 3-5 days, I like to keep the chicks on paper towels or puppy pee pads. This keeps chicks from slipping and sliding on shavings or other loose bedding material and allows me to sprinkle their feed right on top of the paper towel. Chicks are easily able to find their feed and quickly gain agility and strength. Once I know all the chicks are eating and growing normally I switch them over to pine shavings and a chick feeder. I prefer the plastic jar type. But there are all sorts of models available, just make sure it is something the chicks can easily reach.
The paper towels will need daily or twice daily changes to keep the brooder clean but again this is only for a couple of days and really lets you monitor the chicks.
Pine shavings require less frequent changes, only every other day to every couple of days. But make sure you have solid sides, or you will have pine shavings everywhere.
*Fun fact: a 3-inch-tall chick can throw shavings 3 feet around their brooder. I have no idea how.
That’s all you need. 5 readily available supplies, most of which can be built or found right in your own home.
Here on the farm we have used everything from a Tupperware tote to a dog crate lined in cardboard for our brooder. Although now I am currently planning a more permanent ‘fancy’ brooder built into the chicken coop. More on that later.
If you are interested in raising chickens of your own, these five items are essential to your success. Make sure you have these supplies ready when your chicks arrive, and you will be well set up to raise happy, healthy chickens.
Need more information on raising your chicks? Visit our post Raising Chickens for Beginners, An Easy Weekly Guide.
What about you? What have you used or are planning to use as a brooder on your farm?