Newly hatched chicks are not completely helpless, but they must have access to clean water and be kept well fed like any other infants. Gail Damerow offers some expert tips to make sure your new arrivals are ready for you.
Newly hatched chicks are not completely helpless, but you will need to keep them wet, dry, and healthy before they develop a full complement of feathers. They must also be kept clean and well fed, like all other babies. Here are a few dos and don’ts to make sure you’re meeting the food and water needs of your new arrivals.
DO make sure the chicks always have access to fresh, clean water. For the size and age of your flock, a waterer should be the correct size. Chicks should not easily use the water available or be able to tip over the fountain. To keep the water level between a chick’s eye and the height of its back, the basin should be high enough. A chick drinks more this way and spills less. Chicks do not have the freedom to roost or step into the sea. Using a 1-quart (1 L) canning jar fitted with a metal or plastic watering base, available from most feed stores and poultry supply catalogues, is the best way to provide water to newly hatched chicks.
In an open dish or saucer, DON’T be tempted to cut corners to have water. Chicks will walk in it, monitoring disease-spreading debris and droppings. They will begin to get damp and cold, and the pain will open the door to illness. It can drown some chicks. It is to prevent damp conditions in a brooder, whether caused by spilled water or a leaky waterer.
Feeder and Waterer Chicks
Chicks can drink shortly after they hatch and eat within five hours in order to reduce tension.
DO clean waterers everyday. Using warm water and vinegar or other sanitizer that is approved for poultry. Be sure to choose one with an easy-to-clean drinker when selecting a waterer for your chicks. A hard-to-clean fountain will not be sanitised as much as it should be.
DON’T make chicks go far to get their water. Place drinkers no more than 24 inches (60 cm) from the heat source of the chicks initially. Later, make sure they never have to walk more than 10 feet (3m) to get a drink when you move the chicks to expanded housing. DO leave the old waterers in place for a few days when moving to a larger waterer, at least before the chicks get used to drinking from the new source.
DO ensure the chicks drink before they start feeding. If they have a good dose of water before they get a belly full of feed, especially when the feed is commercially formulated chick starter, they seem to experience less of a problem with sticky bottoms.
If you run out of starter, DON’T feed layer ration to chicks, not even as an emergency measure. A chick’s kidneys may be severely harmed by the high calcium content of layer ration. You can make an emergency starter ration by breaking scratch grains in the blender or, if you don’t have a scratch, by running a little uncooked oatmeal through the blender and combining it 50/50 with cornmeal if you run out of starter, or fail to pick some up and you have chicks to feed. However, grains are high in calories and low in the protein, vitamins, and minerals a chick requires for good growth and health. Do not use this mixture longer than required.
Feed chicks from a shallow box
To enable baby chicks to peck for food, the end cut from a tissue box makes a convenient first feeder.
Chicks begin searching for stuff to peck on the ground soon after they hatch. They will peck their own feet if they do not see anything else on the field.
To help them find feed, DO sprinkle a little starter ration on a paper towel or paper plate. Remove the feed-covered paper as soon as most chicks peck freely, until it begins to retain moisture that attracts mould. Place the starter in a shallow lid or tray for the remainder of the first week, such as a shoebox lid. Switch to a normal chick feeder when the chicks start to scratch out the feed.
DO choose a feeder for your room that works. A decent feeder prevents chicks from roosting or digging in the feed and has a lip to avoid billing out (wasting feed by scratching it out with their beaks). Use a feeder that has a small footprint if your room is tiny. A foundation, similar to a drinker base, which screws on a feed-filled quart (1 L) jar, is one such style, and has small openings through which the chicks can peck. A hanging feeder is suitable if the brooder is spacious enough because it contains a lot of feed, so chicks are less likely to run out during the day; it minimises feed waste because chicks do not scratch in it and are less likely to bill out feed if the feeder is held at the correct height (the same height as the birds’ backs).; and it is easy to lift to the correct height on the hanger as the chic
There is a small footprint for a chick feeder that screws on a quart (about a litre) jar, making it suitable where there is minimal brooder space.
Do not leave feeders empty for too long and be careful not to encourage the accumulation of unconsumed feed. In the morning, fill the feeders and let the chicks drain them before loading them in again. Leaving feeders empty invites picking for long periods of time, but it is unhealthy to let stale or dirty feed accumulate, so strike a healthy balance. Clean the feeders and scrub them at least once a week.
DO think about the good health of the stomach! Old-time poultry keepers spiked water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon of their chicks (3.75 L). Chickens like it, and beneficial effects have been shown by poultry keepers. Would they have realised that acidic environments are favoured by the beneficial bacteria and yeasts that colonise the intestines of a chick naturally? I doubt that. All the science about probiotics is pretty new. But now we know some explanations why it has been/is helpful. Via a mechanism called competitive exclusion, promoting the growth of beneficial gut flora fends off harmful species. More slowly than chicks raised under a hen, chicks raised in an incubator develop beneficial gut flora. Probiotics that are either dissolved in water or sprinkled on feed to give the chicks an early dose of the same gut flora that will ultimately colonise their intestines are available to improve their immunity. Live-culture yoghurt is a hand replacement, but a little goes a long way, causing diarrhoea by giving chicks too much yoghurt.