10 Things to Know Before Bringing Chicks Home such as what is pasty butt, the best heat lamp, and how to raise nice chickens!
10 Things to Know Before Bringing Chicks Home
Spring has sprung and like me, many of you are thinking about or already investing in CHICKS!!! This is my fifth spring getting new chicks and I just love this time of year. Last year, I tried my hand at using an incubator to hatch my own eggs (much harder than I thought it would be but very rewarding and wonderful for the kids to see), but this year I just got five little chicks from our hardware store. They are currently right next to me cheeping away in their box. They have such fun little personalities and the kids enjoy having them around as much as I do.
If you are at all interested in getting chicks, this year or in the future, this article is for you! There's definitely a learning curve when it comes to raising animals but I've done lots of learning, reading, and experimenting so let me share a few things that I have learned these past five years of raising chicks into wonderful backyard chickens (the best and most productive pets ever).
10 Things I Wish I Would have Known Before Getting Chicks.
1. You don't have to use a heat lamp to provide heat. Yes, you have to provide heat, but there's a better way
I did a heat lamp for a few years. This worked fine and the chicks stayed warm but it always made me a little nervous. I didn't like to leave it on while we were gone and I felt uncomfortable at night because of fire hazard issues (we've always kept out chicks in our home too which increased the worry). Plus I had little kids and heat lamps and bulbs are, well, hot. That being said, my friend Cassie got chicks and she bought a Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder for Chicks or Ducklings, and I had to have one too. I'm using it right now and I LOVE it! The chicks just stand under this little thing and it produces heat, no light/lamp/bulbs needed. It's way more safe, the chicks enjoy having a little house to hide and sleep under, and I have noticed that they get into a much better natural rhythm. The light from the heat lamp kept them up at odd hours. The years that I have used this brooder, the chicks get into more natural day and night patterns. I feel like it's all-around healthy for the chicks and safer for our home.
2. Organic chick starter and feed is the way to go
If you are feeding your people organic/homemade/wholesome foods you'll want to feed your chickens the same. I use and love Purina organic chicken feeds. They have a whole bunch of options when it comes to feed, so you'll have what you need for your chicks, layers, and everyone in between. When you first get chicks, you'll want to feed them "chick starter", this feed has a proper calcium to phosphorus ratio which helps their developing bones stay strong, has the right amount/types of protein for rapidly growing chick bodies, and the pieces are normally small so that their little bodies can eat them. You feed chick starter to your ladies until they are about 18 weeks old (and then you'll switch over to feed meant for laying hens which has high protein to support them during egg production). I like this Purina Organic feed because we can get it at our little hardware store (yay!), it's made with all the ingredients you want and none of those you don’t (organic ingredients cannot be fertilized with chemical fertilizers, treated with insecticides/fungicides/pesticides, etc. and cannot be genetically modified. Organic feed products cannot contain chemical preservatives, medications, hormones or animal by-products), and because it makes me feel like I'm giving the animals, that I've chosen to become a steward over, what's best for them. Our chicks are our pets and I feed them as well as I feed my kids. If you aren't local to our store you can find a retailer here.
3. Don't use paper towels or newspaper for bedding
The first year or two I had chicks I just used newspaper to line their box before I moved them to a coop. It worked but it's such a mess and they need to be changed daily to keep the smell down. I have had much better luck using pine wood shavings (don't get cedar shavings, they are supposed to be hard on the birds respiratory system) and also chopped up corn cobs. Both bedding options are cheap and come in big bags from the feed supply store. They are awesome because they absorb moisture (and smells) very well, you can compost them when you need to change the litter, and if you have some leftover you can use them in your nesting boxes in your coop.
4. Chicks love treats
I think people get nervous about feeding their chicks treats, but I think you should! About once a day after their feathers have come in (about 6 weeks old) I'll give them a little something for a treat. My chicks happen to love all things green, a top of a tomato, or a little piece of watermelon. It gives them something do in their brooder box and encourages them to learn more natural eating/pecking/scratching habits. You aren't replacing their food with treats, it's just a little something extra.
5. Handle with care but handle them lots
I think that the more you hold your chicks the nicer they will be when they are hens. Hold them, pet them, and let your kids do the same. Just be sure to wash well after handling chicks. Supervise little hands closely because they tend to squeeze if the chicks get to flapping their wings. This also teaches your children how to handle animals and to be confident in their role as caretaker. They do poo, so you might want to have a "chick towel" you put on your lap when you are handling them. Our big chickens are kind and friendly and I think that has a lot to do with how much we held them when they were young (some breeds are naturally more skittish than others, so do a little research before purchasing if you are looking for pet chickens).
6. Don't forget the dust bath
Even chicks like to get clean and take a dust bath. Few things are more adorable, too. I just fill up a little tinfoil cake pan with clean dirt and set it in their box. They LOVE it!
7. You aren't the only one who went through those "awkward teenage years"
Your cuties will get really awkward and ugly for a few weeks, but have no fear, they'll mature just like you did.
8. Your heart can't handle this cuteness
Literally. Cuteness overload.
9. Pasty Butt is real
I had no idea what "pasty butt" was until I brought home some chicks from a different hardware store (before we had ours) and their fluffy little bums were all covered with a ball of crusted poop. This is bad news. If you can see a bunch of poop stuck to the outside of their bum then chances are they are no longer able to poop and all that yuckiness is getting stuck inside their bodies and is making them sick. You can choose to not pick these sick chicks from the store, but part of me is glad that I did because they probably would have died there. It can happen to your own hatched chicks too. I had no idea what to do (it was my very first time getting chicks), so I called my chicken mentor and she came and helped. You'll want to run their bums under warm running water until you are able to work the mass of poop off. This isn't for the faint of heart but it has to happen to save your chicks. Once you have properly cleaned their bottoms they are going to be wet and cold, so have a warm towel and heat ready. They should recover well if you catch it in time. If you see poop start to collect on their bums (before it's a big mass that's blocking their bowels) you can use a wet wipe to clean them up before it becomes a problem. The more you know, the better you can prepare. This has only happened a few times for me.
10. You might have to figure out what to do with roosters
If you buy sexed female chicks (pullets) from a hatchery the chances of getting a rooster are about 1 in 10 chicks. If you are buying straight run (not sexed) chances are really good you'll have a few roos. You have to have a plan for the roosters if you are after an all-female crew for eggs (you don't need a rooster to get eggs, they'll lay just fine without one). I generally give my unwanted roosters to a friend who processes them for the freezer when they are still young. That's my plan, but you should have one too, just in case. You might also find your rooster is a giant dog-like friend who is kind and loves the kids as much as the hens. We are pretty fond of Roostio.
And there you have it! 10 things I wish I would have known before I got chicks. Let my experience help you along the path because backyard chickens are definitely a path you want to get on.