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A Beginners Guide to Raising Baby Chickens - by Carole DeJarnatt
You have no doubt seen the cute little fuzzy baby chickens sold at Easter. They are so cute and almost irresistible. You hold them in your hand and they make chirping noises. How can you resist?
If you have the space and decide to take the plunge then you need to be prepared for your new little pets. Chickens are fairly easy to take care of but they do have needs. No matter if you buy your baby chickens, hatch them from eggs at home via an incubator or brooding hens, they have requirements.
What you will need for starting out:
A. A place to live. In other words, a brooder, or cage, or holding box. This can be as simple as a plastic container or cardboard box. If raising with a hen, I prefer a cage with a wire bottom so you are able to clean more frequently.
B. A source of heat. Maintaining temperatures of 90 degrees the first week and then dropping by 5 degrees following weeks until you reach the temperature outside. If they are being raised with the mother hen, she takes care of the temperature for you.
C. Water and food. Little chicks are usually started out on chick starter in the medicated or non-medicated type; and there are several brands available for you to choose from. If the waterer happens to be a fairly large size where the chicks can stand in the water, some recommend putting marbles in it so the chicks will not drown.
Some of the greatest entertainment comes from watching these little chickens grow. And grow they do! Every day it seems there are changes in features, size, and feathers. By five to six weeks they should have all their feathers and are ready to be moved from the brooder.
Some things a new owner might not be aware of:
1. Chickens have an area called a crop and they store feed in it to be digested. It is located at the base of the chicken's neck and bulges after the bird has eaten. Chickens don't have teeth and don't chew; the food and grit get ground up by the crop.
2. Chickens love dust baths and so do baby chickens. You might see them lying in their feed (if the bowl is large enough) or in the shavings in the bottom of the brooder flopping around. This is the beginning of their bathing habits.
3. A fairly common problem in newly hatched chicks is pasting up. The sign of pasting is droppings that stick to the bird's rear end until the vent gets pasted shut. To ensure they do not die from this, gently wipe their rear end with a damp, warm paper towel. By the time your chicks are one week old, pasting up should no longer be a problem.
4. Chicks do not need to eat as soon as they hatch. For the first two days of life they can survive on residual yoke, which is why newly hatched chicks are able to survive being shipped across the country.
5. Pecking order starts young. They start fluffing up flapping at each other and circling each other while the others gather around and watch. Looks like they are doing the tango but no, they are determining who is the boss and in what order.
6. Clean water and brooder daily. For day old chicks, line the bottom with paper towels for the first few days while they get their footing to help avoid leg problems. Then you can switch over to a couple inches of pine shavings.
7. Chickens are social animals and enjoy being with others. Birds of a feather flock together.
Chickens are very addictive. With the entertainment they offer and the ease of caring for them, you will be ordering online or back at the store before you know it. A little time spent in preparation will make sure your first flock is an all around pleasant experience.
Carole DeJarnatt lives in Florida and raises a variety of hens, baby chickens, and a few roosters. She shares her learning experiences and helps to educate others on how to get started and the many benefits of raising backyard chickens.