Chicken Chicks For Beginners!
When our family ventured into raising poultry, we decided we would wait on Turkeys because all research (and word of mouth) said these were birds that “liked to die”, so we stuck to chickens! We bought eight hens and a rooster, and quickly moved into egg incubation to grow our flock and quickly learned, chicks also “like to die”!
As frugal homesteaders, we’re always looking at how to make things work without buying all the “latest and greatest”. We build our own shelters, repurpose totes, barrels, old construction fencing, you name it, we try to reuse it! So here’s our tried and true pieces of advice and need-to-have for raising your chicks!
My first tip is to either Invest in that $20 watering dish you don’t think you need or make your own! It will save a lot of time with chicks who decide to drown themselves – repeatedly! It is also important to ensure you never let your chicks run out of water – the self-waterers can help with this as well.
Wet chicks need to be dried! Use a towel to get the bulk of the water off your chick and gently blow-dry it. Be sure to use a low-heat setting and keep the blower far enough away not to scold your chicks’ delicate skin!
Incubating & Hatching
There are many different ways to accomplish this phase. You can find yourself an actual incubator or you can go on YouTube and learn how to create your own!
Hatching requires a controlled temperature, you will need a reliable thermometer to keep in your incubator.
Humidity is also crucial. Even if you are using an expensive incubator that comes with these monitors, you will likely need to change out your humidity monitor after a few hatches – you can pick one up cheap at Canadian Tire for just a couple of bucks! The humidity is what helps soften your eggshells for hatching.
The ideal temperature for hatching is 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit, or 38.5 degrees celsius, this can vary anywhere between 37.5 and 39.5 during incubation.
The humidity levels vary depending on your bird and at what stage of hatching you are at. At the early stages of incubation, humidity should be kept around 60-65% and reduced to 50-55% a week prior to the expected hatch date. Once your chicks begin hatching, the humidity level will rise again naturally. Do not be alarmed at how high this goes, it will soon begin to drop after the chicks dry. DO NOT open the incubator or readjust humidity during this time.
Candling your eggs is recommended at days 8 and 18, the earlier date is especially true for purchased fertilized eggs. This can be done with a small, higher beam, flashlight. Do not move your eggs, simply move your flashlight at different angles on your eggs. If an egg is fertilized and growing, you will usually see veins and sometimes the chick moving. Some will be very noticeable and others not, do not be alarmed if you can’t tell too well at the earlier time. Some eggs are also very dark all over and can be hard to tell in general at any stage. If the egg shows a lot of spotting and doesn’t show any “lump” or veining, your egg may not be fertilized or growing.
Hatching time varies for each breed and even each batch! Chickens hatch between 18 and 25 days of incubation. Once hatching begins, do not open the incubator as this can cause the humidity and temperature to change drastically at crucial stages of hatching. Your chick, once hatched, can survive for 48hrs while awaiting the arrival of other hatchlings. It may be tempting to “help” some of your little chicklings along, especially as they stumble and sometimes find themselves “stuck” on their backs, don’t worry – they know what they’re doing, it’s all part of their natural growth and strength building. Each chick will take its own time to do things and will sleep a lot through the process of hatching and for that first day getting steady on their feet.
A high-end incubator will turn your eggs every two hours for you – you can obviously set timers and do this manually if you’re using a DIY incubator or lower-end one that doesn’t do this for you. 2 hours isn’t a do-or-die, I do have a friend who only rotates once in the morning and once at night and still has a decent hatch rate!
You should have your brooder set up the day before hatch day. You may not use it right away, but it’s so much easier to make the time before. We have an outside brooder – we converted a homemade rabbit hutch. We also have one inside – it’s just a large tote, nothing special. My girlfriend uses a fish aquarium for hers, really whatever you have on hand should be fine!
Whether you are hatching your own chicks or ordering them from a hatchery, once they arrive or are ready to leave the incubator, they will not have had water or food for some time and their reserves will be running thin. As you are placing each chick into their new home, first dip their beaks into both their food and their water dishes to show them where it is.
Your brooder should include the following:
Bedding – this can be wood shavings or straw or hay. There is some controversy on whether shavings are good for them or not however, I am allergic to most hay and so I use wood shaving for the animals that need frequent bed cleaning. It is important that the floor is well covered so the chicks don’t slip. This is especially important for larger – meat breeds – as they can easily developed a condition called “spraddle Leg“.
Heat lamp – you still need to maintain a constant temperature for your chicks. 95 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for the first week and should be reduced by 5 degrees each week to a minimum of 55. For my Canadian brooders, this is 35 degrees Celsius, reducing by roughly 2.5 degrees each week to a minimum of 12.5 degrees.
Shelter – a small box or sheltered space that is covered away from the heat to allow the chicks a space to escape if they are hot.
Dishes for food and water – you can splurge for chick dishes or use your own small dish, but remember that chicks like to drown in their water, so the dish needs to be in such a way that they cannot “swim” in their water. While in the brooder, initially, I use a small cat dish for food and a small sauce bowl slanted in the corner for water to prevent drowning. This had to be refilled frequently! There are some really great auto-feeders that can be found on Youtube for both food and water – I highly recommend them!
Magic Chick Water
Making magic water for baby chicks is the first and most important thing you can do to ensure not only their survival but their long-term health as well! After my first hatch, I wasn’t prepared with this serum until about 3 days after my little crew left the incubator, we nearly lost a couple. One chick was unexplainably lethargic and weak all the time until we started the serum. Trust me, this will save so much energy raising your littles peeps! Save that milk jug now!
Magic water recipe:
1/2 Gallon (2L) Water (I’ve also used a full gallon 4L)
2tsp minced garlic
1/8 cup RAW honey (store honey works too)
1/4 cup Apple cider vinegar
Mix together and allow to steep overnight for 12 24hrs
There is no special length of time designated for giving this water to your chicks, just use it until it runs out and then switch to regular clean water. My first time hatching my own chicks I only had 18, so my magic water continued to be served even into our transition “pen” outside. Though I should warn you, this water will attract wasps!
Adding your chicks to the coop
If you are transitioning your chicks into an already established flock, be warned that chickens are very territorial and certain breeds can be very aggressive to new members in the beginning. No matter which method of transitioning you use, expect some level of squabbling between flocks as they all adjust the new pecking order. Unless things are looking really ugly, don’t interfere with this process.
You shouldn’t add your chicks to your existing flock until they are around the same size as your other birds. It is recommended to keep as close to a 1:1 ratio as possible or not to introduce more newcomers then what is already in your coop.
You should introduce your new flock gradually. Use a safe space or separate in-eye-shot coop for up to a week prior to releasing them together. There are different ways of doing this, one more aggressive way is to use a dog cage (or something of this nature) inside your current coop for a week while all birds get used to each other without being able to attack one another.
For us, we free-range during the day so I used our unoccupied rabbit hutch for the initial transition outside and just left it at that because all the original chickens could come over at their leisure to smell and investigate and get used to the newcomers for the entire month that they were in there. If you use this method, once your new flock is grown enough to be integrated into your existing flock, simply release them to free-range at the same time and let your existing flock lead the new ones ‘home’ at the end of the day – this is generally a very smooth transition. There may be some – or even all – that will return to their transition coop instead of the main coop for the first bit and that’s fine, let nature take its course.
Good luck and happy hatching!
If you have any additional tried-and-true tips to share, we’d love to see them in the comments!
Thanks for reading! 🙂