As many of you know, this year was our first time hatching our own chicks, so I am by no means a professional, and I’m certainly not a veterinarian. However, I thought it may be helpful for folks if I laid out some of the things that have worked well for us with our last two batches of chicks.
- If you have them in your house, brood them in a dog crate
- This has been a game changer for us since day 1. We take cardboard boxes and line the inside of our dog crate all the way across the bottom and up the sides; then we fill it with bedding and add all the necessities for the chicks. This has been especially helpful because the crate protects the chicks from our dog and cat (even though we keep them in a room with the door closed, I still get worried that one day the cat will open the door and get in there). The dog crate also gives you a “ceiling” to hang the heat lamp, and other chick related items from.
- Create a way to cycle through the dirty bedding on a regular basis
- We don’t currently have a barn or an outbuilding that stays warm enough in the winter/spring to brood our chicks outdoors; that means anytime we are brooding chicks, they are in our house. I know; yuck. If you ask my fiancé he will tell you that I have the most sensitive nose on the planet and even the slightest foul order will put me in a tizzy until I find a way to make it not smell. When we got our first batch of chicks last year, they were approaching 6 weeks old and it was still dumping snow outside, so naturally I started slowly losing my mind from the chicken poo smell in the house. Long story short, when we decided to hatch our own chicks this year, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could minimize the smell with this group. I now keep an old dust pan (you can pick up a cheap one from the store like this for $5) near the chicks’ brooder, and once a day I use the dust pan to scoop about two full dust pan loads of bedding out of the brooder into a garbage bag, and I then replace that same amount of bedding with fresh wood shavings back into the brooder. This has saved me so much time and trouble because instead of waiting until it starts stinking and doing a massive bedding overhaul, I am slowly removing a little bit of the smell each day. I am happy to report that these little chickies have been in the house for a month now and we haven’t had a single smell concern yet!
- Use wood shavings for bedding
- I cannot say enough good things about the power of pine shavings as chick bedding. That stuff smells amazing, is easy to clean up, and absorbs poo and moisture better than ultra soft Huggies diapers. For our first batch of chicks we used shavings that had a bit of charcoal added for absorption properties; but that charcoal got everywhere; and I mean everywhere! This year we are using JUST PLAIN OLD PINE SHAVINGS, and it has been a life saver. We are in Montana and have found some locally sourced pine shavings here; but I’m sure you can find some good options near you as well. If you live near a timber mill, it’s always great to check with them as they often will sell pine shavings in bulk for a very low price!
- Hang their water as soon as they are tall enough to drink this way
- Chickens are natural foragers, and once they are a couple weeks old they will begin to scratch and peck at anything and everything within distance of their little feet. This includes scratching bedding and poo into their water if it is sitting on the ground. This is a fine line as you don’t want to hang their water before they are tall enough to reach it, but if you leave it on the ground once they start this “scratch and peck” behavior, you will be changing their water 5 times a day. I have found for us, that around 4 weeks old is when they are tall and physically capable enough to drink out of a hanging waterer. This can certainly vary depending on the type and size of chicks you have. For example, larger breeds like Rhode Island Reds may be ready at 3 weeks where smaller breeds like Bantams may not be big enough until 6 weeks. If you are in doubt, try hanging it and observing them for a half hour or so; you will quickly find out if they are capable of drinking that way yet or not.
- Use some type of electrolyte or “chick boost” in their water
- New chicks, especially ones that you get from a farm and ranch store or order through the mail, can lose a lot of their core nutrients during travel. Electrolytes and other water additives designed specifically for chicks help them regain those lost nutrients and build up their strength. We use this one in our chick’s water. I used it for the first 3 weeks that the chicks were with us, and then after that I went back to plain water (they are usually growing and developing well at that point so they don’t need the added nutrients as much).
- Add some methods of entertainment for them
- Giving the chicks a few things to entertain themselves as they get older can be extremely helpful. This way they have some items to focus their attention on (other than pestering their siblings)! You can be creative with this and make it fun for you too! Here are some suggestions that I have found to be helpful, but feel free to go wild and try new things. 1) I have found that a big stick or a split piece of wood often makes a great object for the chicks to start “roosting” on. This way they are low to the ground and can practice their roosting without the risk of falling and hurting themselves. 2) This year I discovered this product called a “chick stick” (linked here) and I will never go back. This thing has been amazing! It entertains them for hours on end. 3) I had an old handheld mirror that I used when I had time to care about the back of my hair (those days are long gone people!) and I hung that in the brooder as well this year. It is endlessly entertaining for the chicks AND me; and it cost me $0. (In case I didn’t describe that very well, here is a mirror like the one I used)
Overall, just keep in mind that your chicks are growing, learning and exploring every square inch of their brooder as they get bigger. The more exciting you can make that space for them (without making it dangerous) the more engaged and inquisitive your chicks will be in their surroundings, and the less they will hassle each other. What are your favorite items to include in your chick brooder? Leave a comment below so I can try your great ideas too!