Arrived today – 15 Rhode Island Reds and 11 Buff Orpingtons – all females. Here is my usual way of handling new chicks:
- Set up the brooder. This is a plastic “turtle” sandbox that my nephew outgrew about 12 years ago. We cut the center out of the top, making a nice opening yet tough for young chicks to flutter out of. Newspapers are added to the bottom.
- It is set up in the garage under the garage door opener. A cord holds a heat lamp above the brooder; it can be adjusted up or down as needed. If the chicks are huddled together, then it needs to go lower – if they are spread out away from the light, then it needs to be moved up.
- A small waterer is added. As each chick is removed from the box, I dip its beak in the water to get them started drinking. Most chicks start drinking immediately once they get a taste of the water.
- I sprinkle just a small amount of bird grit on the bottom to let them peck at it. Just a tiny bit – I don’t want them filling up on grit.
- I wait until they have all had plenty of time to drink and I see that its worked its way through their bodies before adding any food. My theory is that by getting their digestive tract working before giving any food, they they are less likely to have vent paste-up. I don’t know if that is true or not, but it can’t hurt.
- Several hours later, I add a feeder filled with chick starter.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. I regularly monitor their progress and make sure that the heat is right (judged by their behavior – not by a thermometer), keep the floor clean, add clean water and food as needed. I keep a piece of hardware cloth on the top opening to keep them from somehow fluttering out and to “keep the dog honest”.
Followup – Added one month later (February 28):
This is the most successful batch of chicks I have had yet. I only lost one – and that was not to a health issue. She somehow escaped from the “nursery pen”. The dog was doing his job and kept barking to let us know, but we figured he was just being an idiot so we ignored him. Since the chick couldn’t get back in with the rest of the checks, she decided to go into the ark with the rooster and the two grown hens. I locked them in at night and didn’t notice the chick in with them. In the morning, I found the dead chick when I went to let them out. I assume that she made it through the night OK since I would have seen her when I let them out. In the morning, the hens attacked and killed her. The rooster has never shown any aggression toward the chicks through the fence, but the two hens will peck at the chicks that get too close to the fence. Jealousy, I suppose.