Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

New Chicks

A 7:30 a.m. phone call let me know to come to the post office to pick up my box of chicks.

A 7:30 a.m. phone call let me know to come to the post office to pick up my box of chicks.

Shiloh checking out the new additions.

Shiloh checking out the new additions.

Arrived today – 15 Rhode Island Reds and 11 Buff Orpingtons – all females. Here is my usual way of handling new chicks:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


  1. Sam

    We treat chicks pretty much the same, except for the paper. While they are too young to go on shavings (we want them to know what’s food and what’s not), we use a pelletized litter for traction. It’s about the size of wood pellets (wood pellets would probably work fine). If the chicks slip a lot on slick paper the first week or so, they may get splayed foot, and not be able to walk properly as they gain weight. Their bones harden up a bit after a couple weeks, and we switch to wood shavings because they are cheaper. The pellets seem to give them a little more traction.
    Remember, God made all babies cute, so we wouldn’t kill ’em.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Interesting, Sam – thanks for the insight. I hadn’t heard of that before. Are you raising meat birds or layers? I know that meat birds can gain weight so quickly that their bones can’t support that weight. I hadn’t heard of it being a problem with layers though. So far, I’ve never seen that problem here, but it may just be circumstances. I’ll keep an eye out for it now.

  2. Stephen Clay McGehee

    Sam, I wish I had taken your advice. I had one chick that got caught between the newspaper and the “brooder”. By the time I found her back there, she was pretty messed up. I cleaned her up, put her in the shipping box (with it’s firm, but shredded bottom covering), and kept prodding her to get up and move around. I forced her to drink quite a bit. That was yesterday, and she is still with us. If she continues, this will be the first one that I’ve ever been able to nurse back to health. Usually when a young chick like that has a problem, they die quickly.

    My next batch of chicks will definitely have a different floor litter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

eight + fifteen =