Congratulations on the addition of your feathered family members. We sincerely hope your chickens give you as much joy as ours give to us. Over time, you will come to recognise that chickens have individual personalities. Like all pets, chickens respond well to love and being handled regularly. This will ensure they will become quite tame.
Heat – the most important element of chick care
All chicks that are not with a Mother Hen will need a constant supply of heat until they are fully feathered (which is when they are 5-6 weeks old). The easiest way to do this by using a Brinsea EcoGlow Safety brooder (artificial heat source). Alternative setups for the provision of heat to your chicks include using a 60 watt desk lamp or light globe over a cardboard box positioned about 30cm away from the chicks. Although this is a satisfactory short term setup (and one that is commonly seen) this is definitely not a good option for long term or repeated lots of chickens. Desk lamps are not designed for constant use 24/7 for weeks on end and we know this to be prone to fires. Spend a bit more money for a safe setup and you can sleep soundly knowing your chicks (family and house) are safe.
Bedding is also a consideration to retain heat and for ease of cleaning, with a common choice being a layer of commercially available woodshavings (or similar) on the floor.
Young chicks will cuddle up near the heat and sleep for the first few days. After this, determining whether the heat is too strong or weak (if they are cold) is easily judged by the behaviour of the chicks. If too cold, they will huddle together and chirp noisily. If too hot, they will pant and move as far away as possible from the heat source. Adjust the distance of the heat source as necessary. Insufficient heat will result in chick death so please be aware of weather conditions and/or how cold it will get in the area where you keep your chicks.
Feeding your chicks
Feeding your chicks the correct types/stages of food is important to provide them with a balanced diet, as they need specific levels of nutrients (given most easily in pellet form). All chicken food (pellets and mixed grain) can be bought from Suburban Chooks, bulk produce stores and pet food shops. As a general rule, the more you buy the cheaper it is. Introduce new foods to old food gradually, over a few days as some chickens can get sick with sudden diet changes. Day old chicks need to be fed ‘Chick Starter’ until they are approx. 8 weeks old. This is a small sized, specially formulated food which gives correct nutrition and is easier for chicks to digest. It is also often medicated to protect against some diseases (namely, coccidiosis).
Water and hot weather management
Young chicks will need a constant supply of clean water in a shallow dish (ie. A saucer or something similar). Chicks can, will and do drown in deep water. Deeper dishes should have a layer of polished stone or marbles, so the chicks can drink from between the gaps. As it is such a small volume of water, it can quickly become very dirty so it will need to be replenished several times a day to prevent illness.
Once fully feathered your chicks can then be moved outside to appropriate housing which is safe and secure at night to protect them from predators (foxes, cats etc). It is generally not recommended that your chicks live with adult chickens until they are of a similar size, as they will get bullied and pecked. Unfortunately this cruel aspect of nature may result in the death of your new babies so it is better for them to be raised separately until they are closer in size and can hold their own with the initial bullying after the introductions are made. This will also ensure that they are given the correct food for their age to support appropriate growth and development.