Raising Chicks From Mail Order Sources
Learn How to Raise Baby Chicks From Mail Order Sources
Raising chicks from mail order sources is different from setting your own hens. You have to provide for all of their basic needs. Of course there’s an ideal way to do things when you’re brooding chicks, usually involving more money than most of us want to spend. The old-timers would put their chicks by the wood stove in a galvanized tub to warm them, so there are many ways to achieve the same result.
Before your chicks arrive, you need to have some basics ready and waiting.
When you’re raising chicks, the first thing you want to do is be sure the chicks stay warm. This is the main purpose of the brooder. Your brooder can be pretty much any setup you want, just be sure there are no drafts, it’s able to hold a uniform temperature, and there’s good ventilation. I’ve seen homemade brooders ranging from cardboard boxes to plastic kiddie pools to elaborate, expensive setups.
I use a 250W infrared bulb suspended 12 to 18 inches above the floor of my brooder for raising chicks. Several times a day, I place a thermometer at the edge of the heat circle to be sure the temperature is 90-95°F. You’ll learn to judge the temperature by the chicks. If they’re cool, they’ll huddle underneath the lamp; if their hot, they’ll be spread out and maybe panting. They’ll give you the precious, “Mother, I need you!” chirp.
Raise or lower the temperature by adjusting the closeness of the heat lamp. The older your chicks get, the less heat they’ll need. Decrease the temperature by 5° a week with 70°F being your target by the time they’re 6 weeks old and ready to go outdoors.
If I have to order chicks, I try to be sure they arrive from May to July because our outdoor temperatures never dip below 70 and are in the upper 90s (zone 8). I don’t have chicks shipped later because August and September are our hottest months and shipment is too hard on the chicks.
I keep their brooder indoors the first two weeks to be sure they’re healthy, eating and drinking well, and come to know me as their source of food and water. I have enclosed breeding yards in my chicken compound so I can move them outside at three weeks of age.
When your chicks first arrive, have their water ready and waiting. One gallon of water is sufficient for up to 50 chicks. I add 3 tablespoons of raw, organic apple cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons of organic sugar to their first gallon of water. This to boosts their energy, immune systems, and digestion. Always be sure your chicks have clean fresh water available.
Chicks live for three days off of what they ingest from hatching out of their egg. Your mail-order chicks may have been hatched up to three days prior so they’ll be ravenously hungry and thirsty. It’s important to have their food ready so they won’t eat their litter in a search for nourishment. They will instinctively peck anything.
The first couple of days, I feed them from egg cartons. On day three or four, I switch to a trough feeder to keep them from scratching the feed out into their litter and scratching their litter for feed. Only fill their feeder half-full to prevent waste. It’s important to always keep feed available for the first six weeks at least.
The chicks eat about a thimble’s worth of food a day. Many people raising chicks from mail order sources prefer to provide a home-grown diet for their chicks which is awesome, but I use an organic, non-GMO chick starter for the first four weeks then add supplemental things like scrambled eggs, dairy products, garden scraps, and of course worms.
When raising chicks from mail order sources, you’ll need to keep your chicks in a well lit area 24 hours a day for the first week. Too little light can cause chicks to stress and pick at each other. Chicks will also pick when they’re too hot, don’t have enough room, or enough fresh air. During the second week, I turn the light off for increasing increments of time so that when the chicks go outside and experience the nighttime they won’t be frightened and injure each other.
It’s important to provide good litter for your chicks to prevent development of spraddle leg when you’re raising baby chicks. This is a condition some chicks develop from being on slippery litter before their leg cartilage hardens. Newspaper and straw are the most slippery surfaces for chicks. A good rule of thumb is to be sure the litter is too big to fit into a chick’s mouth to prevent an impacted crop or gizzard.
My favorite litter is to shred and/or wad brown paper bags and cover them with non-skid rubber shelving paper. Changing is easy, just roll it up, and roll out a fresh pre-cut piece, spray the dirty one off with a hose, and let it dry for reuse. Depending on how dirty it gets, change out the brown paper at least weekly.
So we’ve covered the basics of raising chicks, and you’ve got everything ready. Buying baby chicks is so exciting, and you’re ready for your chicks to arrive!
First, check your birds to be sure everyone has arrived safely. Remove the chicks one by one and dip their beaks into the water. After the first or second dip you’ll see the chick tilt its head back and swallow. Show them their food after everyone is drinking. Keep a close eye the first few hours to be sure that everyone is warm, alert, and knows where to find their water and food.
For your mail-order chicks, you should start offering baby grit, or very fine sand lightly sprinkled over their food on the fourth day. Be careful not to use too much because they’ll fill up on it and not their food.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack
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Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.