Starting Them Right

Tips for Taking Care of Baby Poultry from Randy "Chicken Man" Walker

We are providing this information to help you get your baby poultry started correctly and eliminate potential problems that might arise.  Baby poultry are about two days old when they arrive at Pickering Valley Feed and therefore have special needs.
Feed Purina’s Start N Grow Medicated Feed during the first few weeks (about 2 ½ pounds of feed per chick).  Afterwards, Start N Grow Non-medicated Feed should be used until the birds are about 4 to 5 months of age.  From then on adult chicken feed such as Purina’s Layena Crumbles or Layena Pellets will help promote good health and egg production.
Always have fresh, room temperature water available for baby chicks.  You may need to introduce them to the water source by dipping their beaks in initially.  Most baby bird loss is caused because the bird doesn’t start to eat or drink.  Never let your bird run out of water.  Use waterers designed for chickens rather than using bowls.  Keeping chicks dry and warm is critical to their health.
Baby chicks should be kept in a draft free location with a temperature of 90 to 95 degrees for the first week.  Reduce the temperature 5 degrees per week until you reach 70 degrees.  From then on they shouldn’t need any added heat.  If you are starting your chicks inside a heated building, a heat lamp with a shield using a 75 to 100 watt household bulb will be adequate.  The light should be about 12 to 18 inches above the birds. 
The baby chicks will let you know if they are warm enough by their actions.  If they are constantly below the light source, they are too cold.  Increase the wattage or lower the light.  If they are consistently staying a distance away from the light, panting or stretching out their wings, they are too hot.  If you are starting the chicks in an unheated environment, a 250 watt bulb should be used with a draft shield.
Pine shavings or Corn Cob Bedding has proven to be the best for young chicks.  Do not use sawdust.  It is too small and the birds may eat it instead of their food.  Birds do not have taste buds and eat based on size and texture.  If you are using a cage with a wire floor, spread out sheets of paper towels on the wire floor for the first couple of days, especially for the smaller breeds… DO NOT USE NEWSPAPER as the slipperiness of the paper can injure the birds legs.  Replace the paper towels daily.  After a few days the chicks will be able to walk on the wire with no problems.
Baby chicks will often pick each other if they are too hot, too crowded, or sometimes just because one looks different from the others.  Occasionally bright light also causes them to pick.  Switching to an infrared bulb usually helps reduce picking by camouflaging the differences.  Adding fresh green grass clippings also helps.
Try to provide 1/2 square foot per bird at the start.  Wire cages with 1/2” X 1” holes are the best.  Larger holes may allow chicks to escape.  Wire floors with removable trays make cleaning much easier.  If the area is cool, create a draft shield with cardboard to maintain the proper temperature.  After 4 weeks, increase space to 3/4 square foot per bird. 
If in the first few days the bird seems to be suffering from fatigue or dehydration, try this:  Add six tablespoons of sugar to a gallon of water.  Then mix some of this sweet water with some of their feed to make a soupy mix.  Give your birds this special mix for 3 to 4 days to get them over the effects of shipping.  Mix up fresh feed daily and throw out any uneaten food.
Sometimes the stress of shipping causes the manure to stick to the back of the bird.  It is important to remove this daily.  Pull off gently or wash off with a damp cloth and warm water.  It will disappear in a few days as the bird starts to grow.