Now that you have the brooder set up, let’s talk about the basic care for your new chicks. Your chicks will need food, water, grit and a clean brooder.
Your local farm store will carry a variety of chick feeds. Look for a feed specifically designed for chicks (not chickens). This feed will be smaller and easier for your chicks to digest. You will also notice you can get medicated or unmediated chick feed. Medicated chick feed prevents coccidiosis (a parasitic disease of the intestinal track) in your chicks. If you keep your brooder clean and dry you may not need a medicated feed but many people, including myself, prefer to feed a medicated starter feed as an insurance policy against the disease. Once the chicks are older, they should be weaned onto a regular chicken feed without medication.
Chickens need grit starting at around two weeks of age. Grit is used in the chicken’s gizzard to help grind down the food. (Gizzards, not just for gravy!) Since chicks are not born with grit in their gizzards, you will need to provide some type of grit to get them started. Your local feed store will have grit specifically designed for small chicks. It’s called chick grit. Brilliant, I know. Pick some up and mix it in with their regular feed according to the directions on the package.
Water seems like a simple thing, and for the most part it is. Grab a waterer designed for chicks, fill it up, and stick it in the brooder, right? Almost. One word of caution when it comes to water. Believe it or not, even with small chicken waterers, chicks can drown themselves in their water. To prevent this, it’s a good idea to set the watering container up a small block for the first few weeks. This will keep the chicks from falling asleep with their beaks in their water trough and drowning.
Cleaning Your Brooder
If you have ever parked your car under a bird’s nest you will know birds poop, a lot. Chickens are no different. When your chicks are very young you may only need to clean out your brooder once a week, but as they grow older, you will need to clean the brooder more and more frequently.
To thoroughly clean your brooder, you will need:
- A small container to put your chicks while you clean
- Something to hold the dirty bedding (garbage bag, muck tub, bucket etc.)
- A dustpan and brush
- Warm water and a rag for really gross spots
- Fresh bedding
Move your chicks to the small container and remove their food, water, and heat source. Dump the dirty bedding into whatever you are using for that purpose and then use the dust pan and brush to get up any remaining bits at the bottom of the brooder. If there is still some poop stuck to the bottom use the warm water to scrub it off. Make sure the area is completely dry before adding the fresh bedding and returning the chicks to your brooder.
Michele Cook is a farmer, author, and communications specialist for the National Federation of Press Women. She raises chickens, goats, and vegetables on her small farm in the beautiful Allegheny mountains of Virginia. If she is not outside caring for her farm you can find her curled up in a chair with her nose stuck in a good book.