One of the first questions asked about raising chickens is, “How many should I get?” The answer is, “It depends.” Most backyard chickens are raised for eggs and often become pets in the process. A good idea is to decide how many eggs you want (figure five to six eggs/week per chicken) and how much time and space you’re able to give them. Chicks are social creatures, so if you decide to only have one, you need to be their social system, which can be challenging at times. So if you’re able, get two or more. Many people overkill and buy a dozen, when they’d be better off with three or four.
Chicks are often brought home when they are only a few days old. Cute, fluffy, and oh so adorable, they are absolutely defenseless and needy. In nature, these little peeps will stay safe and warm under their mama’s wings. But when we buy our little chicks, they no longer have that protection, so we have to provide it.
The First Home
Chicks need an environment free from breezes and safe from predators. A cardboard box inside the coop or in the garage is a good choice. Spread some paper towels, clean sand or straw on the bottom of their box so they can have some traction when they walk. They aren’t very skilled at getting around when they’re little. I don’t recommend shavings because it gets into the water too easily and absorbs it, keeping the chicks from being able to drink.
Inside the box they need a chick feeder that provides easy access to food, and a waterer. You can use anything for the food and water as long as they can reach it, but keep in mind they will hop on top of it, poop in it and throw their food around. Feeders and waterers that are designed to guard against droppings and messes are best.
Feed the chicks chick starter crumbles from the local feed store, and give them fresh water. You may need to teach them to eat or drink. Watch them to see if they manage on their own. If not, dip their beaks gently into the water or food to give them the idea of what they should do.
Keeping Baby Warm
Finally, you need warmth. Mamma’s wings are very warm, so you need to provide space that’s warm, too. A common way to warm the box is to use a droplight with an incandescent bulb in it. Keep it on 24/7. You’ll know the chicks are comfortable if they hang around under it most of the time, but leave it to get water and food. If they bundle tightly under it, lower the light a bit to give them more warmth. If they hang around the perimeter, it’s too hot and you need to raise it. You want to start with a temperature of about 100 – 105 degrees for the first week, and then lower the temperature (raise the light) about five degrees per week until the chicks get their feathers. The chicks’ behavior will tell you what you need to do. When they’re no longer dependent on the light, you can take the box away.