As new chicken parents, we had a lot of questions. And there are a lot of great books, blogs, and people out there as resources. We sifted through a lot of advice before heading to our local feed store to stock up, where they gave us the final guidance we needed.
Overall, caring for the chicks in their first few weeks has been pretty simple. It does take some time and planning, but it's not complicated.
So here's our setup:
This is a brooder. We're just using a cardboard box, which we replace about once a week for a slightly bigger (and less smelly) one.
The box is lined with pine shavings. I agonized a lot over what bedding to use - sand, straw, and a few different kinds of wood shavings all have their own advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, pine shavings had the right mix of affordability, availability, and suitability for the chicks. We'll use cedar shavings in the adult coop, but cedar isn't recommended for the babies. I add fresh bedding once a day, and replace all of it once a week.
Chicks need to be kept warm until they get their first feathers, so we have them under a heat lamp. Every week, we move the heat lamp a little further away to lower the temperature about 5 degrees. There's a thermometer taped to the inside of the brooder, which we're mostly just using to make sure we're in the right neighborhood. The chickens make it pretty clear how they feel about the heat; if it's too cold they all huddle together right under the light, and if it's too hot they scatter to the dark corners and fling their water around.
We keep a few things in the box with them all the time: a feeder (the round yellow thing with the mason jar), a waterer, and a few sticks and blocks for them to jump on.
We replace the water twice a day. They kick their bedding into the water trough, and it will get so clogged that they can't drink. (Chickens are not known for their brains.) To minimize this, we keep the waterer raised up to the level of their heads.
|It also makes a very good throne.|
We also refill the food at the same time.
We're using commercial chick feed to make sure they get just the right nutrition to develop. When they're adults, we'll supplement their feed with greens and vegan kitchen scraps.
The feed has to be mixed with grit. Grit is made up of small stones, which the chickens need in their digestive system. I pour a thin layer of grit into the mason jar first, then fill the rest of the jar with feed. Since the grit is heavy, it will trickle down into the feed for more even distribution.
The last element in the brooder is a perch. We have a few twigs and blocks so the chickens can learn to roost. And they just enjoy being up high! It's fun to watch them explore.
|Everything the light touches is my kingdom.|
|You lookin' at me, punk?|
|Bow to my fluffiness.|
In a few weeks, the chicks will have their feathers and will be ready to move out to the coop. From what I read, at that point they'll actually be less work; they won't make such a huge mess and their larger, better feeder and waterer won't need to be refreshed as often. But I'll miss this sweet little chickie phase when it's gone!