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Caring for Baby Chicks

Newly hatched chicks must be kept warm and free from drafts, be properly fed and watered, and be protected from predators. A cardboard box can be a satisfactory home for up to 12 chicks. The size and shape of the box is not too important as long as it provides enough space for the chicks and the equipment to feed and water them. A 2 x 2 foot box 12-15 inches high is adequate. A screen or wire mesh should cover the box to restrict handling and to protect the chicks from cats and other predators. The sides of the box provide adequate protection from drafts.

The 1st week, keep the temperature at the level of the chicks at 90-95 F. Reduce the temperature about 5 degrees per week until room temperature is reached. It is best to use a thermometer to measure the temperature, but the actions of the chicks can also be a guide. When the chicks are cold, they bunch up and give a distressed 'cheep.' When they are too warm, they stand apart with their beaks open, and their throats may have a pulsating or panting motion. In most rooms, a light bulb placed over the box will provide enough heat. A gooseneck study lamp with a 60- or 75-watt bulb works well. The neck of the lamp can be adjusted to provide more or less heat. If necessary, cut a slit in the side of the box so the base of the lamp can remain outside the box, with the gooseneck of the lamp fitting in the slit and the lampshade placed inside the box.

About 2 inches of litter material give the chicks better footing and help keep the box clean. Wood shavings, chopped straw or paper, peat moss, or sand are suitable. Replace the litter when necessary to keep the box clean and dry. Waterers to be used with pint canning jars are often available at farm supply stores. They should be placed onto a wooden block to help keep them free from litter. A small dish-with marbles or pebbles added to keep the chicks out of the water-can be used for a waterer. You can also use a saucer having an inverted cup placed over it. Replace the water twice a day, or more frequently if necessary to keep the water clean and fresh. Clean the waterer each time you make the change, and refill it with lukewarm water. Although chicks don't need feed or water the first 48 hours after hatching, both are usually provided as soon as the chicks are transferred to the rearing box. Use a small box or tray for a feeder. Let the chicks scratch around in the feed for the first few days so they get off to a good start on the feed and don't eat too much litter.

Chicks are best started on a chick starter mash. For other poultry, use the appropriate starter feed for that species, of bird, if available. Mashed, hardcooked egg also makes an excellent starter feed. You can use breakfast cereal for a few days if it is in a form the chicks can readily eat. Rapidly growing chicks must have a well-balanced starter diet for proper growth and development.

Submitted by KP, WA

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