Starting Chicks On The Right Foot

The month of February is when a good many poultry farmers and fanciers start to think about chicks. They have either began or just about to begin to plan for the next breeding program reviewing past records, hatching and in general, setting goals for the upcoming breeding and show season. Will it be good or will it be poor? This is a question that pops up in every breeder's mind at this time of the year. Always bear in mind that to have success in poultry raising, it is not the large number of chicks that one raises each season, but how well one has raised them and the number raised after they are hatched. It is far better to begin in a small way and expand later than to start on a big scale and let the business get the best of you.
There are, however, factors that contribute to a successful breeding season. The first is proper management of chicks - a point that should be given much attention whether one is hatching his own young or purchasing chicks. The first six weeks are probably the most important in a chick's life. It is during this period that it receives its best or worst management, which will have a great deal to do in determining whether one's breeding season will be a success or a disaster. The knowledge of proper brooding management is essential, yet many poultry breeders who have this knowledge, do not use it to the best advantage. So many times something will go wrong in the brooder house and either the breeder who supplied the chicks or the feed manufacturer who supplied the feed will be blamed. The old adage 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness' is well borne out in caring for poultry, especially young and growing stock. Therefore, the first job in brooding chicks is to have a clean brooding environment. Ensure that the brooder house is in good repair; sweep out the house thoroughly, including the walls, floor and ceiling. Make sure that all dirt of any description from previous occupants has been removed. Then scrub the floors and walls up to a height of about two feet with hot water and lye. It is a good practice to put some potassium permanganate in a porcelain dish and add a little formaldehyde after first making sure that all cracks are sealed and the doors and windows are closed. The poisonous gases given off by this mixture kill all germs and parasites and help prevent any infestation from last year's birds. One cannot be too careful about sanitation. There are so many diseases which attack baby chicks, that it is imperative to have totally sanitary quarters for them. One breeder also suggested painting the brooder house every year, using the cheapest paint available, after the yearly thorough cleaning. Painting helps fill up the cracks besides acting as a disinfectant. All equipment-troughs, water fountains, and hoppers should also be thoroughly scrubbed and disinfected with a good commercial product.
For those who choose to purchase chicks, several points should be kept in mind. Buy only good chicks from a reliable breeder or hatchery. Be prepared to spend considerable time in brooding these chicks, and have everything ready before their arrival. Do not try to skimp and save on feed, for a good sound, properly balanced and commercially mixed feed will give the chicks a good start and induce proper growth. Before the chicks arrive, make sure that the brooder is thoroughly cleaned and operating efficiently. The temperature should be 95F. Clean shavings are used as litter when brooding chicks. A thick layer of clean papers are spread on the floors and on these are placed the feeders and waterers. Here and there, on the papers are spotted handfuls of chick starter, while a few handfuls of fine scratch grains are spread out. Feeding the chicks off papers for the first two or three days helps teach them where their feed is and what it is. Each day a layer of papers is removed so that from the fourth day on, all feed, mash and grain is fed from hoppers. Ample water fountains are provided and they are always well filled with clean, fresh water. By using a retaining ring made of wire or cardboard and about 18 inches in height, the chicks are kept near the brooder stove for the first few days. The first day this chick guard should approximately 20" away from the stove and each day moved back a piece. This ring will teach the chicks where to get warm. It should be round in shape, so that the birds cannot pile up in the corners. Make sure that the chicks are comfortable. If they are huddled under the hover, they are cold, and the temperature should be raised a little. On the other hand, if they are piled up in the corners, the temperature is too high and therefore, it should be adjusted accordingly. Avoid overcrowding. The condition of the chicks is the best gauge of their comfort. It is very important that the chicks be kept from contamination of any kind. It is best to remove and destroy any birds that are weak, sickly or pasted up, thus eliminating any possible the source of infection that could threaten the rest of the flock. If any outbreak of disease does start, remove the worst cases and be very careful about sanitation. A good germicide should be added to the drinking water and a mild flush administered. Litter should be removed periodically as the chicks grow older, or as soon as it becomes damp. Damp spots around the drinking fountains should be cleaned away and fresh litter put down. If the weather is wet and cold, it will be necessary to change the litter more often. Always avoid drafts and dampness in the brooder house for either may weaken the resistance of the chicks to some degree. Baby chicks should be kept in the incubator 36 to 48 hours after they are hatched before being placed in the brooder. During incubation, the albumen of the egg is used for the development of the chick and the yolk is used almost entirely for nourishment. The remaining part of the yolk is absorbed into the chick's body cavity just before it breaks out of the shell. There is sufficient nourishment in this yolk to maintain the chick with very little food for several days. Heavy feeding at first retards the digestion of the yolk and is apt to cause bowel trouble.
Food plays an important part in getting the baby chicks started right, and it is best to buy from reliable chick feed dealers and well known feed manufacturers, who know the proper ingredients and proportions to use in making a well balanced ration of either cracked grains or dry mashes. They may cost a little more than one that is self-mixed, but it may be cheaper in the end to buy the right kind from the start. Remember poor or cheap foods yield poor and cheap results. In feeding baby chicks the following principles apply, especially where chicks are destined to be raised as breeders rather than for meat purposes:

1.Practice limited early feeding.
2.First feed should be nutritious (medicated "chick starter") and easily accessible.
3.An abundance of grit and shell are invaluable.
4.Fresh water is always necessary.
5.Feed often and sparingly the first two weeks.
6.Avoid sloppy, wet foods.
7.Keep the chicks busy and hungry.
8.Some animal protein is necessary for growth.
9.Succulent or green food in some form is essential.
10.Feed early and late each day.
11.Practice absolute cleanliness in feeding.
12.Avoid hampering and unduly fussing with baby chicks.
13.Feed to ensure steady growth in chicks.
14.Constant thought and judgment are necessary in early feeding.

From the time the chicks are hatched until maturity, the flock should be observed carefully for signs of weakness or lack of vitality. It is a good practice when the chicks are about a week old to separate those which show loss of vigor. Keep them by themselves, feed them for rapid growth and dispose of them at about broiler age. Do another sorting of the chicks as soon as sex can be determined, or at about 10 weeks of age. Take out all males and those which are not being kept for breeders. Leg weakness is a common trouble in chicks that are grown on dry board floors. The weakness usually develops when chicks are two weeks old. To solve this problem, get the chicks on the ground. Their legs will grow stronger on a cool, moist earth. It has been found that a small amount of cod- liver oil added to the ration will prevent or cure leg weakness in baby chicks even though they are never outdoors. Fresh cod-liver oil thoroughly mixed with mash has been found to be effective. Care must be taken to use up this mix and it should never be kept too long.
The future health and productiveness of the average flock depends directly upon the amount of care and attention given the chicks. Their feeding requires more thought and skill than the feeding of mature birds. It does not matter what method of feeding is used as long as the ration is digestible, appetizing, nutritious and has a variety of sweet, clean foods to stimulate heavy consumption. Poultry breeders use plenty of green food in the form of lettuce, lawn clippings, sprouted oats, etc. as well as plenty of grit and fresh water. Invest time, good feed and proper management and your reward will be healthy, vigorous chicks-foundation of your flock.

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Updated JAN 20, 2012

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