Waking with the chickens took on a whole new meaning this morning when my phone rang at 5:30am. It was the post office calling to let me know that my chicks were in. I knew to slate the entire day off for the pending arrival of my chicks but I have to admit I was surprised by the post office calling so early, they weren't even open yet but advised me to come to the back loading dock and pick up my peepers.
As I groggily rose out of bed to head to the post office I found myself grateful that I already had my brooder all set up and ready and all supplies on hand. This kind of phone call would otherwise be a bit on the stressful side!
So what do you need to have in order to care for new chicks?
A Brooder Area
A Heat Lamp
Litter (not cat litter, not sand, think straw/hay or pine shavings)
First and foremost your chicks need warmth. They are packed into a very tiny little box, not unlike sardines, for the temperature factor, they need to be warmed. When they arrive you need to be sure to keep them under heat lamps to ensure that you won't have loss due to temperature regulation problems.
I rely more on the chicks behavior and mannerisms to let me know if they need more or less heat. The common sense country way says that if all your chicks are huddled together under the lamp, they are too cold. If they all are scattered to the edges of your brooding area away from the heat source, they are too hot. Like I said, common sense chicken brooding.
That brings me to the brooder. I have used everything from a 20 gallon fish aquarium for just a few chicks, to a livestock feed trough fashioned with a hinged frame covered in metal mesh wire. I have friends who have used plastic totes with screen on top, and currently I have the Cadillac of chicken brooders courtesy of some plans I saw a friend use for her brooding pen. My point is that it doesn't matter so much what you brood your chicks in as long as they can't fly out, they can get adequate ventilation and a heat source is not a fire hazard.
Once your chicks have been with you a week or so you will start by moving the heat source a little further away from them to decrease the temperatures. The best plan is to brood chicks when the outside temp is also warming so that hopefully by the time they are getting bigger, your outside temps are increasing as well which aids in reducing the amount of time that your chicks have to remain under lights.
A few tips you might find helpful
1. Don't handle your chicks for the first day or so after they are shipped to you, they have had a stressful way to go and you want to let them get well acclimated
2. Give your chicks room temperature water to reduce the problems of ingesting too much cold water which in turn can further lower body temperature of new chicks
3. If chicks won't drink you can add a dash of sugar to the water to help for the first 24 hours
4. If you notice some stuck substances at the chick's vent you will need to help remove this with a warm damp towel, this problem is caused by stress (pasty butt) and can resolve itself within a few days if you continue to remove the crust
5. If you have a sickly chick, you can remove it from the rest for 24 hours and see if it improves, if so reintroduce it to the rest.