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Raising Chickens - Caring for Baby Chicks
Purchasing chicks from farm stores can be an advantage as they can offer a choice of males (cockerels) or females (pullets) or straight run which is the natural mix at hatching. Keep in mind that the natural mix is probably 50 – 60 percent males. Determining the sex is difficult and requires special training and even the skilled specialists are not perfectly accurate, so expect up to a 10 percent difference. The most important thing to do when choosing to start with chicks is to PREPARE FOR THEIR ARRIVAL AHEAD OF TIME. You will need to set up a brooding area that will accommodate 1/4 square foot for each new chick up to 1 month old and then expand the area as they grow. It will need to be constantly warm and draft free and you should have a thermometer to make sure the right temperature is maintained. You see, new chicks require temperatures of 95 – 100 degrees F for the first couple of weeks and then you will gradually reduce that by 5 degrees each week until they have their feathers to keep them warm. This can be accomplished with something as simple as a cardboard box and a clamp light. The chicks will tell you if they are too hot; they will spread their wings and pant. Likewise, they will tell you if they are too cold because they will all huddle together in a little ball. Sanitation is really important and everything will need to be disinfected ahead of time so the area has time to dry. Then you will need some type of bedding to catch their droppings, which needs to be changed daily. Set out a small water container made for chicks and buy chick starter crumbles (18-20 percent protein, completely balanced) to make sure they get all the nutrients they need for proper health. Keep their food and water clean, even if you have to change them more than once a day. Without a mama hen to teach them, you will have to act as a surrogate when they arrive. On their first day, dipped the beak of each chick into the water so they would know where it's located and set them in a tray of their food so they recognize what their food is. After a few days you can replace the food bowls with chick feeders, which will stay clean longer. Move slowly and carefully so you don't scare them and be sure to wash your hands after handling the chicks or cleaning up their area.
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