Chicks Week 1: Feeding and Heating Urgencies
Rachel Hurd Anger, Urban Farm Contributor
Friday, August 1, 2014
Courtesy Rachel Hurd Anger
Five future egg layers arrived safely to the post office this week. Two different postal employees called within minutes of each other to announce the chicks’ arrival, which says something about the infectious joy these little peeps can spread.
With caution, I asked the first employee who called, "Are they chirping? My last shipment was a loss. Please tell me they’re chirping.”
He said the chicks sounded great, so I ran to the brooder, plugged in the heater, and trusted the kids to dress themselves while I was on the phone with the second postal employee. Then I rounded up everyone’s shoes, and we were off!
If all goes well, chicks are born tough and relatively independent. Shipped via USPS, they can survive through the mail for up to 72 hours. Their yolk sacs sustain them for that long, but they should never take that long to reach the brooder. Chicks should be led to food and water as soon as possible after hatching. If they reach you in just 24 hours, there’s no reason to delay feeding, watering and warming.
Quality chick feed comes in medicated or non-medicated formulas and organic or conventional. What you choose is up to you, but have it ready to go in the feeder before your chicks arrive. Chick grit is also available to offer free-choice to your birds, but it’s not appropriate for chicks under 2 weeks of age. Some might suggest offering sand, but it’s not safe, sometimes causing impacted crops in young chicks.
Baby chicks need to be kept in a temperature of 95 degrees F during the first week of life, which necessitates bringing them home as soon as possible, satiated for three days or not. Each week, as they grow and regulate their own body heat, you can reduce temperature by 5 degrees.
To be frank, keeping the brooder at 95 degrees F is a pain. A traditional heat lamp has to be hung just so, and the ambient temperature tracked by a thermometer. The light is oppressive, even if you’re using a red bulb. (This is my own opinion as an adult human. I can’t imagine what it feels like to a fuzz ball the size of an egg.)
Five weeks ago after I lost my last batch of chicks, I threw out my old conventional heat lamp, and returned the shiny red bulb to the pet store for someone else to fight with. I couldn’t get it rigged the way I wanted it for the new brooder I’d built. Had the Lavender Orp lived, I would have found a way, but after they were all buried, I projected my grief onto that lamp and threw it away.
As poultry enthusiasts do, I decided to hatch out of my own egg and try something new. I splurged on the Brinsea EcoGlo20 chick heater in preparation for my replacement chick order. The decision to spend $80 on a chick heater is a very personal one, but I have to admit that it’s the best chick purchase I’ve made. The birds aren’t under oppressive light, and they snuggle under its warmth and darkness like it’s a mama hen. It rests like a table right inside the brooder, uses less energy than a conventional heat lamp, and the very best part is that it can’t burn anyone. For me, the safety around my kids makes the investment worthwhile. And, of course, I have the happiest chicks in town.
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