This week, we had a few additions join our happy little ranch by mail order. This was the first time that I ordered poultry online, and decided to give it a go. Each year, I like to try raising a different small animal breeds to challenge myself in producing my own food. Last year, it was rabbits; and this year, I decided to add some turkeys to the mix. Since my local feed store didn’t carry turkeys, I decided to order them online along with some baby chickens. When you order poultry online, you have a great variety to choose from. Here are some popular hatcheries that are online:
The downside to this choice, is the day old chicks can get stressed from long transport and could become ill or die. To circumvent this, it is imperative that you get everything in order ahead of time and anticipate what your chicks will need when you open the shipping container.
1. Make sure you have your brooder set up before they arrive. Get the brooder set up and make sure you have these eight items in the chick nursery. As well, test all of your equipment to make sure it’s in working order.
2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! As soon as your chicks arrive, you need to get them hydrated. After long transports, chicks can be a little lethargic and possibly on the verge of becoming dehydrated. I like to give my chicks homemade electrolytes as soon I they get into the chicken brooder. Within 30 minutes of the chicks drinking the electrolytes, they pep up and seem more alert. Here’s a recipe you can use:
Homemade Electrolyte Recipe
- 8 ounces warm water
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
I usually dilute this with more water for my chicks, but this recipe is great for all livestock. Use full strength on severely ailing chickens, otherwise mix into their drinking water as needed, a cup per gallon of water. Use this electrolyte drink for the first few days and then switch to regular drinking water.
3. Make sure they have food available. Right before a chick hatches, it consumes the nutrient rich yolk from the egg. This gives the hatched chicks the most essential nutrients they’ll need to live off of for approximately two days. Therefore, during transport, they usually do not require feeding; however, by the time they make it to your door, they will probably be wanting some chick crumble. One way to revive your mail order chicks is to mix the electrolyte drink recipe (listed above) in with some of the chick starter to create a mush. Give your birds this special feed and water mix for 3 to 4 days to help get their energy up.
In addition to the “chick mush,” on Day 1, I also scramble an egg for the chicks and let them snack on this for the first day. Scrambled eggs is nutrient dense and the perfect food to give them needed vitamins.
4. Extra chick tip! Did you know that a chicken’s gut is directly related to their health? Keep this in mind when trying to boost their health. Here are six natural remedies you can give your chicks so they develop strong guts and good health.
5. Monitor their progress. Chickens really are one the easiest livestock breeds to care for. As long as you give them what they need to survive, they will take care of themselves. For the first few days, I like to be nearby to check the thermometer inside their brooder to make sure they aren’t too hot or too cold. After day 3, I stop giving them electrolytes and instead, add a probiotic to their water to help them begin developing a healthy gut.
After the first week, I will start sprinkling grit on their food and begin introducing them to fresh herbs and grasses for them to nibble on.
Listen to their cues
Like all babies, you can usually tell if your chicks need something. If they are panting, have shrill peeps, seem lethargic or are piling up and smothering each other, these are all indicators that something is wrong in the brooder. Perhaps the temperature needs to be adjusted, or they are out of water or food.
Time to move them outdoors
After six weeks, start paying attention to see if your chicks are ready to be moved outside. They should have a full set of feathers grown and be able to withstand temperatures up to 70 degrees F. Usually, when the chicks no longer need a heat lamp, it’s time to start getting them ready for their coop. Start transitioning them by moving their brooder or nursery to a colder part of your house. During warm days, chickens that have most of their feathers (sometime between 2 and 4 weeks old) can spend the afternoon outside and return to the brooder at night. At six weeks, you can add them to the coop with their heat lamp on at night to ensure they will be warm enough.