Baby chickens are born ready to eat on their own and explore the world soon after hatching. Baby chickens will stay close to the mother hen for warmth and protection, but the mother hen does not directly feed them. Many chicks hatch in an incubator and are raised without a hen present. These chicks will eat food provided for them and require little feeding assistance from their human caretakers. If you are raising chicks without a hen, you need to provide them with clean food and water, warmth and protection from predators.
Incubation and Hatching
A fertilized egg will hatch into a chick after 21 days of incubation. Approximately 24 hours prior to hatching, the chick will start to peep inside the egg -- this signifies that the lungs have developed. Once a chick hatches, it can survive for up to three days without eating because it will still have stored energy from the yolk consumed while inside the egg.
Newly hatched chicks should be moved into a brooder once they are dried and fluffed up if they are not being raised by the mother hen. The brooder floor should have absorbent material that is easy for the chicks to walk on -- pine shavings work well for this. The brooder should be kept at 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week and slowly decreased to 70 degrees during the next several weeks. Heat for the brooder can be provided with an overhead heat lamp -- the chicks will arrange themselves a proper distance from the heat source to maintain their ideal body temperature.
Baby chicks should be fed a commercially manufactured starter feed once they are 1 to 2 days old. The feed can be provided to them free choice in a feeder designed for baby chicks and comes as a mash or crumbles. Chicks are not careful about where they go to the bathroom so it is important to clean their feeding area frequently to help prevent coccidiosis. Coccidiosis can cause death in newborn chicks by causing severe gastrointestinal disturbances leading to dehydration and shock. Selecting a medicated starter feed for your baby chicks can help reduce the chance for coccidiosis.
Besides coccidiosis, baby chicks are vulnerable to a variety of diseases, many of which are related to improper hygiene in the brooder. Baby chicks can suffer from "pasty butt" if their droppings stick to their skin and feathers. This makes it difficult or impossible for the chick to pass more droppings. Carefully inspect and clean the bottoms of your chicks to prevent accumulation of dried droppings. Mold spores or bacteria in the brooder can cause severe lung infections and young chicks are especially vulnerable. Baby chicks are also somewhat clumsy and prone to drowning accidents in their water source. Placing marbles or small stones in the water dish for the first week or so can help prevent accidental drownings in the young chicks.
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