Poultry for beginners

chick on grassThis is the time of year that many people start getting excited about raising poultry.  You get a shiny catalog in the mail with all kinds of cool looking birds.  You start seeing the local feed mills and farm supply stores running “chick days”.  You stop into the post office early on in the morning and hear the cheeps of mail-order chicks waiting to be sent to their new owners.

For those that are not old hats at raising poultry, caring for young birds isn’t hard, but does require some attention to detail.  What do chicks need to survive and thrive?  A draft-free enclosure, dry bedding, clean water, and a good starter feed.

The brooding area might start out in an old stock tank, a large cardboard box, or a small section in your poultry coop.  This area is generally heated with a heat lamp and a 250 watt bulb that gets hot.  Some safety precautions need to be taken to ensure that if something happens to the lamp, it does not end up on a pile of dry shavings creating a fire hazard.  Generally the brood area has tall sides to prevent drafts of cold air from sapping the strength of your chicks.

When brooding day old chicks or other birds, the temperature at chick level needs to start off at 95°F for the first week.  After the first week, you will gradually reduce the temperature by 5°F each week until you get to ambient temperature.  Note this process takes about six weeks to go from 95°F to 70°F.

You may need to continue some supplemental heating for birds that have not fully feathered out at six weeks.  Some careful planning can eliminate the need for supplemental heating beyond six weeks, but that will also mean that you will likely not be purchasing chicks prior to the first week of March.

Keeping the water for chicks clean can be somewhat of a challenge.  Chicks are naturally curious and will pick at their bedding, which sometimes ends up in their waterer.  Raising up a traditional chick waterer onto a scrap piece of wood or a brick can help keep the water cleaner longer.

Once the chicks get a bit older, you might consider a bucket with nipples to water your birds for the ultimate in clean water.  Birds naturally pick at shiny objects and learn how to use nipples quite rapidly.  They can also be fairly easily made by someone with a bit of do-it-yourself determination.

A starter chick feed is generally around 22% protein.  Note that if you are raising, turkeys, ducks, geese, or basically anything other than a chicken, you will need a higher percent protein starter.  These are sometimes labeled as “game starter”.  The starter feed is what the chicks will eat for the first four weeks.  Once the chicks have reached four weeks, you switch them over to a grower feed that usually contains 17-20% protein.  If your chicks are destined to be laying birds, once they reach their mature size, they will be switched to a layer ration with around 16% protein and a higher level of calcium to support egg production.


Note: This article originally was published in the Marquette County Tribune, Waushara Argus, and/or the Berlin Journal.  This article was written by Lyssa Seefeldt, UW-Extension Agriculture Agent for Marquette County unless otherwise noted.