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Raising Day-Old Chicks: A Step-by-Step Guide for Urban Farmers

Hello, fellow urban farmers and gardening enthusiasts! Today, we're going to talk about a popular addition to urban farms and backyard gardens: day-old chicks. These adorable little creatures not only add a unique charm to your urban farm, but also provide fresh eggs and natural pest control. In this blog post, we will guide you through buying and raising day-old chicks up to the point where they can start going outside on nice days.

While our photos will feature our little chicks, the information is generally applicable to any breed of chicks you choose for your backyard flock!

We chose Polish and Crèvecœur chickens for our urban backyard flock for a few reasons:

  • We live in Spokane, so we needed chickens that are heat-hardy, and to a slightly-lesser point, cold-hardy.
  • We live in an urban area with a small backyard, so we needed small chickens. Also, roosters are against code in the city limits, so we needed the chicks to be sexed. We were unable to find any Silkies or Bantams that weren't straight-run in Spokane (which means you can get roosters or hens).
  • We wanted chickens that will be happy in confinement, because even in the city, we have predators such as raccoons and hawks, so it's not necessarily safe for them to always free-range.

Here's a little more information about these breeds:

About Polish and Crèvecœur chickens:

Polish Chickens

Polish chickens are a unique and eye-catching breed known for their distinctive "top hat" of feathers on their head. This crest is due to a bony prominence called a protuberance, which supports the growth of their extravagant plumage. Polish chickens are generally friendly, curious, and gentle birds, making them popular among backyard poultry keepers. They are moderate layers, producing about 150-200 medium-sized white eggs per year.

Crèvecœur Chickens:

Crèvecœur (sometimes spelled Crevecoeur or Creve Coeur) chickens are a rare and heritage breed originating from France. They are known for their unique appearance, with a large crest of feathers and a V-shaped comb. Crèvecœur chickens are slightly larger than Polish chickens, with the hens typically weighing around 6-7 pounds (2.7-3.2 kg) and the roosters weighing around 8-9 pounds (3.6-4 kg). They are decent layers, producing about 150-180 medium-sized white to light brown eggs per year. Crèvecœur chickens are known for their docile and friendly temperament, making them a good choice for backyard flocks.

Below is a photo of our chicks. We are raising two Polish chicks ('Peep' is a White Crested Blue Polish, on the far right; 'Margot' is a Silver Lace Polish, in the middle) and one Crèvecœur named 'Jezebel' (on the left).

Photo of three baby polish chicks happy in a small coop

White Crested Blue Polish chickens have blue-gray feathers on their body and a contrasting white crest on their head.

Silver Lace Polish chickens feature striking black and white laced feathers. The lacing pattern creates an intricate and visually appealing contrast on the bird's plumage.

Step 1:

Preparing for Your Chicks

Before you bring home your day-old chicks, it's essential to have a proper brooder set up. A brooder is a warm, safe, and comfortable environment where your chicks will spend their first few weeks. A large plastic tote or a cardboard box with a lid can work well as a brooder. Make sure to line the bottom with wood shavings or straw for insulation and easy cleaning. You'll also need a heat lamp, a thermometer, a waterer, and a feeder.

Image of a DIY chick brooder box with everything needed for happy healthy chicks 

Step 2:

Buying Day-Old Chicks

You can buy day-old chicks from reputable hatcheries or local breeders. Research and read reviews to ensure you're purchasing from a trustworthy source. When selecting your chicks, look for healthy, active, and alert birds. They should have bright eyes and clean vents (butts). Avoid any chicks that appear lethargic or have discharge around their eyes or vents.

 Bringing day-old chicks home from the store

Step 3:

Introducing Your Chicks to the Brooder

When you bring your chicks home, gently place them in the brooder under the heat lamp. The temperature should be around 95°F (35°C) during their first week of life. Lower the temperature by 5°F (3°C) each week until it reaches room temperature. Monitor the chicks' behavior to ensure they are comfortable. If they huddle under the heat lamp, they are cold and need more warmth. If they are panting and staying away from the heat source, they may be too hot.

( Don't worry, they're sleeping)

 Cute baby chicks asleep in a brooder under a heat lamp

We noticed our chicks really liked laying down on a paper towel for bedding, and we eventually added a cardboard shoe box with some cut-out sections for them to explore and use for shelter.

Keeping three chicks happy and stimulated in a brooder box with DIY cardboard structures

After a couple weeks, we noticed them spending a lot of time in the cardboard box and avoiding the brightest spot under their heat lamp, so we decided to upgrade their heat source to an adjustable elevated chick heating element. They really enjoy the gentle heat, and we really like how it is safer than a heat lamp in terms of fire hazards. And because they can explore and feel secure under the heater, we got rid of the cardboard box so they have adequate space.

Moving forward, we would highly recommend using a thermo chick heating brooder over the traditional heat lamp due to the fact the chicks are provided with the perfect amount of heat.

A DIY chick brooder box with an adjustable safe heating element

Peep REALLY likes it under the heater!

A cute Polish chick warming up under a chick warmer

Step 4:

Feeding and Watering

Provide your chicks with a high-quality chick starter feed, which contains all the essential nutrients they need for healthy growth. Make sure the feed is easily accessible in a shallow dish or a chick feeder. We chose a general, medicated chick feed. As for water, use a shallow waterer specifically designed for chicks to prevent drowning. Clean the waterer daily and refill it with fresh water. They tend to get a lot of pine shavings in their water! 

What is medicated chick feed and why should I choose it?

Medicated chick feed is a specially formulated feed for young chicks, containing medication to help prevent coccidiosis, a common and potentially fatal intestinal disease. Coccidiosis is caused by the microscopic protozoan parasite called Eimeria, which invades the lining of the chick's intestines. When infected, chicks can experience diarrhea, weight loss, poor growth, and even death. It can quickly wipe out all your baby chicks.

To put it simply, think of medicated chick feed as a special food that helps protect baby chickens from a harmful, tiny organism that can make them very sick.

Using medicated chick feed is important, particularly for young chicks, as their immune systems are still developing and they are more susceptible to infections. By feeding medicated chick feed to your young birds (usually up until they are 6-8 weeks old), you are providing them with a measure of protection against coccidiosis while their immune systems mature.

Amprolium is not an antibiotic. It is classified as a coccidiostat, which means it is a medication specifically designed to help prevent and control coccidiosis, an intestinal disease caused by the protozoan parasite Eimeria. Unlike antibiotics, which target bacterial infections, amprolium is specifically effective against coccidia parasites.

Adding this does not compromise the quality of eggs or the health of laying hens, despite many conspiracy theories online.

Step 5:

Monitoring Health and Growth

Keep a close eye on your chicks as they grow, checking for any signs of illness or injury. Watch for pasty butt (a condition where droppings stick to their vents, preventing elimination) and treat it by gently cleaning the area with a warm, wet cloth. In the first few weeks, weigh your chicks regularly to ensure they are growing at a healthy rate.

Step 6:

Socializing and Handling

Handle your chicks gently and frequently to help them become used to human interaction. This will make it easier for you to care for them as they grow older. Speak softly and move slowly to avoid startling them.

Three chicks roosting on an arm together, showing the importance of handling chicks regularly to socialize them and get them used to humans handling them 

Step 7:

Transitioning to the Outdoors

Once your chicks are fully feathered (usually around 6-8 weeks old) and outdoor temperatures are consistently above 50°F (10°C), you can start introducing them to the outside world. Begin by taking them out for short periods on warm, sunny days, gradually increasing the time they spend outdoors. Ensure they have access to shade, food, and water while they are outside. Observe their behavior closely and bring them back inside if they show signs of distress or discomfort.

A Silver Laced Polish Chick enjoying the outdoors in the grass

Click here to continue reading part 2, where we'll show you how we constructed our backyard chicken coop!

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