Great Eggs-Pectations
Feb 23, 2023

Great Eggs-Pectations

Newly hatched chicks are very tiny. They are delicate, fuzzy – and so cute! They are also vulnerable to the harsh world around them. Baby chicks need all the advantages they can get. Once you have committed to stepping in as a mother hen, the care is in your hands.
  • First, invest in a good coop that will be a good home for the baby and its mates. Chicks are social animals that need companionship and thrive in a flock.  You will need a large enough brooder for the number of chicks you plan to raise equipped with a feeder and waterer. 
  • The bedding should be an inch of wood shavings. You will also want an electric chick warmer or a heat lamp with a red bulb that can be raised and lowered to regulate the heat on the birds.  Once you have these basics, you are ready to welcome home your new chicks!  

Six Chicken Growth Milestones:  A Roadmap To Creating A Complete Feeding Program

Weeks 1-4: Baby Chicks
Bedding:  An inch of bedding provides chicks with the dry, warm environment they need. Be aware that shredded paper has microfilaments that can cause respiratory problems in the birds, so using the larger wood shavings is a good choice.  Raising chicks on newspaper, plastic, or slick surfaces may cause their legs to splay, making walking difficult or impossible. Spraddle leg can be permanent if left uncorrected, resulting in distress in the chick that can lead to death.  

The bedding should be spot-cleaned daily and changed every 2-3 days.

Heating:  Without a mother hen to keep the chicks warm, the next best substitute is a warming pad or heat lamp. The most
common option is a heat lamp. A radiant heat lamp will heat the chicks’ bodies and provide them with the comfort of shelter and sleep.  Ensure your heat lamp is secure and that the height is adjustable. To adjust the heat from a heat lamp, hang it 18” to 24” from the chicks. The proper temperature for the chicks should range between 85- and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Use an outdoor thermometer to measure air temperature to ensure a suitable climate for the chicks.

The best way to monitor if the temperature is comfortable is to pay attention to your baby chicks! The chicks are cold if they huddle under the light loudly peeping, and are hot if they are away from the heat. The chicks are comfortable if they are all spaced out, pecking around, and going about their business. The red bulbs do not resemble daylight, like a white bulb, and help chicks sleep at night. Also, the red light is not harmful to the chicks’ eyes and tends to keep chicks from pecking at one another.

Water & Food
Introduce baby chicks to your brooder, and provide fresh room-temperature water for the first few hours, allowing the chicks to rehydrate before they feed.  If chicks seem unsure about the water, feel free to dip their beaks into the water. Provide your chicks with electrolytes and probiotics through their water. The electrolytes provide energy and help to keep your wee ones hydrated.  Probiotics help aid in digestive health. The two can be used alone or combined for ultimate health. (Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions and recommendations.)  +Start by giving a complete starter-grower feed with at least 18 percent protein to support growth. Starter feed with amino acids is essential for chick development.  Prebiotics and probiotics are vital for immune health, plus vitamins and minerals to support bone health. 

When you purchase your chicks at Shipton’s Big R, they will be unvaccinated. For non-vaccinated chicks, we recommend the medicated feed to prevent coccidiosis, a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract.  A medicated chick starter feed will provide the extra boost they need to protect from illness.

Weeks 5-15: The Teenage Chicken Stage
During weeks 5 and 6, chicks will display visible growth changes; new primary feathers will come in, and a pecking order will begin developing. Growing birds are now referred to differently. Pullet is the term for a teenage female, while a young male is called a cockerel. Between weeks 7 and 15, the physical differences between genders will become apparent.

Continue to feed a complete starter-grower feed during the teenage stage, in addition to 18 percent protein. The feed should not contain more than 1.25 percent calcium. 

Weeks 16-17: Switch from chick starter to layer feed
It is time to consider layer feed options to make a smooth transition. Compared to a starter-grower, a layer of chicken feed has less protein and more calcium for egg production. Look for a chicken layer feed that matches your flock’s goals. Recommended layer feed made with simple, wholesome ingredients and 16 percent protein, at least 3.25 percent calcium, vitamins, and minerals.

Week 18:  Laying eggs
When birds reach 18 weeks old, or the first egg arrives, transition to a layer feed. It is best to transition over time rather than all
at once to prevent digestive upset. Mix the starter feed with the layer feed evenly for four or five days. If birds are used to crumbles, start with a crumble layer feed. The same goes for pellets. The more similar the two feeds are, the smoother the transition.

Month 18: Molting Chickens
18-month feathers will likely begin to cover the coop floor. Welcome to the season of molting chickens! The first molt usually occurs in the fall as days become shorter. Your flock will break from egg-laying and shed feathers for a few weeks. Molting is natural and will happen every year.  

It is essential to keep your flock strong during molting. Protein is the key nutrient in a flock’s diet because feathers are made of 80-85 percent protein, whereas eggshells are primarily calcium. When molt begins, switch to a complete feed with 20 percent protein. A high-protein full feed is essential for feather regrowth. Once birds begin producing eggs again, change back to a layer of feed.

5+ Years: Laying Hen Retirement
One day, the time may come for the veterans of a flock to take a vacation and retire from egg-laying. At this point transition retiring hens to a higher-protein feed. Although a laying hen will stop laying as she ages, she still has an important place in the flock as a steady companion who brings joy to the entire family.

"Newly hatched chicks are very tiny. They are delicate, fuzzy – and so cute!"