I know as a beginner chicken keeper, I was so worried I would do something wrong. Here are some of my biggest worries and how I survived them!
· What if they’re too hot, or too cold?
This may have been my biggest worry. Have a thermometer, but use the chicks as guides. My chicks decided they liked it at around 90 degrees on the first day! Have 95 or 100 degrees for you starting point. If the chicks are peeping and skittering around, they a happy. If they are too hot they will let you know with indignant noises and panting. If they are too cold, they will huddle together. I would suggest getting to know your heat lamp before you get the chicks. Know how far to raise it to lower the temp by a few degrees, or how much to lower it to get it slightly warmer. The day you are expecting the chicks, turn the lamp on to heat it up before they come.
· What if they don’t eat or drink?
Watch to see which chick is the leader. For me, my little leader chick would pick up another chicks leg and drag her around the brooder! Take the apparent leader and gently take its beak and dip it into the water. If one starts drinking, the others will follow. Still make sure everyone is drinking. Do the same with food. TIP Put marbles in the base of the waterer to make it shallow. Chicks have a habit of deciding to sleep wherever in a moment’s notice. The marbles will keep the chicks from being able to drown. I took them out at about three weeks, but I think you could take them out safely at about a week or so. ;)
· What about pasty butt or other sicknesses?
I would strongly recommend having the chicks vaccinated against cocci and mareks disease. Most hatcheries and breeders have this option. This will protect them against some serious illnesses. I also put electrolytes in the water. These helps them recover from shipping stress and a new place. I used the ‘Sav-a-chick’ brand and it worked very well. I made up one package (a gallon) and used it until it was gone then switched to regular water. As for pasty butt, I had one minor case. It is when poop hardens around the vent and a chick can’t properly ‘go’. This is life threatening, but it is easy to cure. Moisten the rear end with warm (not hot) water, the pick at it with a tooth pick, cotton ball, or if all else falls, fingers. Gross, yes, effective, yes. Be sure to wash your hands VERY WELL after words!The chick will protest loudly, but it will be fine. Putting 1 Tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to 1 gallon of water and giving that to the chicks will help keep away pasty butt, as well as small dose as plain yogurt. You might also try lowering the temperature a little bit, because overheating is one reason for pasty butt. *warning* Do not put ACV (apple cider vinegar) in a galvanized metal waterer- the acid will take the galvanize off the waterer and rot the water. This is bad for the chicks. If you run into other problems, I would recommend the backyardchickens.com forun!
· When can I start giving them treats? What can I give them?
3-4 week old chicks will begin to appreciate little treats. You can start putting things in there sooner, but they might not eat them. Apples, lettuce, shredded cheese and mealworms are good choices. My chicks L-O-V-E-D scrambled eggs and oatmeal. Be sure to give them grit when you start giving them other things to eat. Grit is little rocks that chickens eat and store in their crop, which helps them digest their food. Also, be sure to not give them to many treats, otherwise they won't get their proper nutrition from their regular food!
· When can they play outside? When can they go into the coop? When should I take the heat lamp away?
Outside- If it’s warm, sunny and not breezy, chicks can be brought outside as early as 2 weeks. Make sure they are in a safe enclosure and be sure to watch for hawks.
Coop- Mine went out to the coop at 5 weeks with the heat lamp. Make sure it doesn’t get below 55 degrees at nights if you don’t have a heat lamp until they are around 10 weeks old. They are feisty little buggers. They can stand cold when they are all feathered out. *warning* If you have a heat lamp in the coop make sure it is very very very secure and not supported by just the cord. Most coop fires are made by dropped heat lamps.
When to take away the heat lamp- You can take this away when the temperature outside is near the same as the temperature with the heat lamp and doesn’t get below 55 degrees until they are 10 weeks old.
ALSO. You can see the a couple chicks in the picture flopped on their sides - this is called sunbathing. Many chicks do this straight away to soak up some rays. I freaked out because it looked like the chicks were dying...they aren't. :)
What if my chicks never become tame?
Some breeds are shyer than others. For example, my buff Orpington is THE friendliest things, while my silver laced Wyandottes never really became real tame. Three things to remember- patience time and treats. Here is how I tamed mine- I would sit in the brooder. I would bring a book and just sit in there. Let the come to you. It wasn’t long before they would perch on my legs, feet, and shoulders. It became hard to read because they thought the periods were something to eat. :D They also liked to play king of the mountain on my feet. :P Treats from your hand gets them used to your hand. Some will never like to be held, some will tolerate it, and some will like it. It all depends on the chicken.
Last but not least-
· What can I feed to my chickens?
Most everything. Here is a very helpful list from Backyardchickens.com -http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/chicken-treat-chart-the-best-treats-for-backyard-chickens
I have a treat basket that gets filled during the day with scraps. At night the chickens always love their treats!
When will my chickens start laying?
While it varies, sometimes greatly, from breed to breed, starting getting REALLY excited for eggs at around 18 weeks. any color Stars, Leghorns, and Sex-links are early layers - mine started laying at 16 weeks, 5 days! Buff Orpingtons, Easter Eggers, and Wyandottes are "late bloomers" laying more around the 22-24 week point. Signs to look for in almost ready to lay chickens -
~ Reddening combs and wattles. I see many threads on BYC that are asking "Is this a rooster" when really they are getting ready to lay! (Not to say these threads are a bad thing - those people are honestly worried! No problem!)
~ Becoming more docile. Many chickens get calmy and not as flighty when the start to/right before laying eggs.
~ "The squat". Head down, wings out slightly, and stopping in the middle of running therefore making you fall head over heels. No matter how much it seems like it, they are not just making you fall and get muddy and sore for the fun of it. :) This is a sign of submission/ready to mate stance that indicates eggs are near!
Once you see one or all of these signs, get ready with the egg basket! Chickens will usually start laying in one week to one month.
I hope this was helpful for anybody starting to raise chickens!