INTRO TO RAISING CHICKS/DUCKLNGS

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO GET STARTED + FAQ!

Published March 9, 2021

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Y'all its officially Chick Days! Everyone is talking about it and Spring chick fever is real right now! There’s going to be a bunch of new chick & duckling parents out there soon.. (if not already) so keep reading, if that's you! First thing to keep in mind is that raising happy and healthy chicks/ducklings is a pretty simple thing to do and is pretty much the same between the two besides just a few differences.

 

Ducks have a few other needs as far as growth and diet but we will go over all of that and more in the second half of this article! If I miss anything you are curious about, please feel free to comment down below and I'll make sure to edit the article and include my thoughts/experiences on the topic!

 

Please note that all advice below is based on if you raise/hatch chicks and not if a mama hen is hatching/raising them for you. I will publish my sister article soon about how I accommodate and set up a broody hen nest/brooder pen.

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LOCATION OF BROODER:

  • Let's start out with location, it needs to be a completely safe & predator free place in your home, barn or garage. That means, even from your own house cats, dogs and even rats. I like to keep a screen top on our brood box since I keep our birds in an area where my cats and dogs have access to.  If you keep them in the garage, rats can be a huge problem so just keep that in mind. When I lived in the city, I had a front mud room that stayed fairly warm so I was able to close off the animals and we didn't have to keep a top on the brood bin, so it just depends on your personal situation.

  • The brooder bin should also be located in a draft free area & also a place that doesn't get too hot either. Mud rooms are perfect locations for brooders because they are usually attached to the house so they stay fairly temperature regulated and they can be closed off from the rest of the house. Garages & barns can tend to be a lot colder so just supplement with the proper amount of heat to make sure chicks are plenty warm. 

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This is the screen top I use to protect our chicks. Its a small dog pen I got from amazon all folded up. Use whatever works for you. 

BROODER TANKS/BINS/CAGES: These are the tanks/cages they will live from 1 day old up to a couple months old or when they are ready to be moved outside.

  • I like to keep them in a large metal stock tank that can be purchased from Tractor supply but also a large rubbermaid plastic bin that has high walls can be used but do not use the solid lid since they come with because of course they need to breath.

  • Once they outgrow the tank and no longer need the heat lamp, I usually move them to either a larger stock tank or into a large dog crate with a larger dust bath.

  • When the chicks are around 3 months old, fully feathered and big enough to protect themselves, I transition them to their own protected area outside next to our main flock to adjust to them but not fully exposed so they wont get terribly picked on. 

  • After 2-4 weeks of adjusting to the flock I'll join them with the rest. They will be fully feathered and wont need any sort of heat by then. 

  • DUCKLING BROODERS: I do the same for my ducklings but just keep in mind they grow and become fully feathered a lot faster than chicks do. 

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We use the county line metal stock tank for our chicks, its super easy to clean out, it has super high walls (which keeps the chicks from flying out) and is less likely to catch on fire. 

BROODER FLOORING: I personally really like to line the bottom with either rubber cupboard shelving liner or pine shavings (large flake). 

  • But from experience, shelving liner is so much better than pine shavings because it's so much easier to clean, it doesn't get in their food & water, is not near as much of a fire hazard (that is, if you use heat lamps) and of course since it has such great grip it helps prevent "spraddle leg"- which is a common leg deformity in new born chicks & ducks. I like to take it out, spray it down and replace with a dry liner. Once it's dry I'll bring inside and use it again when I clean the cage next and I'll just rotate back and forth. When they start to smell sour I'll wash them in the washing machine. 

  • You can continue to use the liner once you transfer to the dog crate or larger bin. I also use old wash cloths for added warmth. Its especially helpful for ducklings as their shavings get super soggy and wet very fast. 

Picture above is of a couple of my ducklings from about 4 years back. I have been using cupboard liner for a long time. 

BROODER HEAT SOURCES: A heat plate or heat lamp is an absolute must for the survival of your chicks. Chicks that get too cold with failure to thrive, stop eating and drinking completely and eventually die from organ failure.

  • I use a wide range of different chick heat plates in my brooders (I've gotten some from amazon and tractor).

  • Not only do I prefer plates in my own brooder but I recommend them over a heat lamp any day because they are so much safer and you have zero risk of burning down your house, garage or barn.

  • Regardless of if you use a plate or lamp, you'll want to keep it to one side of the bin because they need a space that is out of the heat so they can cool off if need be. If they overheat they can die very quickly. I prefer to keep it on the side opposite of the food and water. 

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This heat plate I got from Amazon and it works well for our chicks. I also bought the one linked below from Tractor Supply and I think I actually like it more because it has 2 modes: brooder & heater, which I thought was pretty cool. Basically any heat plate made for chickens will work and will probably be decent.

BROODER TEMPATURE: Temperature directly under heat plate or lamp needs to be around 95 degrees to start and then can be dropped 5 degrees each week until they are adjusted to room temp.

  • I use a little room temp gauge and stick it directly under the middle of the heat plate on the brooder floor and wait 5 minutes to see what the temp is, if its too cold I'll adjust the plate/lamp to sit closer to the floor of the brooder until the temp read 95. As the weeks progress, I'll move the brooder/plate up and then eventually out. 

FEED/FEEDERS/SUPPLEMENTS: 1 quart and other size chick feeders are easily found at @tractorsupply or @amazon, some of the ones I use are linked below. You can easily order all of your products online on Tractor Supply's website and pick up your entire order in store.

  • I feed only *unmedicated* chick starter/grower crumble until they are around 5-6 months or start laying eggs. Once they start laying, I switch them over to layer pellets. Medicated feed has Amprolium which is suppose to help vaccinate chicks against coccidiosis but I dnt believe feeding a medicated diet to any of my animals and the chicks don't need it. Add small amounts of dirt from outside each time you clean out their cage and they will naturally become adjusted. 

  • Depending on the age of the chicks when I receive them or if I hatch them, I may put marbles in the bottom of the waterer for the first week, to prevent any accidentally drowning that may occur (generally 1-5 days old) *not needed for ducklings*.

  • For the first month or so I add Sav-A-Chick Probiotics & Electrolytes into their water to help with energy & stomach health. This gives them lots of energy each day and helps build good immunities. 

  • I always keep NUTRI-DRENCH on hand for emergencies.

These are all very reputable and quality chick feeds. I use NUTRENA for all my chicks so I tend to buy their feed but again all are great options.

Chick feeders should start out small and then grow in size as they do. The two options above are the size you should start with when getting chicks less than 2 weeks old.

NUTRI-DRENCH, SAV-A-CHIK, and CHICK GRIT all found on amazon and your local TRACTOR SUPPLY or FEED STORE. 

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ADJUSTING YOUR CHICKS TO YOUR CHICKENS GERMS:

This is often overlooked and not often talked about but is very important if you have a pre-existing flock.

  • Every flock has its own set of germs and not only that but all dirt and grass naturally have coccidiosis living in it so its important to adjust your chicks to all of these germs/bacteria's to avoid future sickness or possible death.

  • How I slowly adjust my chicks is by adding a tiny bit of dirt from the flocks run to their bin/cage in some way. I start around a week old and I'll add a handful over their bedding or in their dust baths. I'll increase the amount of dirt each time I refill their dust bath or clean out their cage. I'll then add some dusted over their food and over time they will be fully adjusted and will be able to go outside to join the rest of the flock at anytime. 

BOREDOM BUSTERS: Some of  favorite things to add in their brooders to help from picking and boredom are little mirrors, roosting bars, mini dust bathes, grass, toy stuffed animals, dirt from outside, etc. for them to play with and keep them focused on things other than each other. 

Here are a few boredom busters from amazon: a compact mirror, a litter box to fill with dirt for them to dust bathe in and some cute chick roosting bars! Get creative and have fun with our new babies!

DUCKLINGS vs. CHICKS

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In the paragraphs above I went over basics for chicks but I’d also like to go over some basics for ducklings. As mentioned a few times already ducklings are very similar to chicks with just some slight differences so I’ll go over what I like to supplement in my ducklings feed, some treats I like to give & some other basic care but I generally raise them in the same environment as I raise my chicks.

SUPPLEMENTS/TREATS: From day 1, I like to mix 'Brewers Yeast' into my ducklings food, which can be found at most feed stores or online. I usually don't start feeding treats until at least 3 fays old.

  • Brewers yeast is high in niacin and ducks sometimes can be born naturally low in niacin which can develop into bone/developmental issues in their legs. Feeding niacin will help them develop strong healthy leg bones. 

  • At about 2-3 days old I start feeding them tiny mealworms and itty bitty shreds of Leafy green in their water.

  • At about 2 weeks old I'll start feedings them little minnows during their supervised swimming time. 

CHICK FEED:

Just like chicks, I feed ducklings regular chick feed but with ducks its actually crucial to feed ducklings only NON-MEDICATED feed.

  • The reason for this is that ducklings tend to over eat compared to chicks and they can literally over medicate and kill themselves or make themselves very ill if given medicated chick feed.

  • I also add chick grit in their food from day 1 to help digest any greens and worms that I give them in their food or water. I actually often just grab a handful of dirt from outside and add that to their food because it is just as good if not better than chick grit, dirt naturally is what's best for their system, it will also help build their coccidiosis immunity and it wont get compacted in their crop or digestive tract. 

  • I tend to give my ducklings access to treats/greens/insects/little fish way before chicks and the reason for that is they grow much much faster than chicks do and if they are on a high protein chick feed only diet it can cause them to grow even faster and inevitably causes developmental issues. For instance, like angel wing, which is caused from a high protein diet, their wings grow faster than their body, they cant hold their wings up to their body and they end up having a lifetime deformity if not corrected with braces and a massive change in diet.

  • I do not feed a specialized duck or water fowl diet to my ducks at any life stage and once they get big enough to join the rest of the flock, they will eat what I feed the rest of the flock which is an "all flock", I personally really love NUTRENA. 

SUPERVISED SWIMMING: Once they are about a week old, I let them start supervised swimming dates in a large tub or bin of water.

  • When I say supervised that literally means I do not leave their side the entire time. Ducklings that are not born and raised under their mom do not have the natural oils yet that help ducklings stay water proof in the wild. So eventually the babies will get tired and their feathers will become heavy from the water and sadly they can drown if you don't keep a god eye on them.

  • I like to add big rocks or bricks inside the bin so they also have a spot they can stand on and rest their legs if they want.

  • Most of the time I'll add chopped up grass, chopped up peas and carrots, mashed up strawberries, to teach them to dive and forage in water. And at about a week old I'll add live minnows or other small fish. 

  • I try to do supervised swim visits daily but if not daily, as often as I can. 15-20 miutes is all they need!

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A couple of my ducklings swimming supervised in a Rubbermaid tub full of water. 

That wraps up my list of everything you need to know to get started raising chicks or ducklings! I genuinely hope this article helps you feel prepared for your new homesteading adventure with your new farmily members! Below you can download checklist you can save to your phone or print out to take with you to your local feed store or tractor supply! Download for Free below! 

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