Raising Baby Chicks
Hatching your own chicks and raising them to adults is the ultimate aim of many chicken keepers and can be very rewarding but can also be very challenging so shouldn't be undertaken lightly. This guide will cover the basic equipment needed and offer advice on the best practises to get the results needed.
Selecting your eggs
The first thing that you need to do is select your eggs, there are many different breeds of chicken and many ways of obtaining eggs. The most obvious way is to get a male and female of the breed you want and let nature take its course, this is fine if you just want a few chicks and are able to house an extremely loud cockerel and can make sure that the mother is going to sit on the nest properly.
If you can house 1 cockerel with several girls then you stand a fair chance of getting quite a few chicks, if more eggs are laid than can be sat on to keep warm and hatch then an incubator is your best bet.
If you don't already have the breed you want or can't house cockerels then fertilised eggs can be purchased, either online through the post, from a local farm or breeder or from a poultry auction.
It is worth noting that just because you have 6 eggs does not mean you are going to get 6 chickens and certainly not 6 hens, if you’re lucky this could happen but it's unlikely.
From a breeding pair of chickens about 80% of the eggs will be fertile and of these there is a 50/50 chance of male or female, so it is pretty much a certainty that some of your clutch will be male and will have to be separated from the hens as they grow.
The removal of the males is not something that can be ignored and can be an upsetting inevitability, especially if you are involving children in the process and something to keep in mind.
If you are planning on incubating your eggs then there are 2 pieces of crucial equipment that you will need.
First is a Candling Lamp, this is fairly inexpensive and will allow you to see through the shell of the egg and make sure that it is fertile, it's very frustrating to spend a month incubating eggs that are not even fertile!
We recommend the Brinsea OvaView Candling Lamp.
The second piece of equipment you need is the incubator itself, there are many different types depending on the amount of eggs hatching, budget and manual egg turning or automatic, visit or page on incubators HERE for more information on the different types.
Raising your chicks
So you've selected your eggs and incubated them for the required time and now they are starting to hatch! The great thing about chickens is that they hatch already covered in fluff and can stand almost straight away, they are not blind, naked and confined to a nest screaming for food like the birds in your garden. Within an hour they are up and about and will start eating and drinking, thanks to the remaining egg yolk inside them, freshly hatched chicks can go 48 hours without food and water but just because they can doesn’t mean they should so fresh water and food should be available immediately.
Chicks under heat lamps
At Court Farm Chickens we use heat lamps as they allow for more chicks than the Brooders and heat a larger area, they are also easy to regulate and can be connected to thermostats and individually controlled.
The downside is they can blow without warning; they use a lot of electric and could potentially be a fire hazard if they come into contact with the bedding.
The Brooders are a fantastic, safe and cost effective way to raise up to 20 chicks, they do cost more than heat lamps initially but they use a lot less electric and will last for years where as each heat lamp lasts around 1 - 2 months with continued use. Please click the link to learn more about the use of Brooders and order yours today!
The most important thing to your new chicks apart from food and water is warmth, chicks need to be kept at 35 degrees C for at least the first 2 weeks, this temperature can be dropped by 5 degrees per week until the chicks are at least 6 weeks old.
The 2 best methods for doing this is by using a heat lamp or a Chick Brooder (also known as an Electric Hen).
There are pros and cons to both methods and what one you go with really depends on the amount of chicks being raised and your preference.
Once your chicks are under the heat it is important that they are left alone and not handled unnecessarily, especially in the first week, chicks can get very stressed when constantly being grabbed at and can suddenly drop dead. Make sure the chicks are in a secure area away from danger and draught with access to food and water. This video covers the first week of care for your new chicks.