Raising Chickens from Eggs
By Dr Rob Marshall
Most of the problems associated with rearing chickens from incubated eggs can be prevented by understanding the particular needs of each developmental age group. This information sheet will provide you with a detailed description of raising chickens from incubated eggs and also help you understand the needs of chickens being raised naturally by their mothers or surrogate mothers.
We believe that chickens must develop natural biorhythms from an early age to remain healthy. A day and night lifecycle is critical to the development of robust chicks and begins from hatching day.
1-7 Day Old Chicks
Place hatched chickens in a small covered box with a heat source. The recommended temperature for 1-7 day old chicks is 31-32C. This may be too warm for older chicks.
For the first 3-4 days it is best to have these birds on wire to prevent them from eating their droppings. After 3-4 days, a bedding of sawdust is placed under the birds. They stay in this enclosed space until 1 week of age as a distinct age group.
Feeding Routine for 1-7 Day Old Chicks
The chicks should be fed Formulated Chicken Crumbles with Turbobooster, E-Powder and F-vite thoroughly mixed through it for the first feed every morning. Quick Gel is mixed into the drinking water each day. See Table 1.
The water must be provided at the same temperature as the room temperature. Cold water in the drinkers cools the body temperature of the chicks and warmer water may promote bathing and subsequent chilling due to wet feathers.
Rest Routine for 1-7 Day Old Chicks
It is important to provide a sleep pattern that promotes optimal physical health and growth. The daytime lighting source should not be left on at night as this will cause chicks to be overactive during the rest period. The heat lamp alone at night will provide sufficient lighting for chicks to find food and water if required, and will also encourage longer periods of rest. At least 12 hours of rest at night using just the light source from the red heat lamp (dimmer) is ideal as this best mimics nature. Additional heat may be provided using an oil heater rather than relying on lamps alone, and this will allow the chicks to settle better for the rest at night.
1-4 Week Old Chicks
At one week of age, the chicks are moved to an open top containment area within the brooding shed. Here they are kept warm using suspended heat lamps.
It is necessary to continue with the rest routine at night, and it is important to observe the resting behaviour of the chicks. Clustering in a dense circle under the centre of lamp may indicate they are cold and kept awake trying to keep warm. Spreading out a little generally indicates an ideal temperature for the chicks. Panting indicates the brooding shed is too hot. Adjusting the heat as the chicks grow is important.
Feeding Routine for 1-4 Week Old Chicks
From one week of age begin the feeding regime as per Table 2.
At 3 weeks of age young chickens will begin to pick at the ground and become very inquisitive. This instinctive foraging behaviour is a very important developmental stage for young chickens and should be encouraged. On our health programmes birds become inquisitive at an earlier age (around2 weeks of age) and are very strong and active. Sickly birds will not develop their foraging behaviour or inquisitiveness at this age.
At this critical stage young birds must be provided with suitable fruit and vegetables to pick at in order to keep them occupied. If there is nothing available to pick at young birds will pick at other chickens causing injury and feather damage. The introduction of cooked vegetables such as sweet potato, carrot, pumpkin, corn kernels, peas and beans at this age will prevent this picking problem. Cooking the vegetables will soften them andmake them easier to peck at. At this time, a budgie seed and small grains mix should also be offered in a shallow dish to promote foraging behaviour.
4-8 Week Old Chicks
At four weeks of age, young chickens are moved as a group to an open area within the brooding shed. A suspended heat lamp should continue to be provided.
Feeding & Health Routine Changes - From 6 Weeks of Age
By about 6 weeks the birds are growing bigger and their beaks becoming stronger- they will now be foraging more on the seeds and grains mix and eating less of the formulated crumbles. The vitamin supplements are best provided in the Budgie seed/ grains mix in the first meal of the day now to ensure a balanced diet is maintained. Take note of Table 3.
There is a special dietary change and start of a health regime that starts for week 6 - see Table 3 - as it is important to commence treatment for the prevention of coccidiosis, worms and lice and mites.
At 6 weeks of age, the chicks will begin to flap around, play and explore their environment further. Occupation with foraging activity should continue to be encouraged. If foraging behaviour has not been allowed to develop in the earlier stages pecking injuries are more likely at this time.
More challenging foraging opportunities need to be provided for this age group, and in crowded holding areas it is particularly important to provide something to peck at. Millets on the spray may be offered so that birds do not peck at each other but learn to work for food rewards instead. Corn on the cob and peeled apples hanging from a stainless steel skewer are ideal to further stimulate pecking behaviour and benefit health for this age group.
7 Weeks of Age
At 7 weeks of age, the Chick Rearing programme is followed again with the vitamins added to the drinking water and seeds/grain mix. See Table 4.
8-12 Week Old Chicks
It is imperative that day length is increasing and that temperatures are warming up when the young birds are removed from the brooding shed at around 8 weeks of age. At 8-12 weeks of age the pullets are still too young to be exposed to draft, winds and cold evening temperatures and will not survive even if fully feathered. It is ideal to follow nature by planning the breeding programme to coincide with increasing day length and temperature.
Lighting & Heating Problems
The traditional practice of leaving the lights on all day and night in chicken rearing sheds causes significant stress and health problems in chicks. The young birds are unable to develop natural biorhythms and do not receive adequate rest leaving them susceptible to stress induced Streptococcal infections when they are moved outside at 6-8 weeks of age. The symptoms of Streptococcal infections, particularly wetness around the vent, can even appear prior to being moved outside because of the stress associated with continual artificial light.
Most chicken rearing problems occur from June to August following cold spells or during summer when it is very hot. Cold or heat stress, in addition to being moved from a continually lit shed to normal day length hours, precipitates Streptococcal infections. This then leads to illness and death from other conditions especially Ecoli. infections and Mareks Disease Virus. Changes to lighting conditions and the implementation of nutritional support using the Chicken Rearing Programme are critical to ensuring chicks are able to thrive at all stages and do not become susceptible to disease.
If rearing chicks during colder months it is best to have a daytime pen where the chicks can be allowed outside for direct sunlight (on warm days) and foraging opportunity, but continue to be returned and locked into the brooding shed at night. Additional nutritional support is also necessary at this time due to the increased stimulation of being outside in natural light, increased photo period and the increased foraging opportunity. The nutritional supplements as outlined in the Chicken Rearing Programme must be continued and the administration of Quick Gel in the drinking water may be continued daily due to high activity level of the growing pullets.
Interestingly, feather picking is a sign of healthy strong chickens. It occurs when growing chickens are not given the opportunity to develop their instinctual foraging behaviour and occurs also when young chickens are confined to an area that is too small to satisfy their natural inquisitive behaviour.
Chickens bred by healthy and genetically strong parents will be strong at hatching and will grow to their full genetic potential when they receive good care and nutritious food. Those that are born weak will never achieve their true potential irrespective of the care or nutrition they receive.
Chicks are born weak for a variety of reasons. Nutritional deficiencies and stress induced diseases such as Marek’s Disease produce weak chicks by devitalising the mother. Early death is the usual outcome of weak born chicks. Environmental stress is another cause of a weakling chicken and it ispossible to save these chickens by following the above advice.
Wetness around the vent, yellow coloured diarrhoea are signs of environmental stress in young chickens. In order to save these birds antibiotic treatment may be required whilst the cause of environmental stress is rectified.
We are able to help solve all of your chicken raising problems in a holistic natural manner that focuses on stress reduction and by providing nutritional excellence. Our approach will help you grow healthy strong and very beautiful chickens that are naturally resistant to the stress related diseases such as Marek’s Disease and the respiratory diseases, obviating a need to vaccinate.
Chinese Silkies are our first choice backyard chicken. They are robust, loveable, quiet, lay good quality eggs and make ideal pets.
Our programmes are a simple and effective way to provide your chicken companions with the best possible care.
Click for information regarding our holistic methods for managing chicken diseases.