The first few days of a chicks life is fairly peaceful. They require a warm quiet environment where they can sit or sleep. I tend to provide them with a soft fluffy blanket on a bed of hay and under a red heat lamp. This seems to act as a sufficient replacement for mother hen. Hatchings during the colder months, I also provided a thermostatically controlled heater. My chicks tens to be comfortable at around 30̊c, any hotter and they pant, any colder and they huddle together.
Food is not wanted for the first few days, as they digest the egg yolk. Following this I give them sieved ‘layers mash’ in a low sterilised dish every 2 hours 7AM – 5PM. Chickens are day time animals which suits me fine!. I give them cooled boiled water with small sterilised stones in it as young unsteady chicks can easily drown or fall asleep in a water receptacle. Chicks will naturally peck at objects and a small stone is a good way of encouraging them to the water bowl. As soon as the chicks are up and mobile I remove the stones.
Cleanliness is the key to healthy chicks, their nest must be cleaned at least daily, paying particular attention to clean water and feed receptacles.
At 4 days there little wings start to develop and they start to flutter. It is now that I am able to determine if they are frizzled or straight winged. At this stage their little combs are all uniformly yellow so there is no way of telling males and females.
I begin to wean them out of the light of the heat lamp at 3 weeks, by now I have normally got another clutch that need it more and they are quite capable of generating body heat by their size and antics. If the weather is cold I will provide them with a hot water bottle under their hay.
At 4 weeks, if the weather permits they are able to go outside during the day. I have adapted a rabbit cage for this purpose. It is under cover, there is a warm sleeping area with hay and I have added some logs and low perches for their amusement as they are now accomplished fliers.
They are now able to tolerate ‘layers mash’ put through the centre of the colander, so that any large pieces are removed. Food can be left out all the time, but their last meal is always 6PM. They will also enjoy some fresh grass, greens and breadcrumbs. Chickens will get most of the nutrients they need from fresh green grass.
It is at this stage when it is possible to determine the boys from the girls. The boy’s combs will begin to turn peach/coral/red and red marks appear on their necks which are the start of wattles.
They will start sleeping at night, but I still bring them inside if the weather is cold.
By 6 weeks saddle feathers begin to develop in females and it resembles a bustle.
At 7 weeks they are able to stay outside all day and night. They will perch in the coop to sleep and we have height adjustable perches so that they can be raised as they grow.
At 8 weeks the males will begin to be sexually interested in his females, perhaps with a little sideways dance or the offering of food.
They are now able to manage corn and you will notice them look like they are yawning or a crow with no sound. This is thought to be them shifting the corn into the crop. Their growth is now beginning to slow and they will only need to be fed twice a day, morning and afternoon.
At 10 weeks the female’s feathers will be more rounded than the males who are more pointed.
At 11 weeks they progress to wanting to dust bath. An unused cat litter tray filled with a mixture of fine soil and sand will suffice. I had read that dust bathing was a social event but was amazed to see the whole family regularly dusting together, it is clearly their favourite past time.
The males make attempts at crowing, although this sounds rather like they are being strangled.
Hens start laying eggs at around 5 to 6 months of age but should this fall over the winter months it may be a little later. Basically in chicks that I hatch and raise, I will wait a whole season before they come into lay themselves, but enjoy watching them grow up.