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Raising Baby Chicks

One day old black sex link chicks

Baby chicks are shipped from the hatchery at one day old. They have nothing to eat or drink before they are shipped so you should be completely prepared when you bring them to their new home. Chicks should be ordered in the spring after it has begun to warm up some. No exact date can be specified due to the variations in weather for different locations. Depending on where you house them and how well insulated the chicken house is, the weather may not be as much of a consideration, but still the springtime is the best for starting baby chicks. There are many different varieties of chicks to choose from. This website will follow the growth of black sex`link (sometimes just called "BSL") chicks. Before even ordering chicks you will need to have a chicken house suitable for the weather in your area. If you live in the deep south, just a simple covered chicken house with wire gate may be sufficient. Farther north the chicken house may need to be insulated and maybe even heated. During the first week of their life the chicks would normally remain in the nest after hatching and be kept warm by the hen, but chicks from a hatchery do not have that luxury.
Chicks need food, water, and warmth

A chicken house does not need to be very large for just a few chicks, but keep in mind when building the house, the chicks will grow very fast and be many times larger in only a short time. While the chicks don't require a very tall chicken house, you do if you want to be able to stand upright without bumping your head. You will need to go inside the chicken house every day so it should be built to dimensions which are convenient for you. Since the chicks have had nothing to eat or drink since hatching, food and water should be available as soon as the chicks are placed in their new home. They will naturally start looking for something to eat when they are removed from the shipping container. It is usually not necessary to teach them where the feed is, but it may be helpful to place a small amount of feed in a shallow box or tray to make it easier to find right away. Chicks are hatched knowing how to scratch and they will scratch the feed out of any container they can get in with their feet. The feed in the shallow box is just for the first day or two. A covered chick feeder should be provided to put the feed in. The small openings allow the chicks to peck at the feed, but not get in the feeder and scratch it out with their feet. Special chick feeders can be purchased at most farm supply stores. A special chick waterer should also be used to prevent the chicks from getting in the water. The waterer has a narrow lip around the water jar that only allows more water to fill the bowl as the chicks drink. It is narrow enough so the chicks cannot get in the water. Getting wet could be very bad for a young chick that might catch a chill or even die from being wet.
Use the proper feeders and waterer for baby chicks

The feeders and waterers will need to be cleaned daily. Chicks will pick up any small bits of trash they can find and put it either in the feeder or in the water. If there is nothing else to put in the water, they will wash feed from their beaks in it. Baby chicks come in many different colors. The chicks in the pictures are a breed that is mostly black when hatched, but some breeds are yellow, white, or other colors. The young chicks will need a brooder to get under to stay warm for the first few weeks. Brooders are available commercially or may be built if the materials are available. In warmer climates a light in the brooder will provide enough heat. The floor of the chicken house should be dry. Covering the floor with some type of litter helps provide insulation. The chicks will huddle together under the brooder most of the time for the first few days and come out only for food and water. Young chicks should be fed a specially blended chick starter mash while they are growing. Keep plenty of feed for them at all times. It is very important to keep clean water in front of them all the time. The enclosure the chicks are started off in should be secure enough to keep predators out. Fine mesh wire or solid walls will keep out cats, snakes, hawks and other creatures that might prey on the young chicks.
Black sex link chicks sitting in the sunshine

If the weather permits the chicks would rather sit in the sunshine during the day than stay under the brooder. For the first few days the chicks do very little except sleep and eat. When they are about 3 days old, they will become more active and begin to explore their home. Any bug or worm unlucky enough to be where the chicks can reach him will be caught. The chick that catches the bug will have to run fast to keep the meal. All the other chicks will be trying to grab the bug for themselves. After the chicks explore everything on the ground they begin hopping up on anything they can get on. For this reason you should get a gallon size waterer. A quart size waterer will be OK at first, but after the chicks start hopping up on things they will turn the smaller waterer over. The gallon size waterer is heavy enough and has a wide enough base it is more difficult to flip over. The chick waterers need to be placed on a solid level surface. Placing it on a board will help keep the chicks from picking up debris or litter from the floor and putting it in the water. It will not take the chicks but a few days to learn when fresh feed is put in the feeder and they will come running to get it.
One week old baby chicks

The black sex link pullets are mostly black as young chicks. Some may have a reddish coloring. The black sex link breed is derived from crossing a Rhode Island Red rooster with a barred rock hen. The resulting hybrid is both hardier and more productive than either of the parent breeds. Black sex link is not a true breed and can only be produced from crossing the two other breeds. A black sex link rooster with a black sex link hen will not hatch black sex link chicks. Another primary reason the sex links are popular is the ability to identify the sex of the chicks visually. The sex link pullets will be all black when hatched with maybe some reddish color mixed in. The males have a white spot on their heads when hatched. This is where the sex link hybrids get the name. Some hatcheries also use New Hampshire red males with barred rock hens to produce the sex link hybrids. As the chicks get older the black color will begin to change. More red will show when the feathers start coming out. All of the chicks pictured on this website are pullets. The sexlinks do not breed true so there would be not good reason to have sexlink males. Being hybrid (cross between two other breeds) the black sexlink chicks must be hatched from eggs of a cross. Any chicks hatched from eggs of black sexlink hens bred to black sexlink rooster would not be true black sexlink chicks. Of course, any breed rooster could be used, but it would be best to have a purebred rooster of a recognized breed rather than using the hybrid roosters if any eggs will be hatched.
Two week old sex link chicks

When they are around two weeks old, the chicks will have more feathers than fuzz. They will be quite scruffy looking as the feathers start getting thicker. Coloring continues to change as more red comes on the feathers in the barred rock pattern. Some of the black feathers will begin to take on a green or blueish tint. All of the colors will not be consistent. Some birds will be almost solid black while others are more red than black. Again the birds should have just about doubled in size in only a week. They will also be eating twice as much feed in a day. At around two weeks the brooder should be slowly raised by just a few inches a day. If the weather is good the chicks can be let out into a much larger chicken yard, but be sure there are no openings in the enclosing fence which they can slip through. The chicken yard should have a top made of wire close enough to keep hawks and owls out. Chicks can still be locked inside the chicken house at night when it is cooler. If the days are warm enough and the chicks don't huddle under the brooder, the heat source may be turned off. They will still need some additional warmth at night. Watch the water closely. The older birds will be drinking, and wasting, a lot more water. They may also fly on to the top of the waterer turning it over. Within a couple of days of having the run of the chicken pen there will not be one bug or worm left in it. Any waste vegetables, weeds, grass, or fruit can be thrown into the chicken pen. Broken or over-ripe vegetables of any kind are a real treat for the chicks. Continue to feed the chick starter feed, but some scratch feed can be tossed in the chicken pen for them to find too. Assuming the chicken pen has a dirt floor, the chicks should be able to get all the grit they need from the sand. By two weeks of age the combs will begin to appear. Some of the chicks will still be developing faster than others. There will be size differences and some will have more feathers than others.
3 week old chick

At this age the chicks will be getting the pecking order established. They will have little wing flapping, pecking fights to decide which is more dominant. They don't normally do any real injury to each other, but if a chick gets injured and blood appears, that chick needs to be removed and kept in a separate place until it heals. If not the others will continue to peck at the wound making it worse. Keep watch on the fencing around the chicken pen for any signs of digging. O'possums have chicken right at the top of their favorite snack list. The possums normally try to get in at night. The fence should extend into the ground at least a couple of inches. Having rocks or scrap wire buried around the outside of the wire will help discourage digging. You should have a good watch dog if you keep chickens. The dog will chase the predators off and make enough noise to let you know something was trying to get the chickens. Wildcats, feral house cats, and owls may also try to get in the chicken pen at night. During the daytime hawks are one of the worst problems, but if the chicken pen is covered and strongly built, digging under would be the only way in. Foxes are good diggers, but with a watch dog around nothing should have the time to dig all the way under the fence. If you do find any holes, fill them with rocks or wire before covering them with dirt. The one who dug the hole will probably return to finish it and the loose dirt will be easy to dig back out. Digging a trench all the way around the chicken pen fence, filling it with old wire, and re-covering it would make it very difficult for any animals to dig under.
Roost poles for the chicken house

At three weeks old the chicks should have about half of their feathers. The wing feathers will be some of the first feathers to develop. The chicks will be trying their wings and flapping up to the top of anything they can get on. If the weather is mild they should not need the brooder anymore. With their feathers coming in they can fluff up and stay warm. The older chicks have better control of their body temperature. The brooder is meant to take the place of the mother hen who would keep young chicks under her feathers in the nest to keep them warm. In cold climates the brooder can be left for a while longer. After removing the brooder the chicks will begin to try finding some place to roost at night. Roost poles should be provided for them if poles are not already in the chicken house. The poles need to be spaced about 10 to 12 inches apart and at about a 45 degree angle. This makes it easy for the chicks to get on the roosting poles and prevents dropping from falling on the birds on the lower poles. When they first begin to use the roost the chicks will have some trouble with balance, but they will soon be able to sleep sitting on the roost. You will not need to teach them to use the roost poles. It comes natural to them. You only need to provide the roost and they will soon learn to use it. All the feathers will not be fully developed at three weeks and the birds will be a little scruffy looking with half feathers and half chick fuzz. The tail feathers begin coming in at about three weeks. Tail feathers will help the chicks balance on the roost poles much better. Some poles about a foot off the ground can be placed around the chicken pen too. Square or round poles about an inch in diameter are about the right size. At three weeks the chicks will be trying to fly on top of anything they can get on. Providing a few perches may help keep them from sitting on top of the waterers. In good weather the chicks may choose to sleep on the outside poles, but a roost inside the chicken house is still needed. They will use the one inside if it rains.
3 week old black sex link chick

At three weeks it is time to switch to an adult chicken feeder. The chicks will have grown so much their heads will not fit through the holes in the chick feeder. They will also be turning the feeder over and spilling the feed if it is not secured to a board. The chicks will require much more feed and water as they get older. It may be necessary to put several waterers in or go ahead and get an automatic waterer which hooks to a water hose and stays full all the time. Several types of automatic waterers are available. Even though you put in an automatic waterer, it will still need to be cleaned daily. Chickens have a habit of washing out their beaks in the waterer. The feed that gets in the water will cause a slime to form. The chicks will also be picking up leaves, little stones, small sticks, and anything else they can find to put in the water.

More red feathers will appear on some of the black sex link chicks. Some will be all black. Both the reddish ones and the all black ones have beautiful feathers. The mottled red and black patterns the chicks get from their barred rock mothers look something like the pattern on female mallard ducks. The all black chicks have a greenish sheen to their feathers. All the varied colors and patterns make the black sex links some very nice looking chickens. At about three weeks the chicks start to lose the fuzzy, rounded biddy shape and begin to look more like small chickens. They will be scratching in the dirt, looking for bugs all day. Any grass or weeds in the chicken pen will be eaten right down to the ground.
Black sex link pullet at 4 weeks old

At four weeks old most of the chick fuzz is gone and the adult feathers have come in. The chickens no longer have the scruffy look. They are eating about twice as much feed as week old chicks. With the wings fully feathered out the chickens are able to fly several feet into the air. The combs have started to grow and the tail feathers have grown out. The chickens will have learned by this time that when the human comes into their pen it means fresh feed. They come running to meet you and you have to be very careful or some of them will run right out the gate while you're trying to get in. If you didn't already need a top on the chicken pen to keep the hawks out, you would need one now to keep the chickens from flying over the fence. Clipping the main feathers on one wing with a pair of scissors will put the chickens off balance when they try to fly and keep them from flying very high, but the feathers soon grow back in. The wings would need to be clipped regularly if that method is used to keep the chickens from flying. Chickens which will be shown in county fairs or poultry shows shouldn't be clipped. Clipping the wings looks bad. Having a top on the chicken pen is the best method of keeping the chickens in and the predators out.


Graywolf / 2007 / Edited by Riki