The sooner you start your baby chicks with good nutritional habits the better off they will be their entire lives. Typically we are told that baby chicks don’t need anything to eat or drink for about 48 hours after they are hatched. They will be getting sustained by the yolk of the egg which they absorb into their bodies just before they break through the shell. This is why they can be sent by post office from hatcheries with nothing to eat or drink in their boxes. Research is now showing that chicks that are given food and water immediately after hatching have a better chance of survival and better growth. Yes, they can survive without food or water for the first few days but it is much better if they are given the opportunity to eat and drink right away.
Chick Starter is the ideal food for baby chick’s first week and should be the sole ration. Feed companies spend lots of time and money researching and preparing mixtures that provide optimum nutrition for growing chicks. Chick starter has sufficient protein, carbohydrates and vitamins to support growth. Chick starter should be given for at least the first six to eight weeks and can actually be given to adult birds as well. Do not try and mix your own feed at this point as it is crucial that baby newborn chicks have the nutrients they need to grow. If you get caught without chick starter when your chicks hatch, you can mash up hard boiled egg yolk with ground up oatmeal as a temporary substitute. Don’t give treats until they are very familiar with what the chick starter looks like. smells like and tastes like.
There are two types of chick starter, medicated and nonmedicated. Medicated chick starter comes with medication to prevent coccidiosis, an intestinal disease that interferes with nutrient absorption. If you keep your chicks in a clean brooder and do not let them have contact with adult birds or the ground, they do not need to have the medicated chick starter. If you brood a lot of chicks (over 50) and it is hot and humid outside, then you might consider getting the medicated chick starter. Do not give them the same food that your adult chickens eat. They need a high protein food which has a protein level of 20%.
Start by sprinkling chick starter on top of a paper towel in order to encourage pecking at it. You can then move to a chick feeder. I like to use red colored feeders as the color red stimulates the chick and encourages pecking. If your chick does not seem to be eating and drinking, dip their beak into the water and then again into the food. If a chick is not eating or drinking it will feel lighter than the other birds. I also like to grind up the chick starter into smaller particles using a coffee grinder. They seem to like it better when the pieces are smaller.
I also add vitamins, probiotics and electrolytes to the newborn chick’s water. Rooster Booster is a great product for these additives. I also had a little apple cider vinegar (with the mother) to their water for overall good health.
When you are ready to add treats to your chicks diet, make sure that they are healthy treats. Good examples would be foods like fruits and vegetables, high protein, whole grains, low sugar, and low salt products. If chicks are given anything besides chick starter, they will need grit (sand) to aid in digestion. Chick starter is digested by saliva but other foods require grit for grinding in the gizzard since the chicks do not have teeth.
At this age they should have chick grit, not adult grit which would be too large for them. Sprinkle the sand on top of their food as if you were sprinkling salt on something. Do not place it in a separate dish but put it right on the food to make sure that they are getting some. Grit is not the same thing as Oyster Shell. They should not be given oyster shell at all as too much calcium will cause organ failure.
The first treats that I give are mashed hard boiled egg yolk and ground oatmeal. I grind the oatmeal in a coffee grinder. It will almost look like powder. After that I might move on to sweet corn. I grind that up in a food processor. Whatever you give to them must be in small pieces. I also like to take carrots and grind them up in the food processor. Leafy greens must be very processed and in tiny pieces. You do not want the chick to develop crop issues.
Some people like to give unflavored yogurt to chicks. I have found it to be very messy and being a dairy product, I would not give them too much of it. It can cause stomach upset. Probiotics are a good choice for gut health instead.
When chicks eat treats they are not eating commercial feed which should be their main source of nourishment. Treats should only be 5-10% of a chick’s diet. Anything that you add to their diets can dilute the nutrient balance of the commercial feed. Even healthy snacks should be given in moderation. A chick’s growth and immune system can be affected by too many treats which can create an imbalance in nutrients.
When chicks are around eight weeks old they can move on to Grower feed. Start by mixing the two together 50% chick starter and 50% grower feed. Don’t save your chick starter for the next time you have chicks. It will grow moldy and be harmful for the chicks. Use it all up. It is ok for them to be eating it at any stage of development.
For more tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our weekly silkie blog at VJPPoultry.com. VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul. We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available. Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.