There is no better feeling than when on the 21st day, you look in your incubator to find that your precious eggs have started to hatch. Chicks are not hard to look after as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.
Chickens seem to hatch a lot faster than ducks; this is by well be because the shell of a chicken egg is not as thick. Iv known them to hatch within a few hours of pipping, but don't worry if it takes up to 24 hours. The chick will start by making a small hole in the shell this is referred to as piping, once this done most will tend to rest for a few hours others will battle on. Once rested they continue to break free from the shell. It is important that you don't help them unless they have there seems to be a major problem as they will loose at blot of vital fluid.
After the chicks have hatched they will need to stay in the incubator for a few hours to rest and also for its fluff to dry out. Once all the fluff has dried and they are moving around in the incubator they need to be moved to a brooder of some sort. If you only have a few chicks the simplest brooder can be made from a cage or a tank with a light bulb suspended. The temperature below the bulb should be at around the same as the incubator was. Its important to watch the behaviour of the chicks as they will tell you if its too warm or too cold. If they are all cuddled up together they are too cold and if they are all spread away from the bulb and each other then they are to warm.
Upon hatching a chick can go with out food for up to 24 hours, This is due to the fact that they will still have their yolk sack. Having said this i like to provide them with food as soon as possible at least then they have the option.
Chicks should be feed on chick crumbs for the first 3 weeks, its vital that this is given to them as it contains all the protein that they need to grow strong. This should be given to them in a dish of the appropriate size. You may at first need to sprinkle some feed on the floor for them as unlike ducklings they don't seem to recognise food straight away. After about 3 weeks you will need to introduce growers pellets into the chick crumbs once they become accustomed to this it should be feed up until they come to point of lay. They will also benefit from green food. Cabbage leaves sprout tops ect are ideal. I also like to give mine mini meal worms as these provide very important protein.
As I have already mentioned for the first few weeks of their life your chicks will need to remain in the brooder. After the first week the temperature can be reduced each day chicks like and need warmth so don't reduce it to much. The best way of doing this is to move the bulb up. After about 3 weeks depending on the time of year the chicks can be moved from the heat, if you have brought the chicks from myself than they will already be of heat. Again look at their behaviour they will tell you if they are too cold.
Unless it is warm outside they may need to stay indoors for another week until they get used to the change in temperature. Once again if the you have brought them from use they should be off heat(unless you have brought them as day old) and the best way to keep them is in a plastic toy box or similar. I place a layer of news paper on the bottom so that its easy to clean. Its important that the box is kept as clean as possible. After a week the chicks can then be moved outside during the day into a small run. It will still be important to bring them inside at night for a while.
Once your chicks start to grow feathers they will be able to remain outside at all times. They will need however somewhere that is fox proof at night, a rabbit hutch or something similar is ideal. ( have a look at housing chickens)
Chicks and water do not mix, its all to easy for young birds and older come to mention it to drown in water that’s to deep. Chicks that don't drown soon become chilled a die any way.
Having said that is important that water is always provided for them and should be as clean as possible as some chicks will refuse to drink stale water. Over the years I have found that the best way of providing water is to use a small water fountain as these not only stop the chicks from climbing in but also help keep the water fresh. These can also be used for older chickens.
Water fountain ideal for chicks
As anyone that keeps chickens will tell you young chicks can be very hard to sex until they are about 7 weeks old and even then they can fool you. Upon hatching both males and females look the same unless they are of course sex linked, this means that all males will be one colour and all females one colour but this only applies to some of the larger breeds.
As they grow older you will notice that some of the young grow feathers faster than others, these tend to be females (hens) as males (cocks) take that little bit longer to develop. As they reach around about the 7 week age young males will start to develope a crest on its head on the wattles under the chin will start to get bigger. As they get older these will be come much bigger. Having said that as females tend to mature faster what you think is a male may turn out to be a female.
Once they have reached maturity then and only then can you be 100% of their sex as the cocks start to crow!. As you can see sexing chickens is not easy until they a mature so best of look