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Chick Rearing Can Be a Family Affair

Words by Dr Rob Derrick – Head of Product Development at Farmlands


Raising chickens in the backyard is quickly becoming a national pastime. Here are some quick tips for getting started. 


Breeding and rearing chicks can be immensely rewarding and a great way to introduce younger members of a family to animal husbandry skills. 


There is a difference between:

  • Hybrid commercial birds – the result of very carefully bred male and female lines to deliver particular genetic traits, especially in terms of egg or meat production
  • Heritage breeds often bred by enthusiasts to a breed standard 
  • Farmyard birds produced from cross-breeding two distinct breeds, which may benefit from some hybrid vigour but with far more variable traits and appearance. 


With the increased demand for laying birds, there is a good chance that surplus well-reared birds will be easy to sell locally.  


Day-old chicks from a hatchery may have the added benefit of being vaccinated against Marek’s Disease and get their first dose against Salmonella Typhimurium. Subsequent salmonella booster vaccinations can be given at 2 weeks of age and a 3rd dose at 16 weeks, which could be important for commercial free-range flocks. Vaccines normally come in large doses per pack and may be prohibitive for smaller numbers. Having good management and biosecurity practices can reduce the risk to isolated flocks. Although difficult, some control of wild birds and vermin is recommended, as they can transmit salmonella and other diseases. 



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If eggs are collected from your own birds for hatching, ensure a well mineralised, high-protein layer feed is being used. NRM declare protein on an as-fed basis, which is more common in monogastric feeds but some manufacturers declare protein on a dry matter basis – 16.5 percent as fed typically equates to about 18.8 percent on a dry matter basis. A clean nest box helps avoid bacteria, which can proliferate during incubation and kill developing embryos. Prior to incubation, store eggs on their side or pointed end facing downwards and turn or twist them twice daily.


Keep eggs in cool (between 5°C to 10°C so not in the fridge), but not too dry conditions and incubate them as soon as possible to increase hatching rates. Humidity during incubation is just as important as temperature, as it can affect hatchability.


Chicks need to be kept warm and dry but feeding couldn’t be simpler – a good quality chick starter and clean drinking water will provide everything required. Obesity is not something to worry about with young birds – ad-lib feeding from clean feeders is recommended.


Coccidiosis is a real threat to chicks and can be spread by vermin and birds – especially as they start venturing out of the broody box. The coccidiostat Rumensin in NRM Chick Starter Crumble is a good way to protect chicks, but should be kept away from laying birds. Typically, chicks will have developed immunity to coccidiosis by six to eight weeks of age and can move to NRM Pullet Grower Pellets before transitioning to a layer feed, which is richer in calcium, as they start laying.