Chick Nutritional Needs

By Kelly Klober

Their nutritional needs begin when the chicks arrive in the mail or are removed from the hatcher and placed in the brooder. Those chicks that have had a rocky trip through the mail or are out of a slow hatch will need that bit of extra feed as noted above to make a successful launch in life.


The best place to begin giving them this boost in life may be through their drinking water. For the first couple of days add four to six tablespoons of simple white sugar to each gallon of drinking water. This gives the chicks a quick energy boost and they will often drink when they won’t eat. Two to three times each week we also add a vitamin/electrolyte product to the drinkers in the brooders.

There are a number of good vitamin/electrolyte products available. Some are formulated for poultry (all will work) and a couple even contain probiotics. There are some who believe that this product can be overused. They contend that chicks may not fully utilize it and overall water quality can be adversely affected if overused. We have not had these experiences, but do change the water frequently and clean the small waterers often. They can be dipped and rinsed often in a mild chlorine bleach solution (one ounce of bleach per gallon of water).

Two or three times each week I will add a cap full of hydrogen peroxide to each gallon of drinking water. This seems to improve water quality. It freshens the water due to the extra oxygen molecule, keeps our waterers cleaner, and even seems to help check that annoying green film that forms in waterers during warm weather.

Most baby chick feeds now are quite complete feeds onto themselves. They are sold in various small particulate, “crumbles” forms. An acquaintance with gamebirds and bantams will run starter feeds through an old blender to break down particulate size even farther. Just don’t beat it to dust. With bantams and some standard chicks that you know are going to need an extra boost you can start them on gamebird starter or a blend of gamebird and regular chick starter.

chicks eating
Baby chicks can consume only very limited amounts of feedstuffs and for very best results they should be as nutrient dense as possible.

This is a hot, hot feed and you need to watch the chicks closely for any related problems such as pasty vents. It is always best to start them directly on this product if you are planning to use it. If you must make a transition to it do it ever so gradually over a period of days.

Good starter and early grower rations can be quite complex in their formulations along with being nutrient dense. This is due to the extra nutrient needs and quite limited ability of a baby chick to consume. It explains the higher cost and the convenience factor benefit of using starter feeds for one with modest poultry numbers.

Currently being offered are a number of broad purpose rations that are supposed to be used as a starter/developer or base beginning ration for a number of poultry species. They are sound in their formulation, but I believe they are perhaps trying to fill too many needs out of a single bag of feed. I have used one to finish developing some heavy breed birds late in the season when the higher protein level seemed to best suit their needs.

Our best experiences have been with finding good starter/grower ration and staying with it until the birds are at least twenty to twenty-two weeks old. No, I don’t own shares in a feed company, but I do recognize the importance of keeping feeding programs as simple as possible and keeping that all-important bite-after-bite consistency needed in young bird rations. Even if raising baby chicks with broody hens these higher quality feedstuffs are needed to be offered to both. My barn banties of nearly fifty years ago did raise their small broods on little more than found feed, but both growth and survival rates suffered for it.

Early in the breeding year our challenge with some of our heritage birds is to get them laying well and producing fertile eggs as soon as possible.

Six week old Rhode Island Red
Six week old Rhode Island Red chick enjoying some scavenged snacks.

Some breeds, like the Sumatra, do not truly hit their reproductive stride until warm weather and the accompanying longer days of daylight. Others need a bit of a high protein push to get them laying (and laying fertile eggs).

There are a number of ways to boost protein levels in breeding rations without breaking the old ration. First, be sure that the birds are up to making the fullest possible utilization of that extra protein. They should be free of both internal and external parasites, well housed, and in a true weight gaining condition.

Perhaps the simplest means of stoking their reproductive engines is to gradually switch them over from their regular complete feed to a complete, gamebird layer ration. It won’t be cheap, but it will get the desired results. Time after time I have seen just this one change jump egg production and increase hatchability dramatically.

Source: Talking Chicken