How often do I need to change the substrate for my baby chickens?

by Cindi
(Braintree, MA)

I have put down 3" of horse pellet type bedding substrate which was recommended to me by the grain store where I ordered my chickens. It is thick and although there is a lot of poop in there it drys quickly and the five chicks I have left (one died today) have plenty of room. They are now 11 or 12 days old and are in a 40 gallon fish tank with a mesh top and a heater. Everything looks nice and dry and I clean the water and feed containers daily and clean out any poop I see. The bedding is expensive and I put half of a 25 pound bag in there to start. My husband says that it doesn't need to be changed but I'm afraid it made my chick sick. The chick was perfectly fine last night and was dead less than 24 hours later with bloody poop. We isolated her immediately. How often should I change the bedding?

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Chick Brooder
by: sharon

Sorry for the loss of one chick. Hope we can help clear up a few things. A good rule of thumb for raising chicks is to use tried and true brooders, supplies and equipment designed for chicks. Fish tanks are not a good idea for chicks as there is not enough air flow. Ammonia fumes from droppings, even with an absorbent substrate are dangerous. Good you are removing poop often. I think you were mislead by the person that recommended horse bedding for chicks. There is no reason to spend that much for bedding. Straw or pine shavings work well. Substrate should be changed often, as soon as it smells bad. 3" is an unnecessary depth. I'm not sure what this horse product looks like, if chicks might eat it, but that could explain bloody poo and one chick death. If you think a chick could swallow this bedding, I would return it and complain where you bought it. A 40 gallon tank is not enough room for growing chicks. Chicks in such a small area tend to get bored and pick on each other. A pen with fresh air-but not too drafty, sunshine, food, water, room for chicks to run around, and a heat source is what is needed. As far a how often to clean chick or chicken housing, the best thing is to clean when it smells bad to you. As far as the size of chick and chicken housing, I always recommend the maximum amount of space you can provide and still keep them safe from predators. Predators come from the ground, the air and even underground.

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