How to Care for Baby Chicks

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How to Care for Baby Chicks

I was at the feed store yesterday when I noticed several bins full of adorable baby chicks. If you have been thinking about getting chickens, I highly recommend it.  I love my little ladies–they make great pets, plus they provide uh-mazingly tasty eggs.

baby chick

I won’t be getting any new chicks this spring because we have 12 hens right now!?! but I’m telling you, it makes my day when I see them running toward me to say hello and nose around in whatever I am doing–plus their run is still so funny to me, I don’t know if that will ever wear off, but I hope not.

chick feeder

The first step in backyard chickening {that’s a verb, right?} is to decide what type of chicken you would like and order them online {I recommend mypetchicken.com or purchase them from your local feed store. .  Next, prepare their home.  While they are chicks {the first 4-5 weeks anyway}, they will need a super warm place to grow.

how to care for baby chicks

Here is what you will need:

  • A brooder {a place to keep the chicks}.  This can be a simple as a cardboard box, a Rubbermaid container, a stock tank {that’s my favorite thing to use}, or an old children’s swimming pool.  Just make sure whatever it is, it doesn’t allow too much of a draft and the sides are nice and high.
  • A warming light and thermometer
  • Absorbent bedding {chicks are pooping machines, so you will want to change this frequently}
  • A feeder
  • Waterer
  • Feed
  • Grit
  • Netting or chicken wire for the top to prevent escapees

4-5 weeks flies by, so have their outdoor home ready too.  It will make your life easier in the long run.

baby chicks under heat lamp

To prepare your brooder, line whatever container you decided on with newspaper.  Then place bedding material over the top {typically pine shavings or pellets}.  Turn on warming light, new chicks will need a temperature of 95 degrees to start, and you can drop it by 5 degrees for each week of age, until you get to 70 degrees, then you can keep it constant.  Sprinkle some feed {a chick-starter feed is best for the first several weeks} on the ground to encourage scratching.

how to care for baby chicks

When your baby chicks first arrive, they may be worn out–depending on how long they had to travel to get to you.  Make a sugar-water mixture and dip their little beaks into it.  This is like baby chick Gatorade–it will give them a little much-needed energy while they adjust to their new digs.  Then, put the remaining mixture into their waterer.

Make sure to put the water on the opposite side of the brooder as the warming light.  From here on out, food and fresh water is CRUCIAL to baby chicks.  They will self-regulate their hunger and thirst, so make sure they have access 24/7 to both food and water. Also, be prepared for them to eat a ton–seriously, they will put a teenage boy to shame.

After 4 weeks, begin transitioning your chicks to the outdoors.  Start by opening windows, or placing their brooder in a doorway where they may get a breeze or at least be subject to fluctuating weather.

broody-chicken

Depending on your climate, you can begin allowing the birds to be outside in the day around 5 weeks, by 8 weeks {again, as long as the weather is warm enough} they should be big and strong enough to live in their outside coop full-time.

Hens typically start to lay around eggs  around 20 weeks. :)

If you are thinking about getting a flock of your own, check out the book Homemade Living: Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock. Amazon currently has the book in stock and ready to ship.

Will YOU be getting baby chicks this spring?

~Mavis

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Comments

  1. We will be getting 8 more (we currently have 6). Our current chickens lay greenish blue/olive colored eggs except one lays a pink egg. We call it our golden egger. I’m going to add some that lay brown eggs. Does anyone have any suggestions about what kind to get? I like nice and friendly chickens.

    • We have 2 Rhode Island Reds, 3 Barred Rocks and 2 Silver Lace. They all lay brown to pinkish brown eggs. They all are friendly and will approach us and be petted. But the friendliest are the reds. They like to be picked up and held and scratched. One will jump up in my lap if I don’t pick her up. They were also the first to lay eggs and they lay every day.

    • Tami Dendy says:

      Our 7 GOLDEN COMETS give us 7 beautiful brown eggs every day.

    • Rhode Island reds do wonderful brown eggs in all different shades

  2. I wanted to mention that when we got our chicks last year I used vinyl self sticking floor tiles on the bottom of the moving box I used as a brooder. It made cleaning up sooooo easy. The are about .20 cents each at Home Depot/Lowe’s.

    I also bought dowels at Michaels craft store and punched holes in the sides of the box to create two roosts. It was so cute to see those little chicks hop up and down and roost.

  3. I wish we could have chickens, unfortunately my city does not allow chickens.

  4. I’m adding three more this year, too! My husband thinks I’m nuts, but fortunately also thinks that chickens are surprisingly lovable! Looking forward to adding a black copper marans, new Hampshire red, and silver dorking to the flock. I’m currently trying to think of names (All of my hens have little old lady names — Pearl, Edith, Violet, Willa, and Beatrice)

    @Heidi — my favorite brown egg layers for personality and production have been barred rocks, Delawares, and my sweet light brahma (whose eggs are almost pinkish). For dark eggs, you can’t beat marans and barnevelders, but any that I’ve had end up laying far fewer eggs than my other hens.

    • Thanks for the chick suggestions.

      Our last flock was named after all of our grandmothers/great grandmothers, etc. Opal Iola, Linda Faye, Charlotte Betty, Dottie, Esther & Eva. My current flock is after famous people (real & fictional). Oprah, Goldie (Hawn), Betty (after Betty White), Scarlet (O’hara), Kate (Hudson), & Marsha (Brady)

      • Susan Reid says:

        No new chicks for us. Our 4 are “Eve”, “Egg”( daughter named this one), “Cheap”( this one was free”) and “Victoria Peckham”.

    • Rachelle Ottosen says:

      We named all ours ‘Tastes Like Chicken’. When the chickens get older and stop laying so well, it is not a traumatic surprise to the kids that they end up in the freezer for stew or chicken soup (old birds are tough and should be cooked slowly with lots of liquid if you want to keep your teeth!).

  5. I am setting our second batch in the incubator tomorrow … our first hatched last week and the six of them went to a wonderful home … this batch we will be keeping most. This will be our third spring with chicks (but our first from our own flock!) We love having our ladies (and tolerate our two little boys!!!)

  6. First thought when looking at the pictures: “Its so fluffy!”

  7. I like to have my hens do the work of raising chicks for me… so if one of them goes broody this year, we might consider sneaking a couple of chicks under her. Otherwise, probably not. 20 is plenty for us!

  8. Just a quick comment from a long time chicken owner; when you get your little baby chicks please be sure to watch their butts. They can get a condition called pasty butt. It is caused by stress and diet. Their little newborn systems have to get used to the chick mash. What happens is their poops are wet and soft. Rather than falling to the bedding, it sticks to their fluffy down and then dries into a hard nasty ball that blocks any other excretions. If you get a chick with this condition, just soak that off gently with warm water trying not to stress the chick. Keep an eye on it because it may happen several times over the course of the first week or so. It doesn’t take long for a chick to expire due to an inability to poop. Resist the temptation to pull the poop off! You run a high risk of tearing their tender thin skin. That is also certain death for a little chick.

  9. I can’t help but add more chickens every year! A few tips: Keep feeders and waterers at back height. They should be level with the chicks backs, this will help keep bedding and waste out. As the chickens grow, raise the feed/water height accordingly. We use wood blocks under the waterers and hang the feeders through a pulley so I can raise and lower as needed. Also, I highly recommend a reel feeder, this has a bar on top that swivels so they can’t roost on it and poo into their food. Don’t forget, cedar is toxic to poultry! Pine shavings are excellent. Yay chickens!!

  10. So, do you keep them in your house with the lamp on them? Seriously thinking about getting some. Anyone reccomend a specific type? I just love the Easter Egg chciken. If I get some, will I have eggs by summer? My Grandma raised chickens, several hundred and sold them to the grocery store for extra money.

    • The house or the garage with the heat lamp on. My favorite are australorp chickens. :)

      • Laura Arnett says:

        hey there Mavis-hope you’re loving England! I just brought home our new family members-6 Black Australorps and 4 unknown white chicks. So excited….thanks for all you do in encouraging us to do the right thing for families and our enviroment :)

  11. Talked my husband into letting me try having a coop this year. I am in the middle of trying to find where I want to get them from. Went to Atwoods today to look at chicks but didn´t know what I was looking at since they were not labled. I want one that lays white eggs, one that lays light brown eggs, one that lays dark brown eggs and one that lays colored eggs.

    I’m also starting my first bee hive this spring. It will be fun to be in our backyard with a growing veggie garden, bees and chicks! Oh my.

  12. We are, we are! We had a big move and had to give away our five; and I didn’t do a very good job last time at teaching them to be friendly :( so I am hoping to do a better job this time! We have ten acres, so I am getting six to eight this time :) I have to finish a shelter that has some top cover though–we live in the desert, and hawks are an issue.

  13. Sandi D. says:

    will be starting with at least 6 chicks.( first timer) any coop ideas would be helpful.. it has to be easy though .. I have to build it myself as my huuby is over the road…

    mavis, you are amazing and I look forward to every e-mail I get.. so much great info.. Thanks so much

  14. Mama Ritchie says:

    If you are just using a heat lamp how do you lower the temperature? Thanks

  15. Laura Arnett says:

    Raise lite away from chicks a lil at a time until wheened

  16. Peg Graham says:

    Mavie~ I have chicks too…

    2-Lacey Wyandottes- ‘Katniss’ and ‘Lacey’
    2-Buff Orpingtons – larger one is ‘Penny’ and smaller one is ‘Bernadette’ (aka: ‘Bernie’).
    1-Black Australorp is ‘Amy-Farrah-Fowler’ (all one name).
    1-Ameracauna is ‘Marsala’

    They are 5 weeks about now….time to prep for transisitioning to the coop. Love your tips!

    Hugs~Peg

  17. Yes I will be getting some chicks soon! It is part of my self-sufficient project each month I am doing. Now on to build the coop!

  18. We got our first chicks today! Six little plymouth barred rock fluffballs. They are settled in nicely!

  19. It’s been 25 years since we had hens and I really want to get some again this year. Is there any way to tell whether the chicks at the farm store are female or male? I only want layers. Would it be better to find a source to buy pullets? Thanks for all the good advice and reminders!

    • Nope.

    • Rachelle Ottosen says:

      with egg-layer breeds, they usually identify their gender with 80-90% accuracy. Just ask at the store for the ones that have already been sorted. Also the ‘sex-link’ breeds hatch out one color if female and a different color is male.

  20. Elizabeth says:

    you should not give grit to chicks.

  21. Got our first group of four chickens, they are growing up so fast, and the cats and them are becoming good friends!
    Only one we don’t know if it is a pullet or not the other three were sexed, any tips on how we can tell? We are hoping it is not a rooster.
    Thanks!

    • Mama Ritchie says:

      Heard an old wives tale that if you pick it up by the scruff & it goes wild it’s a pullet, if it freezes it’s a cockerel. Not sure how accurate this is, like all old wives tales, but you might want to try it out. Test it on the sexed ones too & see if it’s right. Look up sexing chicks on Pinterest, they have some ideas too!

      • You’ll know once they start getting their tail feathers and comb, etc. Distinct difference then. {google it}

  22. my daughter is in LOVE with your chickens. seriously, if my landlord didn’t frown upon chickens, we would totally have a million of them.

  23. Rachelle Ottosen says:

    We always keep our chicks in the house for the first few weeks in a large cardboard box with wire lid and lamp, until we can’t stand the dust and smell anymore. We get to enjoy them more often and they get very well socialized with humans as we pass (or get into) their cage umpteen times a day (we homeschool, and thus are home most days – gardening and animal husbandry are also part of a well rounded education in my opinion). This year, we fed our chicks the store bought crumbles in their feeder, and gave them ‘treats’ of sprouted rye from our hands. They now flock to our arms and are the friendliest chickens we’ve ever had. They are now outside in ‘the barn’ (was a workshop/shed) in their own small room separate from the adult chickens and the goats kids, but will still jump on our hands and arms when given the chance.

  24. Mavis, my daughter and I are loving you. We plan to move out of the city to 9 acres of property. We want to raise chickens and I pretty much have the baby-chick scenario down good. My question is this: When the chicks are ready to be acclimated to the large coop, do you just add them in, or send them for a “visit” a little each day until they get used to new surroundings? In addition, if older chickens are already established, what method is used to add the young ones to the coop? You, in fact, are the reason we will be moving to lots of land to garden and be as self-sufficient as we can be. Thanks !! You Rock !!

    • Hi Rita, I wrote about introducing chickens to each other HERE. :) Good luck, chickens are so much fun. :)

  25. And remember, to keep those chickens from flying…clip their wings! (only one side)…mine would end up roosting in the trees if I didnt!

  26. Mavis, HELP! I don’t know if you remember but I mentioned that our neighbor’s chickens and roosters come over all the time and dig in our leaves and eat our bugs and it makes me happy.? Well, I found out recently that one of the chickens had moved in to an abandoned building on our property and is sitting on 10 eggs! I don’t know how long she has been there but she won’t leave. I bought her some feed last night but she didn’t eat any. We got her all upset last night when we tried to put her and the eggs into a wheelbarrow to take back to the neighbors. We scooped her, the eggs and the hay they were on, up with a shovel to not get our scent on the eggs. She jumped out and was mournfully squawking all around the orchard. Broke my heart so I put the eggs back in the corner where her little nest had been and she went and sat on them again. We looked through one of the eggs with a flashlight and it for sure has veins and an eye and a baby chick body in there. So do you have any idea what we should do? The neighbors dont speak very much english but seemed apprehensive about getting her and basically told us we could have her and that once the chicks are born they will be imprinted to think our home is their home. We really dont want to have a chicken farm here. How can I safely get them home?! Mavis, I need your chicken knowledge! Please help because I know nothing about chickens. Thank you, Becky

    • Anke Pietsch says:

      Hi becky, have you tired to move her at night? when its dark and she is sleepy you might have more luck. Good luck, Anke

    • Dont worry you can still relocate them after they have hatched. I typically move my chicks into 3 different coops until they are large enough to go into the main coop with the big girls.

  27. Hey Mavis!
    Have you thought about getting a bunny!? I know they don’t lay eggs but they are pretty amazing fertalizers! You don’t even have to let their poop sit before using it in your garden :)

  28. first time ever with chicks started with black jersey giants ..I hear very healthy bird.. they are getting so big now had them 3 wks already …cant wait for them to go out in coop, but I will miss them in home, I can see them all the time …I give them vitamins and electrolytes all the time.. soes anyone know if you can give Gatorade to chicks..all my best to chicken lovers …

  29. more information

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