Caring for Baby Chicks
Raising baby chicks at home is loads of fun and a great way to connect with nature. The best way to ensure their survival and well-being is to learn how to care for them beforehand, so you can preempt any problems. Baby chicks are fragile creatures with very specific needs, so you’ll need to stay on top of things if you want them to grow up healthy and strong. Hopefully, this article will give you some practical insights into caring for baby chicks—everything from providing food and water and keeping them warm, to transitioning them from brooder to coop—to ensure the greatest chance of success.
First things first - Chickens have germs
It is possible that your baby chicks may be carrying Salmonella germs. Salmonella is often found in their droppings and on their bodies (feathers, feet, and beaks) even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can also get on cages, coops, hay, plants, and soil in the area where the chicks live and roam. Because of this, when you handle the chicks or touch things they have come in contact with, the germs will be transferred to your hands, shoes, and clothing. You can become infected with Salmonella if you put your fingers in or around your mouth.
Be diligent about having young children wash their hands directly after touching baby chicks, since they are likely to put their fingers in their mouths. It is important for anyone handling chickens to wash their hands immediately after touching poultry or anything in the area where they live and roam, because the germs on your hands can easily spread to other people or things.
Care for Newborn Chicks
Set up a brooding area. When raising just a few chicks (30 or less) use a large box with walls at least 18-inches high and place the box in a safe area away from drafts and household pets. I actually use an old cedar hope chest for mine (photo below). For larger numbers, a metal stock tank can used in an enclosed, draft free outbuilding. Do not use a plastic bin as a brooder area. The brooder lamp can melt the plastic and fall into the pine shavings and start a fire. Chicks need one-half square foot of space for the first two weeks. They grow fast and after two weeks, increase to one square foot per bird.
Keep Chicks Warm
Baby chicks need supplemental heat to keep the brooder box warm for about four to six weeks or until they are fully feathered.
Chicks start out needing a higher temperature, between 100 and 95 degrees, but as the weeks pass, lower that temperature each week by about five degrees until the little ones are feathered at six weeks, or until the brooder temperature is the same as the outside temperature.
Use a brooder lamp (we recommend a red bulb) clipped over one side of the brooding area so the chicks can choose whether to be under the light or not. If chicks are crowded together directly under the heat source, then they are cold. If they are around the edges of the brooding area, then they are too hot. Adjust the height of the lamp accordingly and give them enough room to move in and out of the light to regulate their body temperatures. As your chicks grow, raise the lamp higher and higher until you no longer need it,
Hopefully, you aren’t raising chicks in cold weather, but if you are, it’s more likely that you’ll need supplemental heat for at least six weeks.
Bedding for Baby Chicks
Provide bedding to catch and absorb chick droppings and change this daily. Line the floor of the box with sheets of newspaper and then cover it with pine shavings. Once soiled, then just roll up the paper, pine shavings and all, and throw it away, or better yet, use it in your compost pile. Chicken droppings along with the wood chips or pine shavings are a good base for a new compost pile or a nice addition to one you’ve already started.
If using newspaper, make sure to cover with bedding such as 2-3″ of pine shavings. Newspaper alone is too slippery for the chicks and could lead them to develop spraddle-leg.
Food and Water for Baby Chicks
Set out a water and chick starter feed in separate containers. Keep food and water clean and free of droppings. If chicks are not drinking, dip the chicks’ beaks in the water to get them started. A chick fountain is by far the best way to give chicks water. Saucers or other make-shift containers spill easily making the brooder area wet and unsanitary. Never let the chicks go without water.
For the first 6 weeks your chicks should be on organic starter feed. Each bird will require about 1 ounce per day or approximentaly 2.63 pounds of feed for the first 42 days. – Starting with week seven thru week 15, feed your laying chickens organic grower feed.
Other Considerations for Raising Baby Chicks
Chicks love to roost when they’re resting. Provide roosting poles or stacks of bricks so chicks have a place to perch a few inches off the ground to keep them from roosting on the waterer and feeder. As the chicks start to feather, on warm days put them in a wire pen outside for short periods of time in a draft free area. Keep an eye on them and provide a tray of sand so they can dust. As you work with the chicks, remember that slow movements are less apt to frighten them.
Failure to thrive
Sadly, this happens sometimes and leaves you feeling completely useless. In general, deaths in chicks in approximately the first 3-4 days post-hatch are closely linked to the quality of the day-old chicks from the hatchery. After 3-4 days, death is more closely linked to the quality of the care after delivery of the chicks and inadequate nutrition. There are a few things you can try (see below).
What to try? Ideas to Revive a Weak Chick
- Warmed plain yogurt
- Egg yolk mixed with water to thin it
- Hard boiled egg chopped tiny
- Molasses water – Molasses also contains other nutrients
- Make a mash or tea of fresh herbs that contain Vitamin E such as Parsley, Oregano, Sage, and Thyme
- Sugar water *use very short term. Too much sugar can lead to pasty butt
- Nutra-drench product
- Poly-visol infant vitamin drops without iron –*This also helps with wry neck which is a result of Vitamin E deficiency. You can read more on Wry Neck syndrome here.
The important thing is to get some nutrition into them and get them over the hard part. After 24 to 48 hours your chicks should be back on chick feed and able to cope.
Moving Out of The Brooder
If the temperature is above 65°F and the chicks are at least 6 weeks old, they can move into the coop without supplemental heat. Observe the birds as they settle in to their new environment. If they become noisy or call out in distress, bring them back inside until you’re sure they’re comfortable.
Tips for making your birds more comfortable in their new environment:
- Make your coop adjustable for your growing flock – When your chickens are young, they might not be able to reach adult heights. To make sure that your chickens can access their food, waterer, and perch as they grow, you’ll want to make all of these adjustable. If your coop is on stilts, make sure that the ramp leading up to it is at a gentle enough angle so that your little chickens can use it.
- Make the run secure – When raising chickens, make sure you inspect the chicken run for safety issues. Be sure to even out the ground, remove protruding roots, and fill any holes made by burrowing animals. Inspect the area carefully to ensure that there are no holes in the fencing where predators can reach in to grab your young chicks. Protect them further by installing quarter-inch hardware mesh along the entirety of the fencing.
- Make the transition from brooder to coop as stress free as possible – When moving your young birds to a larger coop, be patient with them. Take your time. Move the feeder and waterer to their designated spots inside the coop. Show them where things are by dipping their beaks into water or feed when you place it in the new area. Repeat this each day until they are happily spending four or five hours outside. Open the coop pop door and let the young chicks out to explore. Stay nearby until you sense that they are comfortable in their new environment.
Building a Coop
Building a chicken coop doesn’t have to be tricky or expensive, and it will provide you with many benefits. It is also much easier than you might think, and it can be a fun project for family members of all ages.
Building a chicken coop can seem like a daunting project. Knowing what steps to take, what materials to use and how to execute them can be confusing if you’re not familiar with carpentry. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are some easy-to-follow guides to building your own backyard chicken coop. If you can gather your materials, plan, and tools to start building a chicken coop now!
As this article has hopefully showed you, caring for baby chicks can be a lot of fun. Just remember to start off on the right foot, give them the proper food and care all along the way, and you’ll have a happy flock—pleasantly peeping away and turning into big, strong chickens! Interested in learning more about the benefits of raising chickens? Check out this article on all the ways that raising chickens is beneficial to the envirnoment:
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