Raising baby chicks is so much fun! Be prepared to raise baby chicks that are happy and healthy.
Raising baby chicks is a sign that spring is finally here.
We get baby chicks in the spring so that they have the summer and fall to grow to size and are more hardy by the time it gets really cold.
With that being said, there are several things that you need to do to prepare for raising baby chicks.
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Preparing for baby chicks before you bring them home is extremely important.
Preparing for Raising Baby Chicks
When you purchase baby chicks, whether it’s from a breeder, or chick supplier or the local co-op store, there are many things that you will be providing for that chick.
When the chick is left with the mother, she makes sure all of the needs are met.
Well, when you buy chicks, you’re taking that role over.
Baby chicks need four main things to thrive.
Your baby chicks need proper space, heat, food and water.
If you can provide these four things to them, then they will do well for you.
You will need to monitor the health of the chicks, but that usually isn’t a chore if you are doing everything else properly.
Space for Your Baby Chicks
Baby chicks are tiny!
When you are deciding what you are going to raise these chicks in, you may undershoot what kind of space you will need.
Starting off, chicks that are one to six weeks old need at least half a foot of space per chick.
Keep in mind this is an average.
If you have bantam chicks, you might can squeeze them a little tighter. If you have large breeds or meat breeds, you’ll need to give them even more space.
After the first six weeks, you may need to move your chicks into larger housing.
Chicks need roughly one and a half or two feet of space per chick after six weeks.
If you have them in a space tighter than that, you will lose chickens as they will get run over and crushed by the other chickens.
Raising Baby Chicks in a Brooder
There are so many ways to design the area where the chicks are raised.
The container or area where the chicks are kept is called a brooder. You can design your own brooder, which is kind of what I did.
Many of these don’t have roofs or tops, so they need to be inside your home or barn.
If you search brooder designs on the internet, there are endless ways that people will tell you to make brooders. Some of the examples that you can find work, some won’t and some have more than they actually need.
So what do you need in a brooder?
Chicks are small, so you need the sides of the brooder to be solid.
I don’t recommend using sides made out of wire because they will be able to escape. Also, you need to be able to keep the heat inside the brooder since you will be warming your chicks.
The brooder needs to be large enough to give the baby chicks space, but small enough that you can heat it adequately.
Day-old chicks need temperatures of 95 degrees Fahrenheit or they get too cold and can die. After they reach a week old, you can begin dropping that temperature five degrees each week.
Warming the air in the brooder is essential to the health of your chicks.
If you keep the brooder indoors, then a cover for the brooder may be optional.
You cover the brooder to help prevent drafts from entering the chick space. You also don’t want predators getting into the brooder and taking your chicks out.
This includes otherwise friendly house cats and dogs, especially ones that haven’t seen baby chicks before!
If the brooder is going to be outside, I recommend at least putting it inside of a shed or barn, where the temperature doesn’t change as much and there is protection from the outside elements. If the brooder is outside, a cover is a must.
The brooder cover needs to allow some airflow and lighting to enter the space.
So don’t just put a piece of plywood over the brooder. If you use a Rubbermaid tote as a brooder, you can cut the center of the lid out and put wire there to allow the chicks to get some fresh air.
If you’re building a brooder from other materials, make sure that you have some way for the air to circulate.
Heat for Your Baby Chicks
As I mentioned previously, baby chicks are going to need to be warmed. If they were with their mother, the hen would actually sit on them to warm them up, similar to how she would lay on eggs to keep them warm.
Since we are replacing her, we have to make sure the chicks stay nice and warm.
Warming chicks is really not a hard thing to do.
I warm my chicks very easily and cheaply with a heat lamp and heat bulb. I’ve been able to adequately heat 30 chicks at a time with one of these lamps.
When you are setting your heat lamp up, make sure that it is high enough that the chicks can’t touch it, even when they get a little bigger.
I would recommend getting a heat lamp that can both hang and has a clip. Having the option to let it hang over the brooder and clip to the side of the brooder allows you to play with the light and adjust it more effectively.
Many heat lamps come with a safety cage around it. This isn’t necessary if you are placing it far enough away from the chicks in the first place.
The light needs to be situated on one end of the brooder. Choose an end that you want the heat lamp and set it up. Give the chicks enough room in the brooder to get away from the heat lamp if they need to. Also, don’t put the food and water directly under the heat lamp. This crowds the floor space under the warm area.
I have also seen brooder tables available.
It is a heating pad that stands up some off of the ground. The chicks are able to get underneath it and get warm. If your brooder or space is large enough, this would also be a good option for a heat source.
Food for Your Baby Chicks
Feeding baby chicks is different that feeding adult chickens. Baby chicks have tiny beaks and mouths. They require food that is small enough to fit in their tiny beaks and mouths. Most feed stores or co-ops sell a chick starter feed.
Chicks starter feed has two things unique about it. Starter feed is in a tiny crumble, not a pellet. This tiny crumble is small enough that the chicks can eat it. It also has a higher protein level. Chicks grow extremely fast, so they need large amounts of protein to feed their rapidly growing bodies.
You can also get medicated or non-medicated chick feed.
If you are planning on raising organic chickens, then you don’t want to give them medicated chick feed. (There are organic feed options out there for chicks, they are just harder to find.) Medicated feed will help boost your chicks immune systems, especially against the Coccidiosis disease.
Coccidiosis is the most common disease that chickens can get, especially baby chicks.
Coccidiosis is in the environment all around the chicks. It lives in the soil and can be carried by people, animals or on equipment. It is a microscopic bacteria, so you can’t see it.
The bacteria get into the intestinal tract of the chicks and can cause damage to the intestinal tract.
If you think your chicks may have coccidiosis, you can learn how to treat it here.
Since young chicks are still building their immune systems, they can’t fight it off as easily and it is quite fatal in chicks. Medicated feed will help their immune systems fight the bacteria before it has a chance to cause major damage.
Always check your feed bag tag and make sure that it has a high amount of protein.
The protein content for baby chicks needs to be at least 18%. Remember, chicks grow rapidly and require large amounts of protein. Also make sure that there are an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals available as well.
Providing food for baby chicks
I recommend getting a chick feeder. It is a long tray with a covered top.
The covered top has holes in it for chicks to access the food. I prefer a plastic over metal feeder. The plastic ones seem to come apart easier over time than the metal ones.
You can also get a screw together feeder.
The top of the feeder is a jug that holds the feed and the bottom portion is a bowl that allows the feed from the jug to come out a little at a time. The bowl is open so the chicks can circle it and eat.
Many people will recommend feeding the chicks certain amounts of certain types of feed each day.
Honestly, what has worked best for me is just keeping the food containers full. If they eat through an entire container of food as soon as I set it out, that tells me that they are hungry, and I refill the container.
Chicks are just like any other baby animal.
You’re going to see some strong, vigorous ones and you’ll see some less vigorous ones. If you feed only a certain amount once a day, the larger chicks may get all of the food and the smaller ones won’t get anything. Keeping more than enough food out makes sure that all of the chicks get their fair share of food.
This is especially true when feeding meat chickens, which grow extremely fast.
Read my article here about what I learned the first time I raised meat chickens at home.
Water for Baby Chicks
One of the most important things you’ll have to do for your chicks is provide them access to fresh, clean water.
You’ll need to purchase a waterer. The waterer looks similar to the vertical feeder. There is a jug attached to a bowl. The water is slowly released from the jug into the bowl to keep the bowl filled.
I’ve realized over the years that chicks are not picky about where they poop.
They spend a good amount of time around their food and water, which means they will also poop on their feeder and waterer. Keeping these clean is extremely important. Chicks that may be sick can pass these illnesses to other chicks through their poop.
You can find water additives that can help keep the chicks healthy.
You can also find probiotics, prebiotics or even antibiotics to put in the water if you need to. It’s a good idea to at least have some of these on hand in case you get some chicks that start to look poor.
Don’t ever let the water run out!
Always make sure the chicks have water available to them.
Water is a limiting nutrient. This means that chicks can take in massive amounts of nutrients, but their bodies can’t use them if there isn’t enough water available.
Raising Baby Chicks
Before you get chicks, make sure you have the supplies you need for them. Assemble your brooder. Set up the heat lamp, feeder and waterer.
You’ll want to line the floor of the brooder with materials that can be cleaned out and changed frequently. I recommend lining your brooder with newspapers and then covering the newspaper with pine shavings.
Don’t use cedar shavings, as these are toxic to birds. Use pine shavings.
You’ll need to clean out the soiled shavings each day and replace them with clean shavings.
About once a week, change the newspaper and completely strip the brooder and clean it. This will help prevent any disease from spreading and harming your chicks.
It’s a good idea to slightly elevate your feeder and waterer.
If you can hang them so that they are slightly off of the ground, it will prevent chicks from pooping on them as much. If you can’t just make sure that you are cleaning them as needed to remove the poop.
I haven’t had problems with chicks falling asleep in the water, but I have heard other people mention that it has happened to them. If the chicks fall asleep in the water, they can get too cold and die.
If their head gets in the water and they fall asleep, they can drown. You can take small pebbles and put them in the water so that the water isn’t as deep but they can still drink.
If you choose to order your chicks from a breeder, they will come to you in the mail. These companies ship eggs that are hatching and by the time they get to you, they are day-old chicks.
Cackle Hatchery has a downloadable guide to raising baby chicks on their website that is good to have on hand. I’ve always had really good luck with chicks from Cackle Hatchery.
Community Chickens also has a week-by-week plan for caring for chicks.
Once you have everything set up, you can bring your chicks home!
Here’s a list of what you need for your baby chicks:
- Pine Shavings
- Heat Lamp
- Heat Lamp Bulb
- Chick Starter
- Brooder (optional)
- Brooder Box
You might also be interested in:
- Creating the Ideal Brooder Temperature for Chicks
- Preventing Water Belly in Chickens
- Ordering Baby Chicks Online
- What to Feed Chickens [Understanding Chicken Feed]