Are you getting chicks for the first time and wondering how to care for them. Or maybe you’ve had chicks in the past but want to make sure you’ve got everything covered. Here you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to care for baby chicks.
First off, if you’ve never raised chicks before you should! Don’t let anyone tell you it’s too much work or will take too much time.
If we’re talking about raising puppies, then maybe think twice! But chicks are super simple!
I buy a new batch of baby chicks every 2 years. My grandpa taught me this years ago. His reasoning is so that then you will always have good young laying hens.
If you aren’t raising chickens specifically for eggs you can get away with getting chicks less often. Although, baby chicks are so cute you’ll probably have a hard time not buying some when you pass by them at the feed store.
They have a magical way of making you want them.
How to Care for Baby Chicks
Throughout this article I’ll go over all the steps of raising baby chicks. Everything from buying them, to turning them loose in the chicken coop.
So keep reading to learn about each phase of caring for chicks.
Where Should You Buy Chicks
There are so many places where you can buy chicks. Especially once it starts getting close to spring time. Almost all feed stores will carry them, stores like Tractor Supply, and online hatcheries.
I have bought my chicks from our local feed store before but now I always buy my chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery.
The benefit of getting your chicks at the feed store is that it is really convenient. You walk right in and get to pick out the chicks you want. You can buy all the supplies you need in the same place. And you get to go home with them all in one day.
The downside to buying chicks at the feed store is that sometimes they will only have a straight run. This means that they are not sexed.
The last time I got a straight run of chicks I ended up with about 14 roosters and only 3 hens. Definitely not what I was hoping for.
Another downside is that there isn’t always a big selection to choose from. I have a few favorite chicken breeds that I always like to have in my flock and the feed store usually doesn’t carry them.
Benefits of getting chicks from a hatchery are endless. They will have almost every breed to choose from.
You can buy sexed chicks, so you know exactly how many hens and roosters you’re getting. And they will also vaccinate your chicks for you if you choose.
A few downsides to buying chicks through a hatchery are that they will be a bit more expensive, you may have to pay for shipping, and you have to buy a minimum amount.
The reason why the additional cost doesn’t bother me is because I know exactly what I am getting. The time I ended up with 14 roosters from the feed store was a complete waste of money.
So even though they were cheap to buy I spent weeks feeding and caring for them until I realized that they were roosters. And in the end I got rid of all of them… So it really wasn’t cheaper.
The reason the hatcheries require that you buy a certain amount is so that they chicks will survive the trip. I always order my chicks in February and the minimum amount is 25 chicks. But once the weather warms up you can buy a minimum of 15.
So if you want a large selection of breeds to choose from and want 15 or more chicks then consider buying straight from a hatchery.
If you only want a few chicks and don’t mind a limited selection, buying from a feed store is a great option.
What Tasks to Do Before Your Chicks Arrive
- Chick brooder
- Feeder and waterer
- Heat lamp
Whether you are getting your chicks from a store or online, there are a few things you want to have ready.
First: You want to be sure you have a chick brooder for your chicks to stay in. You can check out my post Choosing the Best Baby Chick Brooder for some ideas.
But the important things are that it is something safe that your chicks won’t be able to jump out of and big enough to give them space.
Your chicks should have enough room to all get under the heat and enough space to move out of the heat if they need to.
In the bottom of your brooder you should have something like pine shavings so that moisture will be absorbed and so your chicks will have soft bedding that isn’t slippery.
Underneath the shavings I will either line the brooder with paper towels or newspaper and that makes cleaning it out super easy. You can then easily just roll up with newspaper or paper towels with all the shavings inside and throw it away.
Second: Be sure to have a feeder and waterer. That way you can give your chicks food and water as soon as they arrive.
Third: You need a heat lamp to keep your chicks warm. Baby chicks will need a heating source to keep their body temperature warm enough until their feathers have fully grown in which is typically around 6 weeks of age.
What and How to Feed Chicks
When your chicks first arrive you should have their feeders ready and filled with food. Other than that you don’t have to worry. They will naturally find the feed and start scratching around and eating.
I feed my baby chicks chick starter feed for about the first 1-2 months. I have used medicated chick starter in the past but I always get my chicks vaccinated before they ship so then I just buy regular chick starter.
Once my chicks are over a month old and I run out of chick starter then I feed them laying crumble. You can continue to feed chick starter if you prefer but I usually switch to laying crumble because it is usually just a bit cheaper and it is small enough for the chicks to eat without any problems.
The other important thing is that you keep the feeders full. You’ll be amazed at how much your chicks start eating as they begin growing. So to make sure my chicks don’t run out of food I always have at least 2 small feeders or 1 large feeder that I fill up.
Watering Your Chicks
When you first get your babies you should individually dip each of their beaks into the water so that they know where it is.
Especially if they get shipped from a hatchery. One by one I will take each chick out the cardboard box that they were shipped in and dip their beak into the water.
After the long trip they are usually pretty thirsty so you want to be sure they know exactly where to get water.
Then be sure to give your chicks fresh cool water every day or every other day. In the first week I also like to give my chicks electrolytes in their water. It helps get them off to a good start.
In this case you should replace their water once a day.
Providing Heat for Your Chicks
You can attach the heat lamp safely in your brooder either by using the clip that comes with the lamp or by using something such as wire to hang it.
The bottom of the brooder should be between 95-100 degrees for the first 2 weeks and then can gradually be moved up each week.
If you notice all of your chicks huddling together they are cold and may need a little bit more heat.
If they are all spread out then they aren’t needing as much heat.
It is recommended to use a red bulb in your heat lamp and you should keep an extra on hand just in case it breaks or goes out unexpectedly.
While white bulbs can still provide heat, red bulbs help to decrease pecking problems within the brooder.
Once your chicks are in the brooder with heat, food and water, then it’s all easy from there.
1. Check food and water:
While it will likely be hard to not check in on your chicks multiple times a day, make sure that you at least check on their food and water once a day and fill it up if needed.
In the first week or two, they won’t drink or eat quite as much. But before you know it they’ll be growing chickens and eating and drinking like crazy.
2. Check for pasty butt:
As you check on your chicks be sure to also examine if any of them are looking weak or if any of them have pasty butt.
Pasty butt is just about what it sounds like. It’s chick poop built up around their bottom. If it dries up and is there for too long it can block their vent causing a problem because the chick won’t be able to poop.
So if you notice a chick that is starting to get pasty butt, run warm water over their bottom and gently help get it off with your fingers.
It is usually only a problem in the first week and is usually a result of stress. So after the first week you shouldn’t continue to have any problems but be sure to keep an eye out.
3. Check for sick chicks:
If you notice a weak looking chick then you should separate them. Other chicks can be extremely cruel. If they notice a sick acting chick they will start pecking at it, weakening its chances of getting better.
If you have two brooders you can have one with healthy chicks and the second with sick chicks.
This is what I do because then there is plenty of room for all of the chicks.
If you don’t have something to use for an extra brooder then just place a box or container of some sort inside of your chick brooder so the sick chicks can be separate.
On a weekly basis you should clean the chick brooder out. This isn’t mandatory but cleanliness is always important, especially when you are dealing with baby chicks.
I like to think that chicks probably prefer a clean home just like I do!
The nice part about cleaning out the the brooder is that it should only take a few minutes.
Simply roll up the paper towels or newspaper with the dirty shavings inside and throw it away.
Then roll out new paper on the bottom and add new shavings.
How Long to Keep Chicks in the Brooder
Your chicks should stay in the brooder for at least 6 weeks. By then they should have all of their feathers grown in to maintain their body temperature.
It also depends on your weather though. I buy my chicks in February so then by Summer they will start laying.
But even after 6 weeks it is pretty cold outside.
So once my chicks got to big for the chick brooder I moved them into a large dog kennel inside my garage. This gave them more space and I could continue keeping the heat lamp on for them.
If you live somewhere with really harsh winters spring would be a better time to get your chicks so then the weather outside is warmer when the chicks go out into the chicken coop.
Or you can get them sooner but continue keeping them indoors.
Another thing to keep in mind is whether or not you are moving the chicks out with grown chickens.
If you don’t have grown chickens in your coop then you won’t have anything to worry about.
But if there are older chickens they will likely pick on the new chicks.
I like to give my chicks the best advantage and the bigger they are the better.
When I move my chicks out into the chicken coop with my grown chickens they will be about 2 1/2 months old and should be plenty big to fend for themselves.
How to Add Chicks into the Chicken Coop
I believe the most important part about adding chicks into the coop with older chickens is just making sure that they are big enough.
Older chickens that are already in the coop typically pick on any newcomers.
So the bigger your new chicks are the better.
Once you add them into the coop keep an eye out and watch how your other chickens interact with them.
If you notice one chick particularly getting picked on then you should keep it separated until it gets a little bigger.
Other than that just make sure you see that the new chicks have found the food and water.
From there, just continue providing them with food and water and they should be happy and healthy.
If you’d like specific tips for making caring for chickens easier, be sure to fill in your information below so you can get my free guide!
If you’d like some more information on raising chickens check out: