Cute, fuzzy, lovable and delicate – baby chicks, who doesn’t love them? Today we are going to run through the needs of these little creatures and give you some tips and tricks on how to raise baby chickens, making them happy and healthy without breaking the bank!
There are two things that are essential to the best outcome for your peeps and they are the investment of time with them and maintaining a good, healthy environment.
This translates to not only holding them and socializing (the fun part), but keeping them clean and well cared for. Caring for baby chicks is an intensive few weeks of continue ‘poop hoovering’, feed/water changing and monitoring of their welfare – the ‘grunt’ chores if you will.
It’s also a great time for kids to learn about how to take care of chicks, a hands-on educational experience for them. Lastly, it is the best time for pet introductions.
This overview is meant to give you a concise summary of the essentials of raising your baby chicks. You can find all the detailed steps in numerous articles which we have listed at the bottom of this article.
We recommend before anything else though, first review these top essentials in raising your new baby chicks. It is very important not to miss any of these steps, they are not in order by priority, all are critical to the good health and sustainability of your chicks!
Without adequate heat and light your chicks will not thrive or survive. They need lots of heat available for the first few weeks of life as they are unable to maintain their body temperature until they fully feather out – around 8-10 weeks depending on the ambient temperature of the environment.
Obviously if you live in a hot environment they may need less time under the brooder but if you live in Alaska or other cold climes they will need more time.
A heat lamp is often the choice of most people – it is simple to set up and operate. It is also relatively cheap to buy – but can come at a price.
Heat lamps are the number one cause of coop fires. If they are not securely attached they can fall onto dust, shavings and chicks causing a fire in under one minute.
If you are going to hatch more than one batch or plan to hatch yearly, maybe an investment in a brooder plate or electric hen would be safer and cost about the same over time. You can read about our top 5 favorite chicken heaters here.
A heat plate also has the advantage of not being an illumination source 24 hours a day. This helps chicks get used to the day/night cycle of real life.
Appropriate food is a non-negotiable for development and growth. Chick crumble starter is around 20-24% protein and is essential for a good start to life.
Our chicken feed article gives you all the available options for your choice of feeding.
Whether or not you choose to be organic, soy free etc. is up to you – what is important is the nutritional content of the feed itself – you cannot reduce the amount of protein or other needed nutrients without compromising the health of your chicks.
Whether or not you use medicated feed for your chicks is a personal decision. Coccidiosis is a devastating disease for birds, especially chicks. Death is not uncommon and those survivors affected will be less thrifty as grown hens and weaker producers.
Using a feed that has a coccidiostat added is the best way to prevent an outbreak of coccidiosis in your chicks, especially if you already have chickens.
For those of you wanting to be organic, amprolium – the usual coccidiostat is not considered and antibiotic.
The disease causing protozoan live in all birds but can easily and quickly overwhelm a new chicks’ digestive system. The coccidiostat helps to prevent that, as does good and proper housekeeping.
In depth information on coccidiosis can be found here.
Clean fresh water is essential. Chicks are messy with a capital M, so you may need to be changing water frequently as they tend to scratch shavings, poop and food into the waterer. We have reviewed several chicken waterer’s that can help, and lately automatic chicken waterers are becoming very popular. If you are going to go the automated route, be sure to start your chickens young so they can train easier.
Chicks will not drink water that is icy cold or too warm – the water needs to be like the Goldilocks factor – just right, tap temperature.
Chicks and adult birds can have too much of a good thing. Recently there has been some discussion on the overuse of Apple Cider Vinegar and also supplements.
ACV and supplements both have value as additives, but too much can be a bad thing. ACV is currently being questioned in some quarters as being responsible or exacerbating crop problems, particularly thrush (candidiasis).
Overuse of vitamins can lead to excessive levels of some vitamins, which can harm the long term health of birds, specifically glands and digestive systems.
There are no firm results or audited studies as yet, so just use common sense and give both as occasional supplements. Daily usage should be avoided, practice good water routine instead.
Many folks use a supplement such as Chick-saver in the water for the first couple of days. This is a soluble powder of vitamins, electrolytes and probiotics to give the chicks a needed boost of goodness.
It really is quite valuable for the chicks since being shipped or brought home from the feed store is a very stressful experience for them and can set them back developmentally by a few days at least.
The boost of energy and goodness is a great way to get them on the road to being happy and healthy.
At this age they do not need extra calcium (oyster shell), but when you start feeding extra things such as grass, treats etc. they will need some chick grit to aid with digestion. Calcium is needed for quality hard shell eggs.
There are several different types of chick bedding out there, depending on how much you want to spend. But before considering your options, please take note not to use cedar shavings. Cedar shavings are known to give off fumes and the smell can be toxic to chickens, especially chicks. People get away with it, but it is not worth the risk.
There are several newer products on the market to give you lots of choice. The cheapest and most used options are using pine or soft wood shavings.
Brand names such as Easichick sell for under 6GBP for a 10kg bale. Aubiose a 100% hemp product sells for around 13GBP for a 20kg bale.
In the US pine shavings sell for under $10.00 for a bale, hemp can be difficult to find.
Another great product is peat moss and this can be tossed straight onto your garden as compost as long as it isn’t too heavy soiled (chicken poop is too ‘hot’ for plants).
You need something that the chicks can walk on and develop good leg muscles. Plastics are slippery and can lead to things such as ‘spraddle’ which can be difficult to treat properly.
Milestones of chicks
This is just a quick reminder of the milestones of your chicks as a reference guide for you to gauge their stage of development.
Chicks are born precocial – this means they can walk, talk, and have down covering unlike many species that are born blind, hairless and helpless.
They do require some assistance though, whether from Mama or you to continue to evolve and stay healthy.
1st week of life – for the first 72 hours the chick will live off the egg yolk which it absorbed into its’ body. After this, the chick requires feeding and watering.
You must introduce the chick to its food and water by dipping the beak in each as soon as you get the chicks home. They will remember this and return to them as needed.
The brooder temperature should be 90F for this first week. You can find studies on the important of the first week for all types of chickens here.
2nd week – the brooder temperature can be reducer to 85F. You may see some of the first feathers starting to appear. The chicks still sleep quite a bit during this week.
You can add small perch(es) if you wish.
3rd week – reduce the heat by another 5 degrees to 80F. At this point they may need a larger container for space so they can spread out. If they are too cramped they may start some antisocial behaviors such as feather picking, which is difficult to stop once they start.
You will see more feathers coming in at this stage.
4th week – reduce heat to 75F. You can add a clump of short grass (dirt attached) or finely chopped hard-boiled egg or similar treats sparingly if you wish. Be sure to give them access to some chick grit if you do.
5th week – if the ambient temperature of the air is greater than 60F you can shut down the brooder heat during the day, you may need to keep it on overnight.
More adult feathers will be appearing. Your chick is starting to enter the awkward teenager stage!
6th week – if the outside temperature allows, you can move them outside during the day.
7th – 15 week – they are getting settled into their routines now. If you are integrating them into an existing flock, do so when they are about 2/3 the size of the adults.
You can gradually change them over to layer feed.
20th week – most breeds will be laying by now although a few breeds are slower to reach point of lay – Orpingtons and Bredas spring to mind.
There are some health issues that can arise with chicks and we will briefly review them here. Further information can be found in this article.
Your eyes and ears will tell you if a chick is not feeling well. Chicks should be noisy, raucous and energetic in spurts. A chick that sits quietly off to the side may be resting but may be ill. Mark the chick with some nail polish/ marker pen and keep an eye on its’ progress.
Vitamin deficiency can be an issue for individual chicks. Using a probiotic and vitamin/electrolyte supplement for the first few days is a good way to avoid this problem.
Sometimes a chick will be so traumatized by the stress of being shipped and/or being in that situation for an extended time (postal delays) can cause them to stop eating. Starve out is almost impossible to reverse and the chick will die.
Sometimes they come with foot or leg problems. These can be caused by deficiency or slick surfaces to walk on.
Feather picking may start when they get older and larger. If you see it make sure they have sufficient space in their area, it is usually a symptom of overcrowding or boredom.
Pasty butt/sticky bum is a common thing to see in brooders. The poop sticks to the fluff and effectively seals off the vent. This can kill a chick, so see care here.
There are other problems occasionally, but these are the ones you may see and can treat fairly easily without resorting to the veterinarian consult.
We hope you find this useful to tending to your brood. Of course, if you have a broody hen doing it all for you, you are very lucky! She will do all the work for you and integrate the chicks too.
Keeping a flock of chickens can be a fun, rewarding and entertaining endeavor. Starting chicks off right helps them to become healthy productive hens that will provide eggs (and meat) for you for at least a couple of years.
If you are allowed to keep a rooster, he may be useful to you if you are planning to hatch chicks on a regular basis.
One rooster can ‘cover’ up to around 15 hens successfully so you should get lots of fertile eggs and you can then incubate your own or tuck some under a broody.
Have fun with your chicks, they are one of the cheapest and most rewarding therapies around – and they don’t talk back.
Now that you have gone over the essentials, start digging deep into raising chicks. Let us know how you are doing!