Basic Chick Care
Bringing day-old chicks home for the first time can be a scary and nerve-wracking new adventure. I can remember riding home with a cardboard box full of peeping chicks for the first wondering if I had made the right decision for my family, if they would die and I would feel terrible guilt, if they would make us sick, if they would ruin our yard, etcetera, etcetera. Of course I came to find out that having backyard chickens was one of the best thing to ever happen to our family! Still, handling an animal I had never had experience with before was terrifying. Why? Well, there’s a lot of unknowns there. I get how you feel!
The good part is you will get through it and realize that having chicks around is no big deal. First, there are some things you need to know before picking a box up of fluff balls yourself.
Caring for chicks in a brooder is interesting, as they have no parent animal there to teach them how to do things. This makes chickens a highly intelligent animal, in my opinion, as they immediately can figure out where to find food and water, to forage and scratch and communicate with each other. It's fascinating to watch! This is the time where you get to spend many hours with your birds, watching them peep at each other and scurry around their brooder. It's really so entertaining. Many of your tasks throughout the days will revolve around their activity for the next few weeks. In this blog post, I will be teaching you about all of the supplies you'll need to get started, how to feed and care for your chicks, and what will happen each week for the next two months. You can learn even more about the first seven weeks of a chick’s life in detail in my online course Finding Your Flock! Keep reading for a special discount code you can use the entire month of March!
Where Do Chicks Live?
In a brooder! Chicks do not have the ability to regulate their own body temperatures. This is what the purpose of a mother hen is, among other things, to keep the babies warm with her body heat and feathers. Once a chick matures and grows in its adult feathers at about 6-8 weeks old, it is ready to leave the brooder and live outdoors. Over the course of those first weeks from hatch to 8-ish weeks old, you will need to provide a safe living environment for your birds.
You will want to have your brooder and chick keeping supplies ready as soon as you bring your chicks home or they arrive at your local post office. You can easily find all of these supplies at your local feed store or online. It is important to make sure that you have these supplies ready - your chicks will be exhausted after their long journey to your home from the feed store or hatchery.
Where should you keep the brooder? Somewhere safe and free from drafts! We usually keep ours in the basement or in an attached porch. The garage is fine, too, if its not too cold! They will make a lot of dust, peep loudly, and possibly tempt your other pets so think ahead of where they will be safest and not bother your family at night!
Here are a few supplies that you will need:
Brooder Box. This can be any old container like a cardboard box (prone to catching fire - so not my favorite recommendation!), a plastic tub, a metal wash tub, or even a puppy playpen. Just use something that you can clean easily and don't mine ruining with chicken poop. It's also good to note that you might want to pick something that won't leak if water is spilled. Chickens don't pee, but they do sometimes spill water on the bottom of the box.
Bedding. Fill the bottom of the brooder with a natural bedding like pine shavings or straw so the chicks don't slip. This also makes it easier to pick out poops!
Heat Lamp. Purchase a nice and reliable heat lamp! This will be the most important part of the brooder system and will keep the chickens warm for the next several weeks. You'll want to have this hung above the brooder with the ability to raise it over time.
Thermometer. It's a good idea to have some sort of thermometer to place inside of the brooder. The best kind is an electric thermometer that you can place on the floor of the bin directly under the heat lamp.
Screen. Once your chicks start to get bigger, they'll begin learning how to flap their wings, jump, and maybe even get a little bit of wind to fly. It's a smart idea to have some sort of screen covering them so that they do not fly out of the bin and escape! The screen can also protect them from other family pets such as a curious cat.
Feeder and Waterer. Since the space will be a bit cramped, you'll want to purchase a small chick feeder and waterer. These will both need to be filled at least once a day! It might also be in your best interest to purchase some marbles to place in the waterer; sleepy chicks may fall in the water and accidentally drown themselves!
Feed. Newborn chickens need to eat chick starter, which is a type of feed that is specially created around what chicks need to grow healthy and strong. It usually comes in a crumbled form so that it is easier for them to eat. You will also want to purchase them some chick grit, which is crushed rocks and sand to help them digest their food. Their feed will change once they are out of the brooder. You can learn all about the different chicken feeds in my online course!
Electrolytes. If you bring your chickens home, and they look a little sad and lethargic, you can give them some electrolytes to help their tired little bodies. I use the Sav-A-Chick brand, which just dissolves into their water.
keeping chicks warm
The day a chick is born, whether you do this at home or order them online, the chick will ingest the yolk sac from the egg and live off of this for up to 72 hours. This is how a hatchery is able to mail you day-old chicks! Once these 72 hours are up, they are ready to eat food and water provided by you. When they arrive home, place them inside of the brooder, with the temperature inside of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. By the time they reach one week old, lower the temperature to 90 degrees. The temperature needs to remain at this until Week Two, and will continue to decrease each week by 5 degrees. Make sure that you remember which day you start on! I have provided you with a chick temperature chart in the PDF you received with the purchase of this course. Print that out and tape it near your brooder!
Temperature is very important. Chicks that are either too hot or too cold can become stressed and ill - they can even die! You can be the judge of how they are feeling based on their temperament - are they peeping and exploring, or lethargic and huddled? If they are constantly gathered under the heat lamp, they are probably too cold. If they hug the sides of the box where the heat lamp isn't directly settled, then they are too warm. Below is an easy chart that gives you an idea of what temperature the brooder needs to be until the chicks are ready to leave the brooder. I tend to go to 7-8 weeks old before letting them sleep in the coop overnight, but they will need it to be at least 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit before they can go outside!
1st week 95 F
2nd week 90 F
3rd week 85 F
4th week 80 F
5th week 75 F
6th week 70 F
The best part about having chicks on the homestead is enjoying their daily care! This is the ideal time to start forming habits with how you plan to care for your flock later down the road. As I stated above, you’ll need to feed and water your chicks at least once a day. As a busy farmer, my chick-tending practices have shortened to more of a minimum effort than when I was simply a backyard chicken keeper. This means I check on the chicks twice daily, morning and evening, and make sure all is well.
Look out for signs of distress, illness, or injury. Are the chicks happy? Are they chirping, exploring, scratching, eating, and drinking? Maybe some are cuddled together sleeping or there’s one snoozing standing up? If your chicks seem to be doing all of these things, they are probably fine! A few signs of distress to look for are a huddled group under the heat lamp for an extended period of time (they are too cold!), lethargy (they need some electrolytes and vitamins), splayed leg syndrome, pasty butt, or bloody stool. You can learn more about these in my online course!
Feel free to handle and talk to your chicks. They will begin to recognize you as a fellow hen (or maybe a rooster!). Hold them gently by placing one hand under their feet and the other over their back and wings. This way they won't flap in your hand, which makes you prone to dropping them! It's usually best to wait to give them extra treats like mealworms and such. They will begin growing wing feathers and sprout tail feathers by the end of the week!
If your chicks are beginning to outgrow their space, don’t worry - that’s pretty normal! You may want to upgrade them to a new container. We learned early on that our chicks were much easier to work with when brooded inside of a livestock feeding trough, found at the feed store. You might like this also, but it's not necessary! If the weather is warm enough, you can let them explore outside for a bit under supervision once they are closer to 6 weeks old. Make sure to return them to the brooder soon so that they do not become chilled.
There is much to learn about keeping chickens on the farm! This blog post covers the most basic information, but there is even more to learn about brooding your own chicks at home. In my online course, Finding Your Flock, I cover the entire lifespan of a chicken including the first seven weeks of life in detail. I teach you exactly what to expect, what you will need, and answer those burning questions!
For the rest of the month of March I will be sharing all of my chick related tips and tricks with you here on the blog! It is going to be Chick Month here at Under A Tin Roof while I raise my newest babies and prepare them for life here on our farm. I am really excited to share all of the best chick information with you!!
My course Finding Your Flock is $25.00 - I am offering 25% off now through March 30th to all of our blog readers. Just use the code CHICKDAYS15 to receive your discount!
Be sure to stick around for the rest of the month to see the other chick posts I will be sharing!