▷ Raising Baby Chicks: The Definitive Guide
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Raising Baby Chicks: The Definitive Guide

Written by Regina Ward and updated on January 27, 2015
raising baby chicks

If you are planning on raising baby chicks, you’ve come to the right place! We’ve got a complete guide to raising chicks indoor and outdoor, raising chicks in the winter, and so much more. By the time you’ve finished, you’ll know everything you need to know about how to raise chicks…

What You Need to Know About Raising Baby Chicks

Here are a few important things you need to know to get started raising chicks:

  • You’ll need a brooder  

    Chicks spend the first weeks of their life in a brooder, an enclosed coop that is designed to keep them warm and help them grow. You’ll need about 1 square foot of space per chick, though some people make their brooders larger. Just remember to cover the floor with about 4 inches of litter to make it soft and comfy for the chicks.
  • Don’t forget a heat lamp

    You’ll need to keep the heat around 95 degrees for the first week of the chicks’ lives, and only lower the temperature a bit as they grow older. This will keep them warm until their feathers grow in (around 5 to 8 weeks old).

    Cold chickens will huddle together for warmth beneath the heat lamp, but they’ll avoid the light if it’s too hot. Monitor and adjust accordingly.
  • Watch for paste-butt  

    Chicken poop sometimes clings to the vent (butt), stopping them from pooping. This can kill them if left untreated, so keep an eye out for this problem and check on them every few hours.

    If you see clinging poop, wash their butts and apply vegetable oil or Vaseline.
  • Food and water are vital

    The water should always be kept fresh and clean, and as far from the heat lamp as possible. Chicks can drown in a deep water container or bowl, so use a shallow plate to prevent this problem.

    Change the chick feed regularly, as chickens will poop in their own food.

    Look for “crumbles”–food that contains medication to help prevent infections. After the first or second week, switch to chick grit with a few treats mixed in occasionally.
  • They’re playful creatures

    Once the chicks are a few weeks old, you can allow them to play outdoors. Just remember, they’re fast, helpless, and can squeeze into tight places. Keep a close eye on them and ONLY allow them to play in enclosed spaces.

Raising Chicks in the Winter

raising chicks in the winter

Most people raise chicks during the summer, as few hens lay eggs as the weather turns cold. If, however, you plan to raise chicks during the winter, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Keep them warm – Older chickens may not need a heat lamp, but chicks are more susceptible to cold. If you’re going to raise chicks in the winter, make sure they are warm–but not TOO warm. Their enclosure needs to be ventilated to prevent moisture buildup.
  2. Feed them cracked corn Cracked corn is ideal to keep chicks warm at night. Cracked corn is harder to digest, and thus it will stay in their digestive tracts for longer. It will keep them warm, and they love it!
  3. Set a layer of deep litter  Increase the amount of litter in the brooder to 6 inches during the winter time to keep the chicks extra warm.
  4. Build a greenhouse  If the weather outside is cold, you can keep the chickens warm by enclosing them in a greenhouse-style coop. Use plastic to keep out the wind but let in the sun, and your chicks will be nice and toasty all day long.

Many people consider bringing their chickens indoor during the winter, and you may find that it’s necessary if your chicks are very young. Chicks are more susceptible to the cold than grown chickens, so it may be wiser to bring the brooder indoors–at least until the chicks reach are 5 or 6 weeks old and their feathers are growing in more fully.

If you are raising chicks indoors, you’re going to have to be prepared to deal with a lot of poop. Chickens will poop wherever and whenever, and it’s all but impossible to train them to poop in a box or nest. Chicken diapers may provide a solution, but a pricey one!

Raising Chicks Timeline

raising baby chicks

Here’s a rough timeline to follow as you raise your chicks:

Day 0 Set up the brooder, heat lamp, litter, waterer, and feeder. Stock up on chick feed, chick grit, and crumbles.

Day 1 Introduce the chickens to their coop, which should be heated to 95 degrees. Dip the chicks’ beaks into the water to teach them how to drink, and do the same with their feed.

Week 1 At the end of Week 1, lower the temperature to 90 degrees. Make sure to check their water no less than twice a day, and clean the container with a vinegar solution. Keep an eye out for paste-butt, keep the feed free of moisture and poop, and start feeding them chick grit.

Week 2Lower the temperature to 85 degrees, and continue with the food and water hygiene habits. Consider introducing a chick-sized perch to the brooder.

Week 3Lower the temperature to 80 degrees, and start keeping a lid on the brooder. Consider upgrading if the brooder is growing too small for the chicks within. Your chicks should start sprouting feathers.

Week 4 Lower the temperature to 75 degrees, and think about allowing the chicks to roam around. (If it’s too cold outside, let them play around indoors.) No more than 1 to 3 hours of roaming time (in a pen) per day!

Week 5 As long as it’s not too cold (lower than 60 degrees), you can remove the heat lamp. The chicks will now look like mini-chickens rather than chicks, with more adult feathers. Now is time to separate them according to sex. The chicks are now able to spend more time in the pen, and you should start feeding them adult feed.

Week 6 This is the time to introduce the chicks into the coop, where they will now be living. They can start eating normal chicken feed, table scraps, and treats along with the adults, and they should spend more time outdoors (provided the weather isn’t too chilly).

By the time the chick hits Week 6, it’s no longer a baby chick. It’s not a young adult, and it’s time for the chicken to go on living its life as a laying hen or broiler.

About the author

    Regina Ward

    Regina Ward prides herself on her “hands-on” approach to life. She would rather figure out the way to do things on her own than hire someone else to do it for her. From car repairs to home improvement, Regina tackles it all with gusto. When she finds a subject she particularly likes, she shares it with Organic Daily Post through her well-informed writing.

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