Baby chicks are so small, so cute, so soft, and so fun to watch! They are also noisy, dirty, hungry, and needy. Before you give in to the emotions stirred up by their cuteness and bring a dozen home, get prepared for baby chicks so both you and they can be happy.
Springtime is the ideal time to add baby chicks to your homestead. Whether you hatch your own eggs, order day old chicks through the mail, or buy from your local farm and feed store, your baby chicks are delicate and will need a lot of TLC for the first few weeks.
Sometimes if the stars align you can trick a broody hen to adopt baby chicks, but most often you will need to mimic the warm and safe environment the chicks need to survive.
5 Things You Need to Raise Baby Chicks
The better prepared you are for the chicks arrival, the greater chance of success you will have at raising them into adulthood. Use these guidelines to prepare for the baby chicks’ arrival. Here are 5 things to arrange before bringing baby chicks home.
Initially, the chicks will need a warm and secure place for the first month of their lives. A heated enclosure used for raising baby poultry is called a “brooder.”
The brooder can be a large plastic tote bin, galvanized stock tank, child’s wading pool, wooden box, or anything that will keep the peeps enclosed in a safe area, and that can withstand heat from a heat lamp. A makeshift cover made of hardware cloth will help keep the chicks contained but allow air circulation.
Baby chicks need about 6-square inches of space each for the first month. The brooder should be large enough to accommodate a feeder and waterer, and enough space to allow the chicks to move around to find the warmth when they want it, but also allow them to move into an area where it is cooler. Chicks grow rapidly, so plan on the larger size rather than smaller.
Pine shavings are our favorite bedding material for brooding baby poultry. They are inexpensive, light, and can be emptied into the compost bin. Be sure to have plenty on hand so you can clean out the brooder often to reduce dust and odor.
Chicks raised without their mother need a source of warmth.
Heat lamps with 250-watt infrared red heat bulbs when used properly are an affordable way to provide the heat chicks need. However, heat lamps can start a fire if knocked over and come in contact with combustible material. If you choose to use a heat lamp be sure to secure it very well. Confirm you have enough room to adjust the height of the heat lamp easily. You should also have extra bulbs on hand in case one burns out. You will also need a thermometer to help regulate the temperature.
A safer alternative to a heat lamp is to use a Brinsea Ecoglow Safety Brooder Heater. Be sure your brooder is large enough to allow the chicks to walk away from the heater if they want to.
Food and Water
Chicks need access to food and water at all times. Baby chicks grow very quickly, and they need to fuel their little bodies continually.
Chick Feeders: There are various types of chick feeders on the market. Most have a slotted covering to prevent chicks from scratching and walking in the feed. I like using the round chick feeders with mason jars or the longer trough feeder. It is good to have a couple on hand to place in different locations in the brooder.
Chick Starter Feed: The type of food you will need is called, “chick starter feed.” Chick starter feed is formulated to provide proper nutrition for growing baby chickens. It is also processed to a small size to accommodate their tiny beaks. Chick starter food comes in two types: medicated and non-medicated.
Medicated chick starter food includes a medicine that helps prevent coccidiosis in your young flock. Coccidiosis is one of the most frequent causes of death in baby chicks. It is caused by a parasite called coccidia oocysts that is found everywhere. Once ingested, the parasite multiplies rapidly in the intestines and makes your chicks sick.
One way to help protect your birds against this disease is to feed a medicated chick starter. The medication helps keep the coccidia population down so the chicks can develop resistance over time. Use non-medicated chick starter feed if your chicks were vaccinated for coccidiosis at the hatchery.
Chick Waterers: Baby chicks need a fresh and clean supply of water at all times. The waterer should not be very deep or chicks may accidentally drown. If the basin is deep, adding a layer of pebbles to the bottom will keep it shallow enough to be safe and will also help weight the dish down so it does not easily move or tip.
I like using the mason jar waterer base and swap out jars of clean fresh water as needed. They are very inexpensive, so you may want to get several to make it easy to exchange daily for cleaning.
Your chicks will need light either from natural light from a window or a supplemental light source.
The internal clock that regulates their sleep and wake cycle is not set yet, and they will eat and drink around the clock for the first few days. Provide continuous light for the first 48 hours while the chicks adjust to the brooder and learn where to find food and water.
After the first 48 hours, adjust the lighting so the chicks get at least 8 hours of darkness per day so they can rest.
If you are using a heat lamp that needs to remain on, use a red bulb to help reduce stress and discourage the chicks from picking at each other.
If the room gets plenty of natural light during the day, you may not need any additional lighting. However, if the brooder is continuously dark, you will need a supplementary light source. Turn off the lights when you go to bed at night and turn them back on in the morning.
Continuous light is unnatural and unhealthy for chickens. If you are using a heat lamp, use a red bulb to help reduce stress and discourage the chicks from picking at each other.
What to Do Before Bringing Chicks Home
Prepare the Brooder
Set up the brooder before bringing home baby chicks, so they can be placed inside immediately.
Clean and disinfect brooder if it’s being re-used from a previous batch of baby chicks. Place about 2-inches of bedding material in the bottom of the brooder. Cover the bedding with paper towels for the first 2-3 days. This will provide a firmer surface to walk on and stop them from eating shavings until they figure out what is food and what isn’t.
Locate the brooder in a safe, warm area, away from drafts that you won’t mind getting dirty. Be aware that brooding chicks is very messy. After only a short time, you will discover that everything will be covered in a fine dust.
Consider brooding in the basement or an unused bathroom that you can scrub from top to bottom once the chicks are old enough to be housed outside in the coop.
Rodents can be a problem if the brooder is located in a garage, barn, or outbuilding. Mice, chipmunks, and squirrels will be looking for an easy meal and will eat the chick feed. Rats can prey on young chicks. It is important to protect your baby chicks from rodents. It may be necessary to set traps around the perimeter of the brooder for rodent control.
Check the Heat
If you are using a heat lamp, double check that it is securely attached over the brooder to prevent it from falling and starting a fire. The heat lamp should be out of reach of the baby chicks but close enough to keep them warm. Place the thermometer at the bottom of the brooder so you can check the temperature at chick level. Adjust the height to maintain a temperature in the brooder that is 90-95˚F.
As chicks grow they need less external heat. After the first week, you will begin reducing the heat output by moving the heat lamp farther away from the brooder.
If you are using a Brinsea Ecoglow Brooder Heater, follow the directions to get it set up. Since it operates using radiant heat, you will not be able to use a thermometer to check the temperature. Instead, you will observe the chicks to see if they are warm enough.
Turn on the heat a few hours before the baby chicks arrive so brooder will be warm. Check the temperature before placing chicks in brooder and make sure the floor is warm enough.
Organize the Food and Water
Chicks will need access to fresh water and food immediately. Fill your feeders and waters and place the in the brooder away from the heat lamp. Chicks are messy, and you may want to use a board to elevate the water and food bowls above the bedding material to help keep them clean. Add marbles to the waterer so the chicks won’t unintentionally flop into the water and drown.
Raising baby chicks isn’t difficult and can be a lot of fun to watch them grow up and form their little personalities. You will have greater success and fewer surprises if you use these tips to prepare for baby chicks before they arrive.
What’s next? Bring your baby chicks home!