Basic Guide On Chick Care

Chick Care: How to care for baby chickens

Whether you’re hatching your own or buying from the local feed store, new chicks can be loads of fun and excitement. However, chicks, like all animals, have basic needs and the early stages of an animal’s development are critical for its long-term health. This guide is intended to quickly walk you through the basics and prepare you so you (and your little peeps!) can get the most out of the experience…

When you First Bring the Chicks Home:

  •  Introduce them to the water and food you provide them: You can easily do this by gently tapping and rippling the surface of the water with your finger and tapping the food with your finger also. (This is how a mother hen would introduce them to a food/water source).
  • Check their bottoms: This should definitely be done if a chick appears unwell but I highly advise doing it once a day for several days after you bring your chicks home. Moving chicks is stressful and can cause Vent Pasting so be sure to keep an eye out on your new charges!

Caring for the Chicks

Depending on how many chicks you are getting, your needs may vary slightly but the general idea is still there. I will go into a little more detail in the following paragraphs.

A Place for the Peeps: A Box/run

Basic Maintenance: Clean Bedding 

Proper Temperature: Heating Safely

Sustenance: Good Nutrition

Clean Water: Tips on Waterers

Notes on Handling Young Chicks

A Place for the Peeps: The Box/Run

The box should be simple, easy to clean and spacious

You should have enough for chicks to run around and be able to keep themselves away from each other when the need arises. If there is not enough room, picking may start. Picking is when one or more of the chicks starts pecking at one or more of the others. It can lead to cannibalism and even death on serious/unchecked situations. I use Rubbermaid totes and/or Industrial storage containers.

Note: Many chicken owners raise chicks in a coop outside, which can be easier. On such an conditions, you would not need a box. However, since chicks are sensitive to even minor changes in temperature, you need to keep the temperature range outside into consideration. The optimal temperature range for chicks is listed below.

Basic Maintenance: Clean Bedding

The chicks’ area should be cleaned every day to every few days, depending on how much area you have per chick. For bedding, pellets or shavings are good. I had to use straw in the photo above but I don’t recommend it for the reason that it is not optimal for respiratory health. Depending on how absorbent the bedding is, you may need to lay some cardboard underneath to make cleaning easier. The cardboard should be changed each cleaning. I highly advise a natural, non-toxic disinfectant such as Rubbing Alcohol or Vinegar for cleaning/sanitizing the box and feeders/waterers.

Proper Temperature: Heating Safely

As for heating, Chicks need the bottom of the brooder box to be about 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit for the first two weeks. This temperature should be reduced 5 degrees each week after those initial 2 weeks until the chicks are a month old. However, don’t you don’t need a thermometer or math skills to know the temperature… Take a few minutes to watch your chicks. If they huddle under the heat light, make a lot of noise and/or appear lethargic/sleepy all the time, you may need to raise the temperature a few degrees. If your chicks are crowding the edges, making lots of noise and/or appear stressed, try lowering the temperature a few degrees. It’s pretty simple. When you look in the chicks’ box, you should see mingling and hear contented chirping.

As for heating methods, there are a lot out there. Here are some safe, highly effective heating systems:

Sustenance: Proper Nutrition

Chicks grow very quickly and may take as little as 4-6 months to mature (depending on the breed). Deficiencies in young chicks can later lead to permanent health problems, stunted growth and even illness/death. For this reason, nutrition is very important.

What to Feed Chicks:

The nutritional needs vary depending on if you are raising meat chickens vs egg laying chickens/ornamental chickens.

Egg-Laying & Ornamental/show Chicks:

For young chicks (0-10 weeks), they should be fed Chick Starter. Chicks over 10 weeks should be switched to Grower Feed.  Layer Ration Feeds are for egg-laying chickens and are thus enriched with ‘extras’ of specific nutrients used to produce eggs (such as calcium). Layer Ration should generally be given to chickens 18 weeks and older (unless the chicken begins laying before then).

Meat Production Chicks:

For Modern Meat Production Birds: Chickens that are being raised for meat should be fed chick starter from week 1 to week 4-5. After week 4-5, they should be switched to grower until week 7. Then, they should be switched for the last time to chick finisher until they reach appropriate age for slaughter (week 9-12).

For Heritage Birds: Please click this link for a PDF file on What to Feed Heritage Chickens (By the Livestock Conservancy).

Treats & Chicks

It is okay to feed chicks healthy treats in small amounts. However, make sure you don’t feed young chicks to many treats. Chick starter feed is naturally enriched with special nutrients that are particularly important at chickens’ early growth stages. Here are some healthy ideas for nutritious, chick friendly treats: whole grain or seedy bread crumbs, *cooked quinoa,*berries, *fresh clover sprouts or some *yogurt. You can also feed them some small seeds. Earth-worms from the garden are also good. However, most chicks, from my experience, won’t really start taking an interest in insects or treats until they are at least a week old.

*These things should only be given to chicks in small amounts because they spoil quickly.

Tips on Waterers

There are many different types of waterers out there. The most important thing is not the waterer itself but the clean factor. However some waterers are easier to maintenance and keep clean than others. As long as its functional, stays pretty clean and is not very deep, you’re good (Chicks can drown trying to drink out of deep waterers). If chicks start perching on the waterers/feeders, I would highly advise hanging the waterers and or feeders and adding some alternative perching. However, usually when chicks are big enough to be jumping on waterers/feeders, they’re approaching their out to their ‘time to move outside’ age.

Notes on Handling Young Chicks

Try not excessively handle young chicks (under 1 week of age). Young chicks are very delicate and it is incredibly easy to injure and overly stress them. If you are going for taming your chicks, simply start by putting your hand in the box. Just be sure to keep your movements slow and unobtrusive. When you do handle them, be gentle, move slowly and make soft but deep noises to them. Chickens primarily communicate through sound and they will recognize specific vocalizations. Low-pitched, low volume sounds can help them relax.

Taking care of your little fuzz-balls can be simple and fun! I hope you have enjoy raising your little flock! If you have any questions or comments about raising chicks or identifying the breed/gender, please feel free to contact me by commenting below or by visiting the “Contact Me” page in the menu above. If I don’t know the answer, I will likely refer you to someone who does and/or recommend a book or other online resource on the subject.

A Warning on Feather Dusters:

Many people on the internet are putting feather dusters in the chicks’ brooder box. Young chicks enjoy snuggling up underneath the soft fluff of a duster and it is extremely cute… However, dusters can pose serious dangers to young chicks. Dusters designed to… well… collect dust, making them hazardous for young chicks’ respiratory systems. Additionally, peacock feather dusters have long, slender strands that can strangle young chicks. I have heard of chicks being injured or killed this way. (You can read more about why feather dusters are not for chicks here: “How Feather Dusters are Hazardous to Chicks” (The Chicken Chick).

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