Raising chicks.

How to raise baby chicks.

Baby chicks are cute, cuddly and adorable and don't require much maintenance with the exception of providing them their daily balance of baby chicken feed and cleaning their brooding pen every couple of days.

As we introduced the baby chicks to the brooder we dipped their beaks in the drinker so they know where it is.

Below: Some just hatched baby chicks all dry and fluffy in the incubator.

Then they need to be left to sleep for a few hours to recover from the hatching experience.

Then start to feed train them by sprinkling chick crumb on paper. The noise makes them peck at it.

A good method of checking whether the temperature of the brooding box is right is the behaviour of the chicks.

If they are huddled together under the heat lamp then they are cold and the temperature is low. If they are far away from the lamp or wedged in a corner it may be too hot.

How do you raise day old chicks?

The basic care routine for baby chicks:

Below: day old chicks on sand bedding with a red light bulb.

  • Brooders must be set up and running before the chicks need it.
  • Chicks need to be warm, at least 95F on day 1 and decreasing by around 5 degrees a week.
  • Chicks need enough space to move around and get out of the heat if necessary.
  • Make sure the brooder is secure.
  • Food and water containers should be shallow and refreshed regularly.
  • Predators, pests and family pets should be kept away.
  • Children need to be taught how to handle young chicks.
  • Have spare heat sources, bedding and feed.

How do you keep newly hatched chicks?

When raising baby chickens, you don't even need to build a chicken coop straight away but you do need a brooder. This is a simple box with bedding, feed, water and a heat source.

Depending on the number of baby chicks that you own, a small fish aquarium would be sufficient to hold those little baby chirpers until they being to out grow their home.

Below: I use a cardboard box, ordinary lights (one red). You can use bigger boxes as the chicks grow.

I can assure you that until the time comes for you to move them to a larger chicken coop, you and your family, especially small children, will be enlightened with your baby chickens. Just listening to them chirp all day long will make any child smile and will bring joy in your household.

My favourite brooder type is a large sturdy card box that can be disposed of when finished with. Just put half an inch of sand in the bottom and you are ready to go.

One of the easiest ways to keep your baby chickens is in an empty fish tank, aquarium or large plastic tote. You could fit about a dozen baby chickens in an empty fish tank which makes a perfect little draft free home for your baby chicks.

You could observe them through the glass of the aquarium and easily feed them by removing the top chamber. One of the benefits of keeping your baby chickens in a small fish tank is that usually fish tanks come with a built in light in the top chamber which will serve as a light and heat source for your baby chicks.

How long do you keep a heat lamp on baby chicks?

At least 4 weeks depending on the temperature of your environment. More like 6 and I keep a heat source till 8 weeks. If they get cold they will pile on each other and kill themselves.

Better to be safe than sorry.

I always use two independent heat sources when brooding chicks.

Below: Chicks sleeping happily under a heat lamp.

This light will give your baby chickens just enough heat to keep them warm and also will illuminate them so that the kids can enjoy watching them chirp and peck their little hearts out.

How and when to handle baby chicks?

While baby chickens can be cuddly fun little critters, it is important to take proper care of them especially when in reach of children.

When handling baby chickens, you must be careful not to squeeze them too hard or choke them. I know they're small and you would think that handling an innocent baby chick would be easy but they can get rather difficult to handle at times. You see, when a baby chick is removed from his baby chick flock, it will desperately try to escape from your hands in search for his companions.

Below: Chicks are cute and irresistible but handle with great care. This mother hen has brought her ample brood into the lounge to cause chaos.

It is during these struggles that young children may accidentally squeeze them too hard in hopes to keep them tight in their hands. With the same token, if a baby chicken is not held firm just enough for it not to escape, it may also accidentally fall off or jump off your hand and that would not be a good idea. Baby chickens are fragile little creatures and they are not strong enough to survive a hard fall.

If possible, it is best not to handle baby chicks that much until they are at least 4 weeks old so you won't risk injuring them. If you absolutely must pick one up, make sure to keep one hand underneath they're bellies and gently hold the chick with your other hand on top with a soft yet firm approach so that they wont accidentally slip away.

I urge you to please handle your precious baby chicks with care and always remember, they may be young, but they are the future of your ever growing backyard chicken farm.

How do you feed chicks?

Feeding baby chickens is just as important, if not more, than handling them. Though baby chickens are born with the same instincts as their parents, they are too young to peck their way to a solid nutrition.

You can make a trip to your local chicken feed store and pick up some chick starter feed and make sure you leave plenty of it out for your baby chicks to munch on throughout the day.

How much Space to chicks need?

Their new home is made from a large cardboard box with sand on the floor and a wire mesh lid, a small saucer of food and a red drinker. In the first week they need very little space.

As they grow then need more and more every week as well as some vertical space to spread their wings.

Below: Take your lead from mother hens.

Baby chicks can drown easily in open water troughs, so it is worth investing in a chick drinker. They are fairly inexpensive plus chicks are supposed to like the colour red!

Of course one of the most essential additions to the brooder box for the baby chicks is a heat lamp.

It need to be positioned in such a way that way if the chicks are too warm they can move away and if they are too cold they can move back underneath it. I also added a thermometer on the floor to keep a check on the temperature - which should be around 37 C (or 95 F) for the first week.

The temperature can then be reduced by around 5 degrees a week until the environment in which the baby chicks are kept in reaches ambient temperature. This is achieved by raising the lamp, until hopefully at around 3-4 weeks or when the birds are fully feathered it can be removed altogether.

The brooding box needs to be sited in a quiet, secure, draft free area. I set the box up the evening before so we could check that the lamp was working properly and maintaining a good temperature for the baby chicks to be introduced into.

What is the best bedding for a brooder with chicks?

I just use sand on the floor, chicks peck at anything at their feet and we wanted to make sure they knew where the feeder was before they filled up on sawdust.

They seem to naturally ignore sand rather than feed on it like they do with wood shavings and it holds the heat much better than wood shavings do.

It is very important with any poultry to keep them clean to prevent disease. Straw is too ‘big’ for the chicks feet and not really absorbent enough.

Sand does not grow the spores that cause brooder pneumonia when it gets damp.

Sand is not a fire risk with the heat sources in brooders like straw hay and wood shaving are.

What are the growth stages of baby chicks?

Growth stages of baby chickens are subjective and depend considerably of the breed and your conditions as well as whether they are bantams, true bantams or large fowl. Meat chickens generally grow and pass through these stages about twice as fast as ordinary chickens.

Below: Day old copper Marans chicks.

The first stage is "day old". This last till they are around a week old. This is the smallest stage and your baby chickens are at their most vulnerable. Ideally you will have more than 1 heat source and keep a careful eye on them.

Below: Stage two. Older chicks still rely on their mother, or you,  for everything.

The second stage is just the plain old "chicks" stage. It start at a week old and last till they are around 5 weeks old and beginning to grow quite large and feather up well. These birds are much more hardy and need a large brooder with a covering to stop then escaping and causing havoc.

Below: Growers. have most of their feathers but still need care.

The third stage of a chicks life is the "grower" stage. It starts from 5 weeks and marks the first transition onto a new large sized feed and their first trips outdoors.

Below: Teenage chickens crowding the dust bath. Ready to join the flock.

The fourth stage of a chicks life is the "teenage" stage. It begins around 12 weeks and is normally when young birds would be introduced to the flock to learn their place. They begin to eat adult feed and can be allowed to be fully free range if that is your plan.

Below: POL or Point of lay. Nice red comb and ready to lay eggs.

The fifth stage is "POL or Point of lay". It starts from 16 weeks and marks the point where the hens begin to show signs of being mature. The red comb begins to show and adult behaviours settle in.

What do baby chicks eat after they hatch?

Of course it is important that the feeder and drinker is close to the heat source so the baby chicks don’t get too chilled when eating and drinking. Happy baby chicks we’ve been told should be fairly active and move in and out of the heat source freely.

The feeder was filled with fresh chick crumbs. This is fed for the first 6 weeks or so, it is small so can fit in their small beaks, also it is full of all the nutrients that the baby chicks will need; but do remember to check the expiry date on the feed sack as we have been caught out by that before!

How often should baby chicks eat?

Food and water should be available all the time from the moment they are in the brooder. Baby chicks should be allowed to eat whenever they want to.

Although they can easily survive up to 72 hours without food the earlier you get them eating and drinking gives them more of a head start.

Well fed and watered chicks survive better if there is a brooder problem.

It is not unusual for very young chicks, ie less than 2 days old, to just pick at their food and not really eat much. They still have the yolk to sustain them but by day 3 they will normally be eating heartily around 20 to 30 times a day.

Do baby chickens need light at night?

It's not so much that baby chicks need light 24 hours a day but they do need warmth.

In nature chickens tie their reproduction to the lengthening days of spring to ensure 14 hours a day at least of feeding. These chicks then spend around 10 hours under the mother hen with no ill effects at all.

If you raise chicks under a heat pad or electric hen, instead of with light bulbs or heat bulbs, you still need to give at least 14 to 16 hours of light in every 24.

The majority of keepers I know leave a light on 24 hours a day as this lets the chicks sleep when they want and eat and drink when they want.

How long can newly hatched chicks go without food or water?

The ability of baby chicks to go without food and water makes it possible to post them across countries as day olds. Hatcheries often send chicks out this way with surprisingly good results.

Large fowl chicks can go an absolute maximum of 72 hours without feed or water. They are sustain during this period by the yolk which is absorbed inside them before they hatch. Beyond this time and they will die very quickly.

Bantams and true bantams can do around 60 hours before they do begin to die.

The yolk is rich in fats which break down readily into carbon dioxide, water and energy to sustain the chick.

How do you keep chicks warm at night?

Chicks are kept warm with:

  1. Light bulbs. These have to be incandescent and preferably red.
  2. Heat pads, brood plates or electric hens.
  3. Ceramic heat lamps. The emit infra red light or heat and last longer than bulbs.
  4. A mother hen.

It is important that you do not use products designed for reptiles as they may not get hot enough.

What do baby chicks like to sleep on?

Chicks like to sleep on a spot that is warm and dry. I have found with many years of experimentation that it makes little difference what floor covering you choose provided that it is warm and dry.

For years I used wood shavings and they worked just fine. The I switched to sand after I nearly had a fire and i found it better.

Straw and hay may contain pests and although they are nice as bedding they are not that useful as floor coverings.

Shredded paper is a bad idea.

How soon can Chicks go outside?

I have let chicks artificially incubated chicks outside at just 3 days old. It was a warm sunny spring day well into the upper 20'sC (80F+) and was just for 15 minutes at a time.

It depends on the breed and your circumstances.

Below: These very young chicks are quite happy outside for 15 minutes or so at a time.

At what age do chicks get feathers?

You can see from the picture above that these 4 day old chicks have started to grow their primary feathers. 

Some breeds of chickens begin to grow their first feathers as little as 24 hours after hatching. I have Orpingtons that can take 14 days to start growing their feathers.

Hybrids feather up really quickly and may have a full set of feathers by the time they are 4 weeks old.

Birds kept in cooler conditions or raised naturally with a mother hen tend to grow feathers more quickly.

Chicks go through 3 partial and one full moult before they are nature.

How can you tell a chicks age?

You can tell how old a chick is by it size and how well feathered it is.

To tell by the size you need to know the breed and if the bird is a bantam or large fowl.

Meat chickens develop at roughly twice the speed of laying hens.

Some breeds feather up more slowly. There is a slow feathering gene which can sometimes be used to sex chickens as well. Orpingtons are well known for feathering slowly.

Where can I order baby chicks?

 You can find and buy baby chicks from:

  1. Hatcheries.
  2. Facebook groups.
  3. Breed associations.
  4. Poultry sales or Auctions.


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