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Learning about raising baby chicks seems like it shouldn’t be too hard. But in the first few days, they can be a little tricky.
The first time my family bought baby chicks for our 4-H projects was defiantly a rough go-around. But after we talked to some people locally we got all the kinks out.
I’ve got some tips that are going to be a lifesaver and make sure you have lots of healthy chicks.
But if you aren’t careful, baby chicks can go down fast. Once you get the hang of it though you will be a pro. It just takes some consistent monitoring so you can fix the issue as soon as you notice them.
Whether you have a small chicken coop to fill, or you just love the fun of having those cute little balls of fuzz every spring. Baby chicks are some of the most fun you will have raising small farm animals.
No backyard farm or homestead is complete without baby chicks, even if they soon turn into full-grown chickens. They are one of the least expensive animals to buy, and easy to take care of especially when they are fully grown.
Where You Buy Your Baby Chicks From
Ok I have lots of opinions on this. So buckle up. If you want the best quality birds and you want to get exactly what gender you ordered. You want to go with buying chicks from a hatchery. Here is why…
Buying Chicks From A Hatchery
When you buy from a hatchery you can buy chicks that are “sexed” if your ultimate goal is to have hens for eggs then you don’t want to waste time raising a batch of chicks only to find out that half of them are roosters even though you paid for the pullets at the farm store. I will get to my explanation on that in a second.
My favorite hatchery is Cackle Hatchery. They have a very wide variety of chickens and they also have the best prices but more than that when we took the birds we ordered from them to poultry shows they always did well and got great comments from judges. While that may not seem very important it told me that the hatchery focused on the quality of the birds and I knew that the breeds were not getting inner mixed.
Why would that matter? Well, if you mix a breed with something else the natural features of that breed are compromised. Things like heat or cold tolerance as well as egg-laying abilities.
Should You Buy Straight Run Or Sexed Chicks From A Hatchery
There are two answers to this. Some breeds of chicks are not offered in anything but straight run (not sexed) and I think those are going to be fine and give you a good mix. I like to buy cochin chickens and these are not offered as sexed and we never get a crazy amount of roosters.
BUT!! If the breed of chicken is offered as sexed. Meaning you can buy pullets (hens) or cockerels (roosters) separately. Then you run a much higher chance of getting a bunch of roosters if you buy straight run. Here’s why.
The hatchery goes through all of the birds and pulls the pullets for the orders of people who want to pay the extra dollar or so to make sure they get hens. Do you really think they are getting and even mix of straight-run birds? Not likely.
Cons Of Buying From A Hatchery
If you are new to raising baby chicks then you need to be aware of is if you ordered your chicks online from a hatchery they will be a little more vulnerable because they are very young. They likely have not even eaten feed yet or learned to drink water. You have to get them accustomed to all of that. While I think you get better quality chicks from a hatchery you do pay a bit more.
But don’t worry I have all the tips you need right here in this post.
You also have to have your day open for when the chicks are hatched and arrive at the post office. You have to pick them up they do not get shipped to your front door.
When You Buy From A Farm Store
When you buy from a local farm store like Tractor Supply or rural king when they have their chick days the chicks have already gone through shipment and are a few days to even a few weeks old.
Also, the workers have been able to get rid of the ones that didn’t make it.
If this is your first time raising baby chicks and you aren’t concerned too much will the results of what birds you get you just want the experience. Then I would go with buying them from a farm supply store and then order from a hatchery once you feel confident in your chick-raising abilities.
You can learn more about where you should buy baby chicks here.
What You Need For Your Baby Chicks
Alright, let’s get into everything you need to care for your new chickens.
You need something to use as a chick brooder and plastic tubs are going to be the best option because they are easy to clean. Cardboard boxes will get soft from the moisture and leak.
For a standard storage tote, you can house about 5-8 standard chicks for a week to ten days then you will have to separate them. We buy these totes because they give us so much more room and last us until the chicks are ready to go outside.
There are two different sizes of wood shavings and different brands call them different names. You want the shavings that are really small like the image below.
Especially if you have bantam chicks, make sure to get the smallest shavings possible. It can be hard for really small chicks to get around in the brooder box if they have wood flakes that are up to their neck in size comparison.
It was kind of an “ops” moment when I got my first batch of bantam chicks. They were trying to climb over the large flakes that were all the way up to their chest. 🙄 sorry fellas.
The shavings I fill my coop with are more like flakes almost an inch square for some of them.
The chick starter feed is always a higher protein it tends to be between 18-21%. If you are raising broilers you want it much higher in protein. But for egg-laying backyard chickens the normal chick starter works fine.
Depending on how many chicks I have I will typically raise them on the starter until they are about 4 weeks of age and then just get crumbled layer feed after that.
Always get a crumble because the baby chicks can’t swallow the pellets.
Once the chicks are about 12 weeks old I do recommend going to the pellets when the chicks are bigger just because there is much less waste and the birds will find the pellets and eat them off the ground. But crumbles get smashed into the ground.
This is important because chickens need the grit to help them digest their food and these are very small ground-up rocks that stay in their gizzard and grind up their food.
If you are getting your new backyard flock from a hatchery you defiantly need to put electrolytes in their fresh water for the first 2-3 days. This will help give them energy and help keep them from getting sick.
Waterers For Chicks
I like the ones you can screw a mason jar in the trough style and flip (quickly) over. The container is more upright and saves space in the tub keeps the chicks out of the container unlike the water troughs do.
Another tip would be to put the waterer up on something to put the rim at chest height for the chicks. This will save them from getting too wet and cold. But also keep the bedding from getting into the trough of the waterer and clogging the opening.
Very similar to the waterer. These feeders are better with smaller birds because they don’t get stuck in them like they sometimes can in the trough-style feeder.
Screen To Place Over The Brooder After The Chicks Start Flying
The first thing to feather out are the chick’s wings. Within about two weeks your chicks will be fluttering and possibly be able to reach the edge of the tub and get out. YOU DO NOT want them to be getting out of the tub because they will stress out and not be getting enough heat and will likely die. Not to mention they will be pooping all over the place.
Thermometer – I like this one because of the suction cup you can place it closer to the same level as the chicks to ensure accurate temperature reading so you can control the brooder temperature.
Heat lamp and bulb
You must have a 250-watt bulb unless you are in a warmer climate (like 75 degrees or more) the 175-watt bulb will not warm the area up enough. I goofed one time and bought the wrong ones and they literally did nothing to keep the chicks warm which is not good for new chicks.
You also need a heat lamp with a clamp on it to attach to the side of the tub.
How To Care For Your New Chicks
You are about to become a professional backyard chicken keeper.
Heat, Heat, Heat!!!
That is the number one factor that will leave you successful or not so successful in your journey with baby chicks. Having enough heat for them.
It is helpful if you know how to read the chicks (yes I mean chick body language) to see if they are too cold or too hot.
If they are huddled under the lamp then it’s not warm enough. See the image below. So bring the lamp closer to the chicks. Stay close for the next 10-15 minutes to watch them and make sure the light is not too close. It will heat up fast and you don’t want to cook them on accident.
Once they start moving around the brooder and are more spread out evenly all over the tub you know you have it right.
But if they are hiding behind the feeder and pushing as far away from the heat source as possible then the brooder lamp is too close and you need to back it up a bit. Even if they are not trying to get away from the heat lamp but they are panting then it is still a bit too close. The chicks in the image are below they are ok with heat but it is too close for them to be directly underneath it.
Best Temperature For Baby Chicks
Try the best you can to keep the temperatures as steady as possible. Fluctuation can also cause health issues in baby chickens.
- Week 1: 85 to 90 degrees
- Week 2: 80 to 85 degrees
- Week 3: 75 to 80 degrees
- Week 4: 70 to 75 degrees
By this time the chicks should be fully feathered they should be able to be outside during the summer months if the outdoor temperatures are in the 80-90 degree range.
Just be careful not to leave the baby chicks outside simply because of all the potential predators out there. So much can happen to them if they are not protected. Have an enclosure outside to keep them contained.
They are also easily damaged so if they get scared and run into something they can hurt themselves. I had a baby duck run into our house foundation and break its neck because it hit the cinder blocks so hard.
How To Set Up A Brooder
Before you go get your chicks to make sure to add your bedding for the baby chicks to the tubs about 2 inches thick.
Set up the heat lamps on and to be about 12 inches above the opening of the tub. This should give you the heat you need for the chicks.
On the day of arrival (if you order from a hatchery) you should add electrolytes to the water which are not very expensive. If you don’t have electrolytes on hand a few teaspoons of sugar added to slightly warm water will do just as well.
They have been through a lot and giving them that extra boost will help increase the survival rate by quite a bit.
No matter how good you get, you will lose at least one or two birds if ordered from a hatchery.
When chicks are hatched they have ingested enough of the yolk to be fine for the first 24 – 48hrs of life. But being shipped in the mail for the first 48 hours of your life would be hard on you too…
Most hatcheries will send a few extra birds to help make up for the losses.
If you are losing a quarter or more of how many you ordered then something is still not quite right and you might need to do some investigating.
The first thing to check is to make sure the heat level is high enough. Then the next thing is to check into the drafts. Just because you have a heat lamp over them does not mean it is heating the whole area enough to keep them warm. If the container you have the baby chicks in is too large then the heat won’t build up and just dissipate. It’s like using a heater in a tent. It doesn’t work too well.
Feeding Your Baby Chicks
Feeding is pretty simple. Keep their feeder full with chick starter and the waterer full of clean water while they are growing and you will be fine.
Don’t give them anything from the kitchen until they are living outside with the other adult birds.
If you are raising broilers (meat birds) then they need to eat completely differently and you should head over to this post to read the best feeding routine for them.
Should You Keep Your Baby Chicks Separate Or Keep Together
If you order bantams, turkeys, ducks or anything other they chicken at the same time they are going to ship them all together in the same compartment most likely.
Shipping is fine but living together will cause issues.
Bantams, of course, are very easy to trample.
Turkeys… well these clumsy birds will be the unintentional bullies because they are so big.
Duckings LOVE the water and will make a disaster out of any amount of water you give them. If they are in with the other poultry they will get wet and cause them to be cold most likely killing your other birds because they could not get warm.
So make sure to separate each species and then if you get bantams they need to be in their own brooder.
Adding The New Chickens To Your Existing Flock
One last thing that needs to be touched on is introducing new birds to your flock. How well this goes depends drastically on the breed you already have. I have never been a fan of RoadIalnd Reds and I have several examples to prove my point. They are just not a very nice breed. It can be hard to introduce new chicks to a flock of aggressive birds.
Start with having the new birds outside in some form of containment where the adult flock of chickens can look at the newcomers but they can’t get to them. This will help give each group time to get used to each other.
You want your new chickens to be able to stand up for themselves. So I don’t tend to let my new birds with the flock until they are at least half the size of the older ones. Chickens are just bossy and you can run into some issues if you’re not careful.
Watch the behavior of the original flock and if you think you are ready to add your chickens with the main group you can either put the birds in the coop at night and everyone wakes up together things seem to go a lot better with far less fighting. Or you can wait until daytime so you can watch everything and make sure everyone behaves.
But also make sure that the new birds are being allowed to eat. We had a situation where the old hens were not letting the new birds get to the food and lost a few before we realized what was going on.
If you have one feeder you may have to temporarily use a few extra bowls to spread the food out so it’s not such a frenzy. It will give the chicks a better chance of getting some food. You may have to shew the old ones away from the food if they are being stubborn and not letting the new birds eat.
You should be well on your way to being a poultry master by now. Have fun with your new feathered babies.
If there is something I did not cover that you would like to see answered or have questions about. Email me at [email protected]