Raising baby chicks happens to be one of my absolute favorite things. I’m going to share with you everything I know so that you can raise some baby chicks of your own!
Baby chicks are the perfect addition to any backyard or homestead. I mean who doesn’t love fluffy little day old chicks? They are so cute, fairly easy to care for, and they end up giving you delicious eggs.
I still remember the date the very first chicks we ever owned were hatched. We were on the way home from the beach and I spent the entire ride researching what breeds were going to be available in the next few days. I absolutely could not wait to have little fluffy chicks scratching around!
Where to get baby chicks?
If you are completely new to getting baby chicks you may not know where to look to find them. Here are a few places I would recommend looking:
-Small local hatcheries
-Feed stores in the spring
-Local small farms
-Craigslist Farm & Garden
Choosing a breed
Next, think about what kind of breed you want to raise.
There are several different breeds of chickens. Breeds will fall under the category of meat bird, egg layer or dual purpose. Dual purpose breeds can be used for egg laying or for meat.
Breeds specifically bred for meat are not something you will want to get into if you are looking for egg layers. Meat breeds grow extremely fast. They are meant to be butchered within 8-14 weeks. These birds will often die from heart attacks before they ever get to a laying age.
Examples of meat breeds are Cornish Cross and Freedom Rangers. Breeds of meat chickens are also often referred to as broilers.
Chicken breeds most known for their egg laying are Leghorns, Golden comets, and rhode island reds. These birds pump out up to 300+ eggs a year and mature at a smaller body weight.
I encourage you to research the breeds your local hatchery has available to find the best fit for you.
Dual purpose chicken breeds are Sussex, Wyandotte, Orpington, Barred Rock and Brahma, to name a few. These are birds that mature to a weight large enough to make a good meat bird, but will also produce a significant number of eggs.
We have loved raising dual purpose breeds as egg layers for years!
Essentials for raising baby chicks
Before bringing home your chicks, you will definitely want to ensure that there are no zoning or HOA rules preventing you from owning chickens. There are also a few essentials you do not want to be without:
This is where your baby chicks will live when you bring them home. It can be fancy and wooden, or as simple as a plastic storage tote. I may have even kept baby chicks in my mudroom utility sink for a few days when they were so super tiny.
Ideally this will be pine shavings, but in a pinch we have used straw or hay. Using cedar shavings is not recommended. Cedar shavings can cause respiratory issues in chickens.
Bedding will provide footing for the chicks to walk around on. It will also help absorb any water that spills and their poop. Trust me, there will be lots of poop!
A heat lamp is a must for keeping chicks warm. Baby chicks are not born with feathers and will need supplemental heat until their feathers grow in fully.
Chick feeders hold the chick feed and have small holes for the chicks to eat out of.
Chick waterers hold water and have a gravity filled tray for your chicks to drink out of.
Chick starter feed
Starter feed is specially formulated for chicks. It is usually 20-24% protein. Both medicated and non-medicated versions are available. Medicated chick feeds contain Amprolium, which is a medication that will help to prevent coccidia in poultry.
Because chickens do not have teeth, they eat grit to help grind up their food. Most chick starter feeds are milled so finely that chicks will not need grit. If you plan to give your chicks treats, grit should be offered. Chick grit is found at your local feed store with the feed. I usually will just have my children grab a handful of fine sandy dirt from somewhere in the yard and we will put a small pile of it in the brooder. This has always worked well for us.
Setting up your brooder
Place your brooder box in a safe area. Make sure that other household pets can not get to your brooder. If I’m using a plastic storage tote I will line the bottom with a layer of paper towels and then add a light layer of bedding.
Next, hang your heat lamp over to one side of your brooder. You want the space directly underneath the lamp to be at 95 degrees for the first 5-7 days of your chick’s life. There needs to be space in your brooder for the chicks to move away from under the heat lamp if they are too warm.
If your brooder box is too small there will not be much room for them to move away from under the heat lamp. You will need to raise your heat lamp every week or so to lower the temperature directly under the lamp at a rate of about 5 degrees a week.
Now it is time to fill your waterer and feeder. I place my waterer and feeder about 6-8 inches apart in the brooder, not directly under the heat lamp.
Bringing baby chicks home
This is the most exciting part!
Whether you are ordering your chicks online, buying them from a feed store, or picking up at a local hatchery they will usually come in a small box with a little bit of bedding in the bottom. If you are picking up locally it is a good idea to bring a small box (a cardboard amazon box will work fine) with a handful of shavings in the bottom, just in case.
Once you get them home, put them in your well prepared brooder! I like to dip one chick’s beak gently into the water. Once one knows where to find a drink, the rest will figure it out.
A few important notes
The first few days they will sleep a lot. They will also get super cute little zips of energy when they are awake. It is so cute to see them running around their brooder!
Chicks produce a lot of dust. You will need to make a few minutes every few days to clean out your brooder. Also remember to wipe the dust off of your heat lamp.
Chicks will live in the brooder for approximately 6 weeks until they have fully feathered out. If you started them in a super small brooder box, you may have to move them into something larger. This will depend on how many chicks you have and how small your box was to begin with.
It is important to check your chick’s bottom at least daily. It is fairly common for chicks to get a condition called Pasty Butt. Poop will collect and cover their vent (opening on their bottom where they poop), not allowing them to be able to eliminate correctly. However, this is easy to manage as long as you are checking them often. Simply wet a paper towel with warm water until it is damp, and then wipe the poop off the chick’s bottom.
Keeping your baby chicks warm enough
You can tell if chicks are too warm or too cold based on their behavior. If they are all huddled together directly under light, they are cold. If you see your chicks spaced at the outskirts of your brooder away from the light, or panting, they are too warm. You can adjust the height of your heat lamp to raise/lower the temperature in your brooder.
Again, you want the space directly underneath the lamp to be at 95 degrees for the first 5-7 days of your chick’s life. You will need to raise your heat lamp every week or so to lower the temperature directly under the lamp at a rate of about 5 degrees a week.
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Raising chicks is absolutely an experience like no other and the perfect way to ease into raising homestead animals, right in your backyard.
You’ve got this!
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