How To Raise Baby Chicks
Showing chickens at our county fair every summer means a new batch of chicks in the early spring. One of our favorite times of year is when all the babies start arriving on our little farm!
Pretty soon, we’ll have kittens and goat kids, but the focus of this post is all about how to raise baby chicks.
Even after 16 years of raising chickens, I never get bored with baby chicks. They are adorable little bundles of fluff that keep us laughing at their baby antics!
Also, stay tuned for how to take care of chicks week by week. I will break it down into easy and quick steps to keep the overwhelm from creeping in!
How To Buy Your Baby Chicks
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You may be asking yourself, “Where can I buy baby chicks?” You can go to your local feed store and purchase a variety of chicks.
There are a few advantages to that: you can see them first hand, inspect them for any disease or defects and pretty much choose the exact ones you want. You also won’t have to have a minimum order. You can just buy 1 or 2 chicks if you would like.
For many chick-raising beginners, this is a fine starting point and I encourage you to visit your local feed store and see what they have to offer.
If your children are looking at 4H to show chickens, or if you would like more variety or guarantees on the health of your baby chicks, I encourage you to visit Murray McMurray Hatchery.
I have been using them for almost all of my 16 years of raising chicks and they have never let me down! This hatchery has a plethora of breeds to choose from. All of the birds I have received from them have been extremely high quality and do very nice in the show ring.
I also like the peace of mind that comes from being able to have them vaccinated, which is not usually offered at the feed store. They will also replace any bird lost in the first 3 days. We’ve never had trouble getting credit for lost birds, even if it’s due to cold temps or other factors beyond our control.
Ordering online is my preferred method, but you can also call them. They are extremely helpful and can answer all of your questions about the different breeds they offer. They are also constantly adding new chick breeds, which is so much fun!
Once you place your order, they will tell you when your birds will ship. We order our birds in December or January and have them shipped in February. We get them very early because they need to be big enough by the time our fair comes along.
Since we live in the boonies, it takes an extra day or two for the mail to get to us. I always call my post office and let them know I am expecting chicks.
How To Raise Baby Chicks Indoors
So, now that we have these little babes, let’s give them a nice home. Let me start by saying that this process varies greatly from one person to the next, but there are basics to starting baby chicks that still need to be met.
What I do is going to be different than what the books tell you, or what your neighbor does.
As long as the baby chicks are cared for and kept alive, you’re doing fine. This is just how I do it and what I’ve learned over the years.
Baby Chick Housing
You need a bin or some sort of container to keep them in. We use a water trough that we normally keep in our pasture for our horse in the later summer/fall. It is not being used in the spring and is a perfect home for our chicks!
I like the thick rubber material that it’s made out of, which helps retain the heat. The sides are tall, which helps keep jumping chicks contained.
Other ideas for baby chicken “coops” are: kiddy plastic swimming pools, heavy-duty storage bins, or wooden boxes. Stay away from the basic plastic Rubbermaid bins, as they may melt from the heat lamp.
Then, just cover the bottom with wood chips, which you can get at your local feed store.
The size of the chips doesn’t matter. They can be finely milled or large, but people usually have a preference, although the chicks don’t really care. Just scatter some wood chips on the floor of your bin until there’s an inch or so of chips.
I keep my chicks in the house for at least 2 weeks.
They get big very quickly and need more space soon. They are not ready for the main hen house until they are feathered out.
We have a room outside that is bigger, safe from predators and has a heat lamp for them. You may need to keep your chicks inside longer, depending on your situation.
Do not buy chicks until you have an outside place for them, because they grow quickly and you don’t want to be scrambling once you have them.
The biggest issue you’ll face is them jumping out of their brooder box. You can make a lid with PVC pipe and chick wire if needed.
Baby Chick Food
Any type of chick starter feed will do, but let’s do a quick chick feed tutorial just in case.
There are 2 types of chickens, layers and meat birds. This entire post is referring to laying hens.
When you go to the feed store, you will see these two types of feed. Sometimes the feed will be marketed for both layers and meat birds or for a mixed flock. Stay away from that type of feed. Layers and meat birds need vastly different nutrients and calories, so buy feed only labeled for layers.
Within the layer feed category, you will find more types of feed, usually medicated, natural and organic.
Chicken feed is broken down into further groups by age–chick starter/grower and laying hens. So for the purpose of your laying chicks, you will be looking for the chick starter for layers.
All animal feed have labels with different percentages, which just means the amount of protein in the feed. I start and stay at 18% until they are laying and then switch over to layer feed, which is usually 16%.
Here’s a picture of what I buy:
I do not buy the medicated type because I already have my birds vaccinated at the hatchery. I do not want to pump them full of medication, as we like to keep things as natural as possible.
It is up to you if you’d like to give them medicated feed. It can help with coccidia, which is a type of intestinal parasite that baby chicks can get.
On the other side of the spectrum, is organic feed. Again you need to decide your goals and morals surrounding this issue. I use an “all natural” feed, but it is not organic.
Feed costs are an area to be aware of, and organic feed will be more expensive. You know your budget best, so choose accordingly. There is almost no health difference in your chicks feeding them organic feed vs regular feed.
Of course, Murray McMurray also sells some organic chicken feed.
When you’re ready to switch to layer (adult) feed, you can give them homemade feed to help cut costs.
Here is a recipe you can use for your adult chickens. They love it! However, you will need to add oyster shell to this, as this does not have enough calcium for strong eggshells. (When you click on the page, it says it’s a dairy goat feed. While that is true, you can also feed it to your chickens.)
Baby Chick Feeders
Leave it to these little gals to get inside their feeder, poop, and otherwise mess up their food. They ARE chickens, after all! (See Exhibit A)
So we always put less food in there to keep waste down until they are too big to fit inside the feeders anymore. They don’t eat much the first few days, anyway.
Another tip is to leave the lid open the first couple of days so they can find their food and get to it. Sometimes they can’t quite fit their little heads all the way down into this type of feeder. You do run the risk of them pooping inside of their food, however.
There are other types of feeders, such as mason jar feeders, hanging feeders, and rounded feeders. Last year I switched to this type of feeder and I love it! I like the feet and that it elevates the feeder so the chicks don’t mess in their food. This eliminates the need for bricks, as I talk about below. I highly recommend this type of feeder!
Baby Chick Water
My advice on water containers is to buy the bigger size. Most stores will offer at least 2 sizes for your chicks. Buy the larger 1 or 2 gallon size chick waterer.
They very quickly outgrow the smaller one and then it is of no use. Don’t waste your money! They can use the larger one until they are almost full grown and get put outside in the hen house.
We also always put a couple of bricks under the water container to elevate it a little bit. This helps keep them from getting in their water, kicking wood chips into it, and otherwise contaminating their water. They never have a problem reaching their water.
We use a solution called Quik Chick that we order from Murray McMurray when we order our chicks. We add this to their water until they move to the hen house in a couple of months.
It is an electrolyte solution that helps them with the stresses of travel, possible illness, and just helps them get off to a good start. I notice a huge difference in my chicks’ health with I use electrolytes in their water.
When we get our chicks, we take them out one by one and I dip their beaks in their water.
I heard long ago that this helps them find their water faster. I don’t know if it’s true, but I have always just done it. When they are all put in their new home, we watch them very carefully for about 20 min to make sure they can find their water and food.
Do Baby Chicks Need a Heat Lamp?
Your baby chicks are orphans, so you have to be their momma. By providing heat via a heat lamp, you are recreating the natural heat that a momma hen provides when she sits on them and gathers them under her.
The proper chick temperature for your little bundles is about 90-95 degrees. You could use a thermometer to keep an eye on the heat, but they will trample it, poop on it and it will get lost under the shavings. Another option is to use a digital thermometer that you can point to their area and see how warm it is.
However, your babies will let you know if they are warm enough and if they are at the right chick temperature.
When they are warm and happy, they will lay out like a carpet when they sleep.
When awake, they will happily eat, groom themselves and otherwise move around the brooder area. You will also notice their silence or almost silence. After all, they ARE babies–how quiet can babies really be?
But, if it’s too cold? They will chirp loudly, huddle under the lamp, trample, and climb on each other. They will eat and drink, but they will mostly stay under the light and cry.
If they are too hot, they will chirp loudly and stay away from the light. They will sleep against the wall on the other side, getting as far away from the light as possible.
Let your chicks do the talking and you will not go wrong!
How do you know if they are settled and happy?
Quiet chicks are happy chicks.
They will be very noisy when you first get them and put them into their new home. This is because they are stressed and cold. If their environment is right, they will quiet down after several minutes.
From now on, if they are loud, you know there is something wrong.
It’s too hot, too cold, out of feed–anything wrong and they will let you know! They even tattle on my daughter when she gets in their brooder for her nightly chick fix.
My Thoughts on Light Bulbs for Chicks
One more thing to consider when purchasing your baby chick supplies is the light bulbs themselves. There are many opinions out there. Everyone does it differently, so please do your research and be informed.
Most light bulbs sold as brooder bulbs for chicks are red. I personally don’t like the red lights because I feel that it causes the chicks stress and encourages pecking on each other.
If you’re new to chickens, you will soon learn that they do have a pecking order (which is where the term comes from), and they literally peck on each other to show their dominance.
Chickens are ruthless creatures and will peck until the death. They will kill babies that aren’t their own and each other if the conditions are right. Keeping chickens from being stressed is helpful to keep this from happening.
Chickens are also attracted to the color red. That is why feeders, watering trays, and other chicken accessories are red.
It is also why they like blood. If you have an injured chicken that is bleeding, they will keep pecking on the bleeding spot until the chicken is badly injured or dead.
And this is why I do not like red light bulbs. I’m not entirely sure why manufacturers keep making them red, but they do.
I always try to buy white light bulbs for my chicks. I will buy the red ones if I can’t find any white bulbs and I’ll just watch them ore carefully.
In my pictures, videos, and TikToks, you’ll see both colors being used and this is the reason why. It’s more important for them to have heat, so a red bulb is better than no bulb.
Another bulb aspect to consider is to not use shatter resistant bulbs.
They are coated with a substance called PTFE, which gives out toxic fumes and kills baby chicks when heated. I always look at the packaging to make sure they aren’t coated with this or aren’t being marketed as “shatter resistant.”
Baby Chicks Dying
Let’s address this sad detail of keeping chickens. You will most likely lose a baby chick, maybe even several.
They may come to you with some already dead in the box or you may lose a couple within the first few days. It happens, and while it’s sad, it’s not your fault.
Most of the time the cause is just being trampled by the other chicks. Sometimes a baby chick is smaller or less rambunctious and they cannot keep up with the others.
Disease is less likely, especially if you’re ordering from a reputable hatchery, but it is possible.
It is a fact of raising baby chicks that some will die. It’s OK. Try not to let it bother you, but I know it’s hard. If you prepare yourself for this, it might help a little.
It’s sad to think about but is very common. You are not a bad chicken parent if this happens to you!
Baby Chick Starter Kit
Here is a list of all you need to raise baby chicks at home. I hope this simple chick care guide is helpful!
I have all of this information in one place for you!
My Chick Starter Kit Pack has 4 pages of all of the information in this post in an easy-to-access format.
There are also checklists and a journal page to keep track of your own research and information.
The best part?
I sincerely hope it helps keep you more organized and confident on your new chick adventure!
You Can Take Care Of Baby Chicks at Home
Getting your chicks for the first time can be a little intimidating, but you can do it!
It’s fun to have them around and keeping a flock of chickens can be your biggest reward on your homestead or even in your backyard. Just having the eggs is worth all the effort, but I expect you will just enjoy having them.
Thank you for being here! I hope this chick care guide is helpful and takes any fear away that you may have. Have fun with your chicks!
Here is one TikTok about chicks. I have a few more. Feel free to follow me for homesteading and homeschooling content!