There is no doubt about it- baby chicks are one of the biggest joys of spring! Their fluffy little bodies and incessant peeping make everyone around them just a bit happier. However, if you are thinking about bringing a boxful of feathered fluff into your home, there is quite a bit of information you need to know! So for all of you first-time chicken owners, here is a Baby Chick 101!
However, before we dive into the nitty gritty of chick raising, let’s make sure that you’re ready for chickens! Baby chicks are sweet and such a fun addition to the household, but as they age they are lots of work! So do a quick check-in: are you ready for the time commitment that comes with chickens? Early morning wake-ups and evening closing of the coop to secure it from predators, cleaning, egg collecting, daily handling of chickens to make sure that you can check for injuries, sickness, and parasites, as well as being on the alert for predators! yep, even in suburbia there can be anything from raccoons to hawks that think that your chickens are a tasty treat! Chickens are a joy, but make sure that you *actually* have time for them before adding feathered ladies into your backyard!
Raising Baby Chicks
Choosing Your Chickens
There are a lot of options when it comes to choosing chicks! (While the following is applicable to pullets (teenager chicks) and laying hens, I am going to focus on chicks.)
First take a look at your zoning laws! If you are in a city or in the suburbs many counties have limits as to how many chickens you’re allowed in city limits, where the coop needs to be placed, and whether or not you’re allowed a rooster! (I’d recommend agains a rooster for first time chicken owners.) Make sure that your flock will adhere to your city’s laws and get a permit if you need one!
Second, take a look at your climate! There are an incredible number of different chicken breeds, so make sure that you get chickens that will work well in your climate! Here in Denver, Colorado we have HUGE temperature swings that go from below zero in the winter to 100 degrees in the summer. This means that I choose larger, cold hearty breeds that molt into having a summer coat as well. I stay away from breeds like frizzles that have feathers that stick up and thus don’t have good heat retention, naked-necks that have areas of their bodies without feathers all together, and bantams which are smaller chickens. But depending on where you live all of those can be great options for you! Most online hatcheries have resources that allow you to see what kind of weather is best for each chicken breed.
What are you looking for?
Third, figure out what you’d like your chickens for! I happen to love egg color and plumage (while being cold hardy) but don’t care much about how prolific of an egg layer my hens are. However, if you have a large family and want your chickens to produce a large number of eggs, that is another breed characteristic you can look into!
Lastly, take great care in seeing how many chickens you are ready for! While it may seem fun to start off with the max number of chickens your city allows, starting off with fewer chickens is often responsible. As chickens are flock animals I wouldn’t recommend any fewer than three, but you can add chickens as time goes by!
Sourcing Baby Chicks
There are three main ways to source baby chicks- online hatcheries, farm stores, and local breeders. All three of these sources are going to have vaccinated or unvaccinated chicks- this is up to your discretion as everyone feels different re: vaccinating against some chicken diseases. My flock is vaccinated.
Online Hatcheries are amazing for having a wide variety of chicken breeds and an extensive catalog. On websites like these you can sort by egg color, cold hardiness, rarity and a number of other characteristics. Baby chicks like these are sent through the mail at a day old and you will pick them up at the post office. While picking up a box of chicks is rather amusing, I don’t think that I will use an online hatchery again as fatalities can happen in the mail.
Farm, feed, and agriculture stores often have ‘chick days’ where large tubs of baby chicks are brought into store during the spring for you to choose from. While traditional farm stores like Tractor Supply and Agway don’t often have a large variety of breeds, you can find smaller, family run stores that will sometimes have more fun breed options! I chose a local, family run store (Wardle Feed is just outside of Denver and has been family run since 1938!) this year and they had some fun breeds!
From chicken farms to Facebook groups you can do some research for chicken breeders in your area! While they might be a bit of a drive, finding local breeders can be great for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that the chicken breeds you are choosing from are proven to work in your climate!
Setting Up Your Brooder
So we’ve figured out that you can have chicks, and then chosen breeds and sourced them, now it is time to set up your brooder! A brooder essentially is a safe, temperature regulated space to raise baby chicks until they are ready to join your flock (or start their own) outside!
What You’ll Need:
A large container.
In the past I’ve used a large feed tank and this year I am using a large plexiglass puppy playpen because I had it on hand, but you can make anything that is secure with tall sides and is fireproof work!
Heat is incredibly important for baby chicks! Depending on the size of your brooder you’ll need 1-2 heat lamps as well as a thermometer. I recommend metal heat lamps with a clamp and red heat bulbs. Baby chicks for the first two weeks need to be kept at a temperature of 92-95 degrees (temperature taken 2 inches off of the floor of the brooder) each week after two weeks the temperature can be lowered by five degrees until they are ready to head outside!
You need something soft and scratchproof for baby chicks to snuggle down into and practice foraging. I prefer pine shavings as that is what I use in my coop outside.
Food and Water Dispenser
While you can make many different things work, I prefer to use a food dispenser and waterer that is specifically geared towards baby chicks. These have broad bases, interchangeable tops, and holes that are sized for baby chicks so that your little chicks stay safe!
Food, Water, and Grit
In the first two weeks of your chicks’ lives they don’t need many ‘extras’ in terms of treats like greens and the like, but they do need chick-specific food, electrolytes, and grit!
Chick Starter & Grower
For food, a chick starter crumble is necessary, the ingredients in a starter crumble are specifically formulated for chicks as they are growing and is very different than layer feed formulated for chickens who are producing eggs!
Both chicks and adult chickens need what is called grit. Like many birds, chickens use small pieces of rock to help break down and digest their food, and this goes for chicks as well! Chick grit is specifically sized for babies, and you can mix this into their food for them to peck at when needed.
Probiotics and Electrolytes
Especially if your chicks have been shipped they need an extra boost to make sure that they are healthy and happy! Even though my chick feed has antioxidants and probiotics in it, I always make sure that I add a powdered electrolyte mix into the chicks’ water to keep them healthy as can be!
When it comes to first time (and even veteran!) chicken owners, having knowledge at your finger tips is necessary! I am part of a few groups on Facebook that are very helpful when it comes to asking questions about chicken care, BackyardChickens and Chicken Keeping 101 are both great groups to join, but I also have plenty of books, websites, and chicken friends that are willing to help out! So whether it is asking how to remove poop stuck to your chick’s feathers (a warm, wet cloth, and a bit of pressure!) or a chick acting a little weird, make sure to have backup just in case!
To help out I’ve popped lots of my favorite products and research books in my Amazon shop!
If you want to watch my new little fluffier grow up, be sure to pop over to my Instagram– there is going to be lots of content there! Also, feel free to ask questions! While I’m not the foremost expert on chicken keeping, I do have many years of experience under my belt!
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