So you want cute baby chicks? You may want to do this for a variety of reasons. If you are like me, you have dreamed of being a chicken mama for quite some time but the restrictions placed by the city have prohibited this dream from coming true until you loaded up the truck and you moved to the country! Maybe you want fresh eggs because they seem more organic or sustainable, maybe you love the idea of these fun creatures traversing your property. Either way, you have come to the right place! I will step you through some of the key things that I have learned over the past 2 ½ years as a new chicken mama. I will also let you learn from my mistakes so that after 2 ½ years your flock is strong and producing!
Like I said, I knew I wanted chickens for a long time before we actually got them. I love eggs! I mean like seriously, unabashedly, will eat them for three meals a day, LOVE EGGS!! Having fresh eggs at my disposal is a dream come true! I love walking out and gathering the still warm, fresh eggs straight from the brooder. There is nothing better! But the road to fresh eggs can be tricky and sometimes sad and painful as you will lose some along the way. So, let’s get started!
Think of your baby chicks like little human babies, they need a gazillion things before you bring them home. Well, maybe not a gazillion, but you do want to be prepared. So, before you run to your local tractor supply store or farm and ranch store or jump online and order from a hatchery, you will want to gather all of your needed supplies for baby chicks. Here is a list of the items that you will need to have on hand the minute you bring your chicks home.
Container/Tote or large box for your chickies to live for the first month or so. We use a large metal water trough from Tractor Supply because we like the height and we had a coupon. Whatever you choose to use, you will want to ensure you have roughly ½ square foot of space per chicken. As they grow they will require more space.
Heat Lamp: This is the most important part. Your baby chicks do not have enough fat to keep them warm. They have to have a heat source that can be adjusted as they grow.
- Days 1-3 : Keep heat at 100 degrees at floor level
- Days 3-7 : Keep heat at 95 – 100 degrees at floor level
- Days 7 – : Heat can be lowered to 90 – 95 degrees
Here is an excellent graphic to use from our favorite hatcher, Cackle Hatchery. You can see the way the chicks behave if the brooder is the right temperature.
Large pine shavings to be used for the bottom. Do not use cedar shavings as they are toxic to little baby chickens. Do not use newspapers as it can be slippery for their little legs, remember they are just learning to walk.
Waterer – You can get whatever size you think for how many birds you are getting, we like our 5 Quart size and it has worked well with our flock of around 12-25. Start with a 1 gallon low profile chick waterer for each group of 25-50 chicks. Do not medicate water the first four hours. You will want to make sure the water is warm, about 98 degrees to start with. https://amzn.to/37ENA7y
Feeder Use a chick starter/grower feed.
Put the feed in troughs low enough so that the chicks can see and reach it easily. Use one foot of trough feeder or one round feeder for every 25 chicks. Never let the chicks run out of feed.
Order or pick out your baby chicks. There are so many different breeds of chicks and your choices will be determined by exactly what purpose your chickens will serve. Some may want to order a wide variety of birds so that they can tell them all apart, some may want to get all the same for exactly the opposite reason, and some may want to pick and choose based on the number of eggs they lay per year or just as simple as the way they look.
Whichever type of bird that you choose, I would recommend that you see if your hatchery is able to vaccinate against Marek’s disease or any other diseases that may be local to your area. This disease is a chicken disease and as we learned with our first flock of ladies, it will move through and kill them all with little warning. We like to order our chicks from Cackle Hatchery. They are located in Missouri but will ship to most US states. The chicks were healthy and they sent extras to help account for the initial loss that you will have when shipping. This last time we happened to lose more than the extras that they sent and they refunded us for the chickens that didn’t make it.
Getting your chicks settled once they arrive is easy, your chicks will be thirsty and you need to help them! A taste of water right away will help them find more water soon. Dip the beak of each chick into the warm water before you turn your chicks loose. After you have shown each chicken how to drink, just sit back and watch. You don’t want to handle your chickens for the first couple of days to let them destress and get acclimated to their new home.
If you start to notice that your chicks appear lethargic or are not drinking or eating, verify that the heat source is correct and that the water is not too cold. If chickens continue to be lethargic, then you can add a bit of apple cider vinegar (with the mother) to water and give that to the birds as their only water source for a few days. Use 1 tablespoon of vinegar to 1 gallon of water. You can also hard boil some eggs and then give the chickens the yolk only, crumbled up so it is easy to digest. This will give them much needed protein and help them to start thriving.
After you get through the first 72 hours, there will not be much more you can do besides love on your chickens and ensure that they do not run out of water or feed. Keep their space clean and change the pine shavings often, how often will depend on the size of your brooder and the number of chicks you have. I find that once a week works well but if you notice the smell getting bad then more frequently would be better.
After about 4 weeks you will notice that your little babies are not so little any more! They are down right chickens now! The fuzz is going away and the feathers are coming in, they may be flying to the top of your feeders and waterers, testing their new wings. This is the time to expand their brooder so they have room to grow and roam as well as bring in some roosting poles for them to start training on. We use just a ¾ inch dowel that we start super low to the floor, about 2 inches and then gradually move up as the chickies learn to roost there.
If you have a safe space for them to be outside that is free of predators than that would be ideal. This allows them to get acclimated to outdoor noises and sights. Remember, though, that if you are introducing your chicks to older chickens you will want to wait until the chickens are roughly the same size to avoid pecking problems.
That is basically all that you will need to know to get you started on your chicken journey. Check back for future posts on how to build a chicken coop, treats for your chickens, and how to keep your chicken run stimulating!