If you want to raise chickens for eggs or for meat, you will need to learn to take care of baby chicks. Below I will share with you what I do on my homestead to care for my chicks.
I currently have 20 baby chicks in my brooder box. And I’ll be putting 10 more in once these first ones get moved outside!
Baby chicks are fun. And cute! But they do require specific care to ensure they grow to be healthy, strong chickens. I am going to do my best to cover it all – from the brooder setup, to feed, to herbal care and more. Let’s get into it!
Where to Get Baby Chicks
I am not going to go into hatching your own chicks in this post. So this information will be for buying already hatched chicks.
There are many ways and places to buy chicks. However, I suggest making sure that the chicks you buy are coming from a quality source. I do not recommend buying chicks from FaceBook, for example.
You can buy chicks in person at most feed stores in the spring. For instance, Tractor Supply and Bomgaars are two in my area that sell chicks. They will have a rotating selection of breeds. And the chicks may or may not be sexed. If you see “straight run” on the label, that means they are mixed male and female. If you want a small flock (three to nine birds), then buying from the feed store can be a good option. They generally have small minimum purchases.
Another option is to order online from a hatchery. I recommend McMurray Hatchery (Iowa). I have also heard good things about Meyer Hatchery (Ohio), but have not ordered from them myself. Online hatcheries typically have a larger selection of breeds than the feed store. You can buy sexed females, sexed males, or straight run. If you want a large flock (ten or more), buying from an online hatchery is a good option. They will ship your chicks to your local post office, where you can pick them up.
Supplies for Taking Care of Baby Chicks
I get my supplies for taking care of baby chicks from my local feed store or I order them online. I suggest getting your supplies prior to bringing your chicks home.
Here is everything you need to take care of baby chicks:
- Brooder Box (set up instructions below)
- Heat Lamp (I use and highly recommend the Brinsea Eco-Glow)
- Pine Shavings
- Rubber Shelf Liner
- Chick Feeder and Feed
- Small Dish of Chick Grit
- Chick Waterer (with clean stones added to the dish)
- Sav-A-Chick Probiotics and Electrolytes
Heat For Baby Chicks
It is very important to keep your brooder box at the right temperature for the age of chicks you have. They will need to be kept in a warm, draft free place until they are fully feathered, which is about six to eight weeks.
For one day to one week old chicks the brooder box needs to be at 95 degrees Fahrenheit. And then you reduce the temperature by five degrees each week. For example, two week old chicks need 90 degrees, three week old chicks need 85 degrees, and so on. Once the chicks are fully feathered they can be moved outside to the coop, so long as the overnight temperature stays above 50 degrees.
In my brooder I use the Brinsea Eco-Glow instead of a red light heat lamp. There are several reasons I choose to use the Brinsea over a traditional heat lamp. First, I like that it simulates being under a mother hen. Second, it is more effective and provides even heat. Third, it does not have a light, so the chicks are able to adjust to a natural day/night cycle. This has been shown to improve weight gain and feather growth. And lastly, it is much safer than a heat lamp. Red light heat lamps are a known fire hazard.
The Brinsea Eco-Glow has adjustable legs. So you can raise it as the chicks grow. They have two models. The EcoGlow Safety 600 fits up to 20 chicks, while the 1200 fits up to 35 chicks.
This is not an ad, I just really love my Brinsea Eco-Glow and I know you will too!
Litter For Baby Chicks
I use pine shavings as the litter in my brooder box. I also use pine shavings as the litter in my chicken coop. Pine shavings are inexpensive. And they break down fairly easy into usable compost for my garden.
For the first few days I cover the litter with rubber shelf liner. Baby chicks aren’t very stable on their legs at first. The rubber shelf liner helps them grip and prevents spraddle leg.
After a few days I remove the rubber shelf liner and they do just fine walking on the pine shavings. I have never had a case of spraddle leg in my chicks.
I clean out the brooder box daily. First I scoop out the top layer of pine shavings. Then I wipe down the top of the Brinsea. And I also wash and dry the feeders and waterers. Once a week I completely replace the pine shavings.
Wondering what to do with the chicks while you are cleaning the brooder? Here is what I do. I have two brooder boxes connected with a tunnel. I close off the tunnel and place the chicks in one of the boxes. Then I clean out the empty box. After that I move the chicks to the freshly cleaned box and clean the other one. Once both are clean I open the tunnel back up so that the chicks can now access both boxes freely.
Feeding Baby Chicks
I feed my chicks a non-GMO soy free chick starter mash from Des Moines Feed (local to me). There are many different options at the feed store. Find what will work best for your needs, desires and budget. Just make sure it is specifically for chicks, not for pullets or layers! Feed designed for pullets and layers has a different ratios of nutrients. And feeding this to chicks before they are at that stage of life can cause various health issues, including kidney damage.
I add an “herbal sprinkle” to my chicks’ feed after the first week. Here is the recipe for the sprinkle:
Combine equal amounts of brewer’s yeast, garlic powder, kelp granules and raw rolled oats. Sprinkle a small amount onto feed and mix. For example, I add approximately 1/2 tsp. sprinkle to 1 pint of feed.
This sprinkle is beneficial for several reasons. First the brewer’s yeast supports bone growth. Second the garlic boosts the immune system. Third the kelp provides minerals and potentially reduces the risk of coccidiosis. Lastly the oats may reduce the incidence of “pasty butt“, which is a common issue with chicks.
Chicks need constant access to feed, so be sure to check the feeders often and refill as needed. Chicks eat a ton and they will probably go through feed faster than you expect!
Here is the feeder that I use. It is just the galvanized steel base, and then I screw a pint size glass mason jar onto it. I have two in my brooder for 20 chicks.
Grit for Baby Chicks
If you are only feeding your chicks with chick starter, then you do not need to offer them grit. However, if you are using the herbal sprinkle or giving any types of treats (scrambled eggs, oatmeal, fresh herbs, etc.) then you must offer grit.
Chickens do not have teeth to help them break down their food. Instead they store grit in their gizzard, which helps them to grind up the solid foods they eat.
Here is the chick grit that I use. If you are unable to find chick specific grit, you can crush up regular poultry grit with a hammer.
Water for Baby Chicks
Just as with the feed, baby chicks need constant access to fresh clean water. Be sure to check the waterers often and refill as needed. While it can seem impossible with baby chicks, do your best to keep the water free from shavings and poop. I set my waterers on upside down tins to prevent them being filled with shavings after one second!
I fill my waterers with room temperature water, as cold water can shock baby chicks. Also, I like to add small stones to my waterer dishes. I take some from my gravel driveway and then boil them for 10 minutes to pasteurize them, before placing them into the dishes. These stones will prevent drowning.
When you first bring your baby chicks home, you will need to teach them about drinking water. To do this, gently dip the beak of each chick into the water. A good (and bad) thing about chicks is that they are copy cats. Once one chick starts drinking water, everyone else will be quick to follow suit!
For the first day I add Sav-A-Chick probiotics and electrolytes to my chicks’ waterers. This helps to keep them hydrated and to reduce stress. After the first day they mostly get plain water. But a couple times a week I will give them a splash of raw apple cider vinegar in their waters.
Raw apple cider vinegar added to the water is a good overall tonic for chicks and chickens. It supports the digestive system, boosts immune function, and promotes respiratory health.
Here is the waterer I use. I use a plastic waterer. This is because vinegar will rust metal. I have two of these waterers in my brooder box for 20 chicks.
Setting up The Brooder
I always get my brooder set up at least 24 hours in advance of getting my chicks. This ensures the heat is at the proper temperature and gives me a chance to make sure everything is in working order.
The brooder box needs to be placed somewhere that is draft free. And somewhere that will be safe from predators, household pets, young children, etc. I keep mine in my spare bedroom.
For my initial brooder box I use two large plastic storage tubs. I cut a square into one side of each of the tubs. Then I duct taped cardboard between the tubs to create a tunnel. I laid rubber shelf liner over the bottom cardboard piece so that they have a grippy walk way. See the picture below for an idea.
On one side of one of the tubs I set up my Brinsea Eco-Glow. I made sure to lower it to the recommended height for the age of chicks I have. Then on the other side of the tub I put a waterer and a feeder. In the connecting tub I set a second waterer and feeder. Also, I set a branch for the chicks to practice perching on. I set some hardware cloth over the tops of the tubs to keep them from flying out of the brooder box.
In addition to the Brinsea, I keep a small space heater in the room to make sure that the ambient temperature stays high enough. I aim to keep the room above 75 degrees F.
My initial brooder box will be the perfect home for my chicks from day one to about three-four weeks of age. At which point they will be needing more space. How many chicks you have will determine how much extra space you need to add, as well as how soon you need to add it. If you have a small flock (ten or less) a set up like the one pictured above should last you longer than three-four weeks. Either way, you will want to be prepared to give them more space when the time comes. Chicks grow so fast!
Here is a picture of my secondary brooder box. I still have the Brinsea set up, but it is raised higher to accommodate for my growing chicks. And I still have the same two waterers and feeders. I put a few more branches in for the chicks to roost on. My chicks will stay in this brooder box until they are ready to move outside to the chicken coop.
If you have further questions on taking care of baby chicks please let me know in the comments below. Also, I plan to do a separate post on taking care of adult chickens sometime later this spring!