It is so exciting to see the baby chicks in the feed store, but there are several things you need to do before you bring those adorable creatures home. Baby chick care doesn’t have to be difficult, but you do need to be prepared.
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Bringing baby chicks home
The day you go pick up your chicks, be sure the farm store is your last stop. Have your brooder set up before you leave the house. Have lukewarm water and feed already inside the brooder. Baby chicks don’t like to get cold so you will want to bring them straight home after picking them up. Since your brooder is ready to go, you can place your chicks inside it as soon as you arrive home.
Once I arrive home with my chicks, I pick each one up from its box and inspect its behind for pasty butt (chicken droppings). If any have droppings stuck to their vent (behind) take a warm moist paper towel and gently remove the droppings. If the droppings aren’t removed, they can clog the chick’s vent and lead to death.
Just before placing the chick in the pine shavings, I gently place their beak in the water so that the baby chick knows where to find it. I do this with each and every chick I bring home.
It is a good idea to monitor the chicks closely for the first couple of hours. If they don’t seem to be drinking, you may have to repeat the process of showing them the water. Usually once one chick finds the water, the rest catch on fairly quickly.
Monitor the heat source
If you are using a heat lamp, you will need to monitor the chicks to see if they are too hot or cold. They are too hot if they are running away from the lamp and standing in the corners of the brooder. They are too cold if they are huddled together directly beneath the heat source. (But I really don’t recommend heat lamps. See why I don’t recommend them here.)
The first week, baby chicks need to be kept at about 95 degrees. Each week you can lower the temperature (by raising the heat lamp) 5 degrees until the temperature is 70 degrees.
Instead of a heat lamp, I recommend an Eco-Glow brooder. These are so much safer. The chicks will go under the heat source when they are cold and come back out to get food and water. You don’t have to monitor the temperature like you do with a heat lamp.
You also don’t have to worry about the chicks being too hot or too cold. The only downfall to the Eco-Glow is that the room temperature needs to be at least 55 degrees. You can’t keep baby chicks warm with this in a cold barn. For more information on why I chose an Eco-glow brooder, check out this post.)
Daily Baby Chick Care
Each day you will want to pick up the chicks and look for any signs of pasty butt or illness. According to most statistics I’ve read, it is common for about 1 in 10 chicks to die in the first couple weeks. However, in the 8+ years I’ve been raising chicks, we have only lost one!
You will also need to make sure they have plenty of food and water. You will probably have to clean their waterer every day, maybe even twice a day. Baby chicks are messy, messy, messy! And proper baby chick care will ensure they remain healthy.
As the Baby Chicks Grow
As the chicks grow, they will lose their soft, baby fuzz and start growing feathers. Many times, the “teenage” chicken looks much different from the baby chick. They can actually be quite ugly during this phase of rapid growth.
Keep an eye on the chicks for signs of blood. This can be the result of feathers growing in, but it can often be from bullying by other chicks. Sometimes the flock will gang up on just one chick. Other times, you may have one chick that is a “brooder bully.” The Chicken Chick has some great information about how to reform a “brooder bully.”
If one chick is injured, the wound needs to be attended to quickly. Other chicks will continue to peck at the blood on the injured chick. Usually, the injured chick will need to be separated from the others until it has fully healed. I don’t give you this info to scare you, but I do want you to be prepared. Pecking by other chicks can be serious and can even lead to death if not handled quickly.
When to Move Baby Chicks Outdoors
After the chicks are fully feathered, usually by 6 weeks old, they can be moved outdoors to a secure coop during the day. If the temperature will be above 60 degrees at night, they can be moved outside permanently. However, if the temperature will drop below 60 degrees, they will need to be brought back inside to the brooder. The other option would be to provide a heat source for the outdoors.
Raising baby chicks doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. It is a great learning activity for children and adults alike. And the fresh eggs they will provide later are out of this world!