Moving Chicks to the Coop

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Inside: Learn when it’s safe to move your chicks from their brooder box to the outdoor chicken coop.

By now, you are ready to get those teenage chicks out of your house or garage. They are becoming increasingly messy. They probably need more space to roam around.

You are ready to begin the process of moving chicks to the coop. But are the chicks ready? Here are a couple of things to keep in mind as you transition your chicks from their brooder box and move them into the coop.

When Can You Move Chicks Outside?

You shouldn’t even consider moving chicks to the coop until they are at least 6 weeks old. Chicks raised under a brooder need the heat of a brooder to keep warm. Baby chicks under 6 weeks old don’t have enough feathers to regulate their body temperature.

Baby chicks don’t really need the space of a large chicken coop until they are older and if your coop has an attached run, they may not be able to find their way back inside at night.

But there are many other things to consider before transitioning chicks to the coop. Read on to learn the signs that your flock is ready to be moved outside.

Are Your Baby Chicks Fully Feathered?

baby chicks not fully feathered playing in the clover
Baby chicks enjoying a few minutes outside. These two are not ready to make the transition to the coop since they aren’t fully feathered.
fully feathered chick
A “fully feathered” pullet sometimes called a “teenage chicken” – This one is ready to be moved outside.

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First, your baby chicks need to be fully feathered out before moving them to the coop. This means they need to have lost all of their baby fuzz and have full-fledged chicken feathers.

This usually occurs between 5 & 12 weeks of age. Some breeds take longer to feather out than others.

In the pictures above, the chicks on the left are NOT ready to make the move outdoors yet. They can be put outside for a bit during warm days as long as they are watched closely.

The chick on the right is fully feathered and should be fine in the coop with no heat lamp or brooder light.

pictures of the quick-start guide to raising backyard chickens

What Type of Brooder Lamp Did You Use?

Another thing to consider before moving chicks outdoors is the type of brooder lamp you used. The type will affect how soon your baby chicks feather out.

Chicks kept under a heat lamp will take longer to feather out than chicks raised under an Eco-Glo brooder. Under a heat lamp, chicks are exposed to constant heat so they don’t feather out as quickly.

Under a radiant brooder (like the Eco-Glo), the chicks will come out to eat and drink but then run back under the brooder when they are chilly. This is similar to what they do with a mama hen.

Since they are exposed to a range of temperatures, they are better able to handle the outdoor temperature fluctuations.

Outdoor Temperatures

Baby chick not fully feathered
Baby chick not fully feathered. This chick is not ready to be moved to the coop.

Secondly, it needs to be at least 55 degrees outside, day and night before you move chicks outdoors. If raised under a heat lamp, it should probably be closer to 60 or even 70 degrees both day and night or until the chickens are 8-10 weeks old and fully feathered.

You don’t want to take a chance of a chick getting chilled. This can lower their immune system and cause them to become sick.

We usually raise our baby chicks in an unheated garage. At three weeks old, they don’t sleep under their Eco-Glo much anymore, but it is still there should we have a chilly night.

In the picture above, you can see that the chick still has lots of fuzz on her head. She is not ready to be moved outdoors yet since she doesn’t have all her feathers.

A Secure Chicken Coop

Before you even consider moving chicks to the coop, you need to have a secure shelter for them. Without a safe place to sleep, you could easily lose all your chicks to predators in one evening.

If you have older chickens already in this coop, then you need to wait until the baby chicks are about the same size as the older chickens before moving them in together.

Older chickens will often peck or even kill younger chicks. This is why we have two coops – one we use to “grow out” younger chicks and a permanent coop to house all the egg layers.

For more information on combining two flocks of chickens read How To Integrate 2 Flocks of Chickens.

Once you have moved your chicks to the coop, you need to keep them locked in the coop for about a week. This allows them time to get used to where “home” is.

Once they are familiar with the coop, you can allow them into the run during the day and they should go back into the coop every night. However, it is a good idea to check for stragglers every night to be sure no one is left outside.

chickens free ranging in the yard
Chickens enjoying some sunshine in the yard.

Should You Allow Your Chicks to Free-Range?

After a week or so, you can decide whether or not you are comfortable letting them free-range. We do not let ours “free-range” as we have too many predators.

Foxes, raccoons, coyotes, and possums are regular visitors to our yard. And we see hawks almost daily. We also have the occasional stray dog come through our yard. And dogs will sometimes kill chicks just for sport.

However, we like our chickens to be able to access fresh grass and bugs so we have a semi-secure enclosure that we move around as needed to allow the chickens room to roam.

We never allow them outside in this enclosure unless someone is home. In the evening the chickens naturally go back into their coop to roost for the night. Then we lock them safely inside their coop.

Do you let your chickens free range? When do you typically move them to their coop?

More Information On Raising Baby Chicks

Want to learn more about raising backyard chicks? Get my free Quick-Start Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens with all the things you need to know to raise baby chicks (and none of the stuff you don’t!).

These posts also contain helpful information on setting up your brooder, caring for your chicks, and building a chicken coop.

pictures of the quick-start guide to raising backyard chickens

Meet Julie

I’m a farm girl born and bred in North Carolina. I’ve been growing a vegetable garden for over 20 years (and helping my Mom grow hers even longer). I’ve been raising chickens in my bathtub and backyard for 12+ years. I believe that homegrown food can be made simple. Let’s get started.

moving chicks to the coop
Don’t move baby chicks to the coop until you read this!
chickens that were just moved into their outdoor coop
Before moving your chicks to the coop, they should be fully feathered. Learn how to tell when it’s safe to move baby chicks outdoors.

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  1. Great read! Can you possibly attach a picture of your semi-secure enclosure that you move around as needed to allow the chickens room to roam? I am having a hard time imagining it and I’d like to see if I can build something similar.

    1. We used to use just some extra 2 x 3 wire we had laying around and some extra posts. Chicken wire would work as well. We would just hammer the posts in the ground and attach the wire to it and move it every few days. It was not covered at the top, so hawks could potentially grab a chicken, but we didn’t make it so large that they could fly in and pick one up.

      Recently we purchased some Premier 1 fencing and it is much easier to move around. Of course, it isn’t hawk proof either. But we do lock our flock up every night so they are safe from predators after dark.

      This isn’t the best picture but you can see the wire and the fence posts we used before we bought the Premier 1 fencing.
      chicken enclosure with fencing

  2. This might be outside your field of expertise, but I have a question about moving the chicks here in Hawaii. It’s been a cold summer and the temps are sometimes in the high 60s at night. Our chicks are not fully-feathered (3 weeks old) and are enjoying the coop during the day and then are moved back into our makeshift brooder (heat lamp in a box that a piano came in) at night. I don’t remember waiting for 6 weeks to move our last flock out, but that was 10 years ago, so my memory is somewhat fuzzy. Do you know if we can move the chicks earlier due to our temps?

    1. I personally wouldn’t leave them outside with those temperatures until they are fully feathered at about 5-6 weeks. However, it sounds like what you are doing now is a great compromise.

  3. I like your article. Spot on IMHO. I integrate new ‘teenage’ girls in my flock by keeping them in a large wire frame dog kennel I used for my great dane dog. It has two doors, one on the short side and one on the long side. Plenty of room for the babies, their food, and water.

  4. I have my chicks in a water trough with heat lamps in the coop. They are the only ones I have right now. They are quickly outgrowing the trough so I plan to move them in them out of the trough and into the coop with the lamps raised higher because out night time temps are still on the 40’s. My current nesting boxes are raised and my roosts were made for full grown chickens. I know the pullets wont be able to reach them so I plan to build a ramp. Do you suggest I put some sort of box on the ground for them? They currently do not have all their feathers yet so I know I need to keep them warm for a couple more weeks. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    1. I would probably put a box in the coop for them if the coop is large. You don’t want them to get too far away from the heat source and not be able to find their way back in the cold.

  5. I have a 2 coop set up too. When their first born I have a metal tank usually used for holding water for large animals to drink out of. They have a heat lamp and a brooder they can get under to stay warm too. It’s a long tank so the chicks got plenty of room to roam around while their small. I leave them in this tank till they get big enough to start getting out of the tank on their own which takes a few weeks or maybe a little over a month. At that time they have all their feathers so moving them outside not been a problem so far. But just in case the smaller coop I build is got two solid walls on each end with hardware cloth wrapped around the middle of the coop and I cover part of it with a tarp when the weather nasty or rainy! It’s also on wheels so I can easily move it around rather than having to clean up the coop since the chickens are right on the ground. Although they do have 3 roosts to get up on whenever they want to as well. With the hardware cloth my teenagers are easily seen by my older chickens during warmer days and can get use to each other better without anyone getting hurt. I leave the teenagers in this smaller coop tractor till their closer to the full size of my older chickens. I also allow the teenagers to get out of the coop tractor on nice days to free range a while with my supervisor making sure they don’t get hurt by predators or my older chickens either. That also gives me a idea how well my older chickens will get along with the younger chickens before I put them all together in the same coop too? So far this method has worked well for me and not had any problems intrograding introducing younger chickens to the large coop with my full grown chickens. Only downside is using the metal tank and the smaller coop tractor I have to check the young chicks everyday for food and water and make sure their doing ok? The larger coop is set up where their lots of food for the chickens to eat for least a month and the same with their water. So I don’t have to check the older chickens as often as I do with the younger ones! I do let my chickens free range but don’t let them out of their coop or protected run till a little later in the day usually around 10am . My chickens don’t go in the coop as early as they should cause I have numerous motion lights that are very bright and the chickens like to father outside the coop still free ranging after dark using the motion lights to help them catch the bugs . Not too unusual for the chickens to not go in the coop to roost for the night till around midnight in many cases. Some may go in earlier while some stay outside quite a bit longer. So far haven’t had any troubles with predators attacking my chickens after dark since I have 8 roosters to keep an eye on my 48 hens. My hens will go hide every so often to sit on their eggs somewhere? They show up several weeks later with anywhere between 3 to 13 baby chicks in tow behind the hen. That’s always a big surprise to see! LOL we had 4 different times where we had baby chicks show up just last summer alone! Good thing I made a huge coop! But I may need to make another at some point?

    1. It sounds like you’ve got a good setup. I’m glad you haven’t had any trouble with predators. I would still be careful leaving the chickens out after dark. Predators can attack quickly, even with roosters around. Enjoy your flock!

  6. We are new to this process and have a flock of 13 chicks and 4 turkey poults. The internet is full of info but when it comes to brooders, bigger is better! Seeing pics of little fluff balls in a plastic tote is something that I figured I could do. Then they start to grow! We never did actually use the tote. We had ordered a coop (for 6 chickens) and used it for a brooder. They have almost outgrown it at 3 weeks. We do not want to have pecking problems or other aggressive behaviours begin so we figure we may have to move them a bit earlier. Our actual coop is a converted camper and has an electrical hookup so we can still plug in their heater if necessary.
    My point is, between the chicks, their food dish, their water dishes, and the heater there is not a lot of room. They are really only little fluff balls for about a week.

    1. It’s true they are only fluff balls for about a week and they do grow quickly. We have used a (large) plastic tote for years and never had a problem with aggressive behaviors. However, we used a cardboard box this year that was much larger and it worked well too. We also have an outdoor “pen” that we put ours in during the day when it’s warm and someone is outdoors to give them a change of scenery. It sounds like you have a great set up. Have fun with your flock!

    2. My husband just converted a small SUV into a chicken coop. We will be buying our chicks Monday when they are 1/2 off. Did you use your converted camper for your chicks? Did you paint your camper? We’re thinking of letting our granddaughters have fun painting.

      1. We’ve never used a camper for a chicken coop. We built both of ours by hand. The biggest problem with using a camper is that they tend to get really hot in the summer so you MUST have adequate ventilation to keep your flock cool. And whether or not you paint it is up to you.

  7. We are new to raising chicks. Ours are about 10 weeks old. We moved them out to the coup 3 weeks ago. We finally got the pen secure this weekend and cut open the door so they could go outside. We physically picked them up and put them out after about an hour and the were showing no signs of venturing out on their own. yesterday and they seemed to enjoy it after awhile. They were exploring their new space and spreading out a little. Last night we picked them up and put them in at night. The “door” opened up at 6am this morning but none of the chicks even ventured outside from what I can tell. Will it just take them awhile to go down the ramp on their own? And should their ramp be at a certain angle? We did put some 1” boards across the main board about every 6 inches.

    1. Usually, it just takes the chicks a while to get used to new things. They aren’t too fond of change. They will eventually figure it out, especially once one does it. Then they will all follow. But you can definitely put them out each day too until they get used to it.

  8. Y hen hatched three babies and I put them in a separate coop with her the day they hatched but I was wondering when it is safe to move the momma and babies back with the group.

  9. I check out articles like this mainly to see what info is being put out there.. I was glad to see accurate information instead of some of the incredibly inaccurate drivel by so called experts who probably only started raising chickens or hens in the last few months. Having raised chicks for close to 60 years I am frequently amused if not appalled by some of the things people are being told.. Good work

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. They truly made my day. I do try to give common sense advice learned from my 10+ years of raising chickens, but I know my style isn’t for everyone.

  10. They love mealworms and so I would come at dusk with a bag of worms and when they saw me coming they start running toward me and follow right in! I let them eat a few out of my hand shortly before transitioning from brooder to coop so they know what they are and they remember! haha

  11. Hi. I just started raising chickens this spring. We have some dogwoods in the yard and our chicks keep jumping up to pull and eat the leaves. Do you know if it is safe for them to eat?

    1. The dogwoods leaves are most likely not harmful to your chickens. As long as the chickens are fed a balanced diet, they typically will leave the harmful plants alone. I have read that azaleas are toxic to chickens, but we have quite a few and they have never bothered them. I hope you enjoy raising chickens. The fresh eggs can’t be beat!

  12. I’m adding 3 hens to my flock of 4, and my only concern is my rooster (he’s a terror) not sure why I keep him…he’s 4x the size of the hens and he is beautiful, my g-kids can’t go near the coop, and he terrifies my wife.(I do love to hear him crow) We have RI Reds.

    1. I would definitely keep a close eye on everyone the first few days. If he gets too aggressive, you may have to remove him for a week or so until he calms down. And even then, I would re-introduce him slowly.

  13. I just split the chicken coop and yard with chicken wire. The birds can see each other and the young learn by watching the old. After a few weeks you can take down the fence division and they will accept each other. Good luck, farmer nana

    1. That sounds like a great way to manage your young chicks and your older flock. Thanks for commenting!

  14. I have seven 4-week old chicks and four adult chickens. The four adults have their own, much larger coop, and I built a small A-frame coup with 10 sq feet of a sheltered enclosure and 45 sq feet of fully-enclosed “run” space. When it is time to move the babies with with the adults, I was wondering how I would teach the babies to return to their new coop without affecting the daily routine of the four birds already living there? In addition, by the time my babies are adults it will be during the sweltering heat of the summer and I don’t want to lock them in the coop for any amount of time due to extreme heat. Do you have any advice on this?

    1. Wow. That’s a tough question to answer. Once you move everyone together, keep a close eye on the chickens and be prepared for some fighting among them as they sort out their pecking order. If the fully enclosed run is predator proof, I wouldn’t worry if they don’t go into the coop at first. After a week or two, they will usually follow the older chickens into the coop. If the run isn’t fully predator proof, you will probably have to catch the new ones at dusk and place them in the coop yourself.

      1. Random thought for anyone reading this later. I would not suggest letting them stay out in the run even if it is predator-proof, if you do have predators. The last thing you want is your chicken traumatized because some vicious animal was trying to get at them for hours while you were sleeping. That’s not going to keep them feeling very happy or safe in the future.

        1. As I stated in the post, “once they are familiar with the coop, you can allow them into the run during the day and they should go back into the coop every night. However, it is a good idea to check for stragglers every night to be sure no one is left outside.

          I wouldn’t leave chickens in the run overnight. They should always be locked securely in the coop.