Week by Week Guide to Raising Chickens

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You want to get baby chicks this year. A few fresh eggs sure would be nice. But do you know what to expect when you bring chicks home? This week by week guide to raising chickens will show you what to do and what to expect from your baby chicks.

You need to have your brooder all set up and ready to go before you ever go to the feed store to get your chicks.

Don’t have your brooder set up yet? Here’s all you need to know about how to set up a brooder. I share mulitple ways to set it up fairly inexpensively but the post also shares the one thing I think you should spend money.

3 baby chicks
Three baby chicks enjoying a few minutes of supervised time outdoors.

(Please note that some of the links in this article may be affiliate links and I may receive a small commission if you purchase something through a link. It will not change your cost. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, check out my disclosures page.)

Week 1: Expect Chicks to Sleep a Lot

The first week, your baby chicks will sleep a lot. If you have them under a radiant brooder, you may only see them while they are eating and drinking.

Check their vents daily for pasty butt. Pasty butt is basically baby chick poop that gets stuck to the feathers near their vent. If not cleaned off it will build up and can even kill your chick.

Clean out any soiled or wet bedding. Refill food and water daily. If you are using a heat lamp, the temperature in the brooder should be about 95 degrees. (See why I don’t recommend heat lamps and what I prefer instead in this post.)

Learn: How to Care for Your Baby Chicks

must have items for raising baby chicks

Week 2: Feathers Start to Grow

During the second week, your baby chicks become more active. You may start to see feathers peeking through the fluff.

You still need to monitor for pasty butt. Change the bedding if it gets soiled or wet. Feed and water daily.

If you are wanting friendly chickens, it is a good idea to gently pick them up and pet them daily. Getting them used to being held will make them much more docile when they get older.

If using a heat lamp, lower the temperature in the brooder to 90 degrees.

Weeks 3-4: The Ugly Ducklings…

During weeks 3 and 4, those cute baby chicks will be growing feathers like crazy. You will see more and more feathers emerging from the baby chicks. They may start to look quite ugly at this point.

Continue cleaning the brooder daily, monitoring for pasty butt, and gently handling your chicks. The temperature in the brooder should be about 85 degrees during week 3 and 80 degrees by week 4.

Be sure you have a cover over your brooder. Those baby chicks will start to fly and may escape if they aren’t in a covered brooder.

a baby chick growing in her feathers
A 6 week old chicken growing in her new feathers.

Weeks 5-6: Get Your Coop Ready

Baby chicks will have most of their feathers by week 6. Roosters may attempt to crow and grow larger combs than the hens. You need to get your coop ready if you haven’t already.

Learn: What Do You Need When Building a Coop

The temperature in the brooder should be about 75 degrees during week 5 and 70 degrees during week 6. Do you see why I recommend a radiant brooder? No need to change the temperature. The chicks will go under it when cold and come out to eat, drink, and play.

chicken opt in box 2

Weeks 7-11: You’ll Be Ready to Move the Chicks Outdoors

During week 7, if your chicks are kept indoors, you can remove the heat source from the brooder. If they are being raised in an unheated garage or barn, you need to leave the heat source in the brooder until the outside temperature is above 60 degrees.

Chickens may go outside during the day under supervision. If it stays above 60 degrees at night, your chickens can move to the coop permanently. You should also be able to tell roosters from hens by this point.

If you are letting your chicks out to free range, keep a watchful eye on them. They can quickly wander off and any number of creatures would love to make a meal of your sweet feathered friends. Anything from cats and dogs to possums, raccoons, and foxes would be glad to find a young pullet.

Keep an eye on the sky as well. If hawks are in your area, they can quickly swoop in and carry off even a full grown chicken.

a moveable chicken ark
A chicken ark is a great choice for a small coop. It can moved every few days to allow your chickens to free range without worrying about predators.

Weeks 12-15: Personalities Start to Develop

During weeks 12-15 you can expect your chickens to start developing distinct personalities. They may be bowing up at each other as they work to establish their pecking order. Drama between your birds may ensue. That pecking order is real, y’all!

However, your chickens are fun to watch too. As their personalities develop, they will provide you with hours of entertainment. You may start to find that some are friendlier than others. You might even start to prefer a few hens over some of their flockmates.

By week 12, your chickens should be able to move into their coop regardless of the outdoor temperature. However, don’t move them into a coop with other chickens until they are full grown (18 weeks).

Learn: How & When to Move Chicks to the Coop

Weeks 16-17: Transition to Layer Feed

During weeks 16 and 17, start transitioning chicks to layer feed. It is best to mix the layer food with the chick starter for a seamless transition. For more information read How to switch your chickens to layer feed.

Prepare the nest boxes if you haven’t already. Add a golf ball to each one to encourage the chicks to know where to lay their eggs.

Trying to decide about using nest box curtains? This post will explain why nest box curtains are a good idea.

18 Weeks and Older: When to Expect Eggs

a bowl of farm fresh eggs
A bowl of farm fresh eggs. Once your chickens start laying you’ll enjoy cooking and eating those delicious eggs.

At 18 weeks, chickens are considered full-grown, though they may actually get a bit bigger over time.

Now is also the time to start looking for eggs. Some chickens will start laying as early as 16 weeks, but most start between 18-22 weeks. Still others may take even longer.

And occasionally you may have a chicken that decides to wait until almost 9 months to lay her first egg. We did with our first flock. I had given up on one of our Easter Eggers ever laying her first egg. But she finally did and turned out to be a good layer after that.

Molting

After about 18 months of age, your chickens will go through a molt. This usually happens in late summer or early fall as the days get shorter. They will lose all their feathers and regrow new ones. This doesn’t happen all at once, but rather over a period of time.

Some chickens molt quickly and get back to laying eggs. Others can take several months to regrow their feathers. The ones that molt quickly may look awful for a couple of weeks. With the slow-molters, you may not even notice they are losing feathers except by the evidence in the coop and run.

Most chickens don’t lay eggs while they molt as it takes most of their energy to regrow those feathers. And while a few chickens may start laying again, most won’t lay another egg until the days start to get longer in mid-February to early March.

Learn: All about molting chickens and how to help them through their molt.

Free Ranging Your Chickens

free range chicken
This chicken is enjoying some free range time outdoors.

I mentioned free ranging your chicks briefly above, but wanted to mention a few other points about free ranging.

Even as full grown chickens, your flock is very susceptible to a predator attack. Hawks can swoop in from above and chain link fencing won’t keep out raccoons.

I’ve heard many backyard chicken keepers lose some of their full grown chickens to neighbor’s dogs.

Chickens also like to dig and scratch. Are you ok with them tearing up your flower beds or garden?

And finally, chickens poop everywhere. They will poop all over your yard and on your patios and decks too.

We had an Australop chicken named Gertrude that would sit on the windowsill in front of our kitchen table every night and watch us while we ate supper. We finally had to put a stop to that because she was pooping all over the porch.

So weigh the risks and your tolerance for poop and mulch strewn all over the yard before you decide to free range your flock.

Learn: The benefits & downsides to free ranging your flock

As Your Chickens Grow Older

Continue handling your chickens as often as possible. This will help keep them tame and use to your presence. This will also be helpful should you have to treat them for any illness.

holding a chicken
Holding and petting your chicks will help them become more calm and friendly when they are grown.

As your chickens grow older they will not lay eggs as often. After about 3 years you will notice a decline in the number of eggs you get from each chicken. At this point, you may want to consider getting new baby chicks and starting the process all over again.

If you do decide to get new chicks, be sure that your coop is large enough to handle your entire flock. (Unless you planning on building a second one!) And be sure you have a plan to house the new birds until they are about 18 weeks old and can move in with the old flock.

If you decide to move them together in the same coop, read How to Combine 2 Flocks of Chickens. There is a process you need to go through to ensure a successful transition.

Get Your Week by Week Guide to Raising Chickens

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Your week by week guide to raising chickens in your backyard.

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2 thoughts on “Week by Week Guide to Raising Chickens”

  1. Thank you for this post. I finally got my chicken coop, and want to be fully prepared for getting chickens. I have many articles about chickens and raising them, but this is the first one to give a week by week listing of what will happen.
    Thank you!

    Reply

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