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.
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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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
Free Ranging Your Chickens
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.
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.
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.
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