Learn how to care for baby chicks
I mentioned in my why you absolutely need chickens in your life post that I’d do a future post listing the potential cons of raising chickens. I will – I promise – but first, I need to introduce you to our newest batch of baby chicks.
We spent a tranquil Memorial Day working around the house, and then my husband announced that we’d take a road trip to the local Farm-and-Home and pick out four brand-new baby chicks. The kids’ combined whoops of glee nearly blew the roof off.
We came home with these four fuzzies (right), who are currently stumbling about and peeping in a metal tub in our pantry. The kids set up camp on the pantry floor, and even I find myself wandering in every half-hour or so.
This isn’t the first time we’ve brought peepers home, but if you’re looking to start a little flock of your own and you’re wondering where to begin, I put together a little list of how to get started. There’s a lot of information here, so just take it slow. You can also check your local library; there are several fun and user-friendly chicken books available. Chick Days (affiliate link) is our all-time favorite. Now, on to the list:
Step 1: Choose your breeds
- Are you raising for eggs? Meat? Are you a no-nonsense “chickens are food” type, or will you socialize with them (no kidding, when I read on my porch, a certain Isa Brown hops up on the arm of the chair and sits with me)?
- If you have children, will you want a more affectionate breed? The internet is a great place to narrow down your choices.
- There are so many hybrids/cross-breeds nowadays that heritage breeds our great-grandparents knew are growing scarce. If this matters to you, you’ll want to look for old-time or heritage breeds.
Step 2: Choose your source
- Many people catalog order their chicks. You can choose your exact breeds, and they’re delivered straight to your door.
- Local stores like Tractor Supply Company seasonally stock chicks, though the selection is typically smaller.
Step 3: Gather your supplies
- You’ll need a brooder, which is a fancy word for box. Or tub, anything water-resistant that will safely contain the little peepers.
- Pine shavings for soft bedding
- You’ll need a heat source. We use an adjustable lamp like this one that fastens above the brooder, and drop in a simple outdoor thermometer to monitor the temp.
- Heat is a big deal in the early days. For the first week of life, chicks need 90-95 degree heat to stay healthy. Heat good. Drafts bad. For each week thereafter, they need about five degrees less per week until they’re good at room temperature. Here’s a great resource for getting the heat right.
- You’ll need a feeder and a waterer like the ones pictured right, which you’ll find at TSC or localfarm supply, or you can order online. They’ll eventually outgrow these and move up to big-girl feeders, so don’t go all out here.
- Medicated chick feed. I know there’s some controversy here, but it’s a non-negotiable for our family. Baby chicks are susceptible to Coccidiosis which, according to the Backyard Chickens website (our go-to knowledge forum), is a particularly nasty intestinal disease caused by parasites found in the soil. The idea is to give them medicated feed until they’re exposed to the soil, and for a few weeks after. This builds an immunity in the early days, and soil exposure boosts it. We stop with the medicated feed shortly before our girls start laying. Here’s some good information, if you’re interested.
Step 4: Bring home the babies!
- If you ordered them, they’ll arrive in a breathable box. They’ll be stressed, hungry and thirsty, so usher them into your cozy brooder and offer them food and drink.
- If you’re store-buying, the store will provide a travel box for you. Typically they’ll have rows of brooders with signs posted as to what’s what. You’ll locate your breed ofchoice, place the peepers in the box, pay, and go home. As with catalog chicks, they’ll be stressed, hungry and thirsty, so usher them into your cozy brooder and offer them food and drink.
Step 5: Provide After Care
- Each day, wash their waterer and feeder with soap and hot water, and refill.
- Each week, or more often if needed, change the bedding.
- While with the proper care, raising chicks is relatively smooth sailing, sometimes things can go awry. You’ll want to watch for chicks refusing water or food, panting, sleeping without rousing, or pasty butt. Yes, pasty butt. Here are the five most common issues (including pasty butt) and how to resolve them.
There you have it. As time goes on, they’ll outgrow their little chick brooder, and you’ll need to upgrade their living quarters until they can enter their coop. It won’t need to be fancy; my husband nailed together some pieces of particle board in the garage, where they lived until we moved them to the coop.
Let’s see, anything else? Oh,
yes. For the love, wash your hands after EVERY time you handle the peeps or any of their accouterments. I don’t have to get into specifics to tell you that we must never share germs with chickens; the potential digestive upheaval is never worth it.
If you have any in-depth questions, feel free to reach out, or visit Backyard Chickens to find answers to any conceivable chicken-related queries.
Other than that, just enjoy your new additions. Their tiny peeps will bring you joy and, in just a few short months, their fluffy duffs will bring you eggs.