Nothing, I mean nothing, is more adorable than the cute fluff balls we call baby chicks. They’re just cute, fuzzy, irresistible little critters. It certainly helps that they grow up into beautiful chickens that keep you in fresh breakfast.
I have wanted chickens for well over three loooong years. We weren’t allowed to have them where we lived before. But, now that we live in the country, no one can regulate what we do. Since we are regulation free… when the opportunity presented itself, I bought our flock.
Yes, I bought baby chicks at 9 months pregnant.
However, while I don’t regret this decision for a minute, I’ve been planning for it for a long time. As soon as we bought our property, I knew I wanted chickens to be the first additions to our homestead. I have been preparing for this moment for a long time.
If there is a book, Facebook group, or friend who I could glean info from over the past few years, I’ve done it. I’m so glad I did.
Preparing yourself and your homestead for baby chicks is so important. While I guess you could technically do this on a whim, it’s not the most desirable position to put yourself, or the babies, in.
As long as you know you can handle chickens (nothing comes without sacrifice). You can start preparing for them.
How to Care for Baby Chicks at Home
Brooder. Before your chicks arrive, you want to make sure you have a brooder set up for them! They need a place to stay. The box they came in is not going to work. Not only is it dark, cold, and entirely too small, it’s already full of poop and will start getting real soggy, real quick.
If you don’t have a brooder already available, no big deal! People use everything from cardboard boxes (not really recommended, see not above on the soggy), rubbermaid totes, bathtubs, feed troughs, and even make their own out of wood. We opted to make a wooden one out of some scrap wood we had lying around. It works great!
When selecting a brooder, make sure it has enough space. You need a minimum of 1 square foot of space per chick. The more space, the better. We opted for 2 square foot of space per chick for ours because I know they will be stuck indoors for longer than I want.
Another thing to keep in mind. Make sure it is tall enough (around 18 inches minimum) and find a way to cover it while keeping ventilation. We used a frame filled with hardware cloth. It keeps the chicks in and the dogs out.
Litter. Crazy thing to learn. Chickens poop, a lot. Even these tiny, adorable fluff balls make a ton of poop. In fact, I’m not so certain that’s an exaggeration. They poop constantly. It stinks, It’s gross. It needs some sort of absorbent material to soak it up and cut down on the yuck. I recommend pine shavings. They won’t potentially cause splay leg, they’re inexpensive, they’re easy to scoop up, they’re absorbent, and they’re readily available. Put at least two inches in the bottom of the brooder box. Clean when necessary (you’ll find you need to scoop out every few days), and put them in your compost. Chicken poop is great for compost and pine shavings are a great natural addition.
Heat. In nature, chicks have a broody mother hen to keep them warm. When they come to you shipped in a box with holes, no broody hen is available. They’ve got to stay warm as they grow. You need something to produce the heat you need. Many use a traditional heat lamp. While these are effective, fairly inexpensive ways to keep your chicks warm, they don’t come without danger. Hot lamps and flammable materials can often end with disastrous consequences. So, make sure if you use a heat lamp it is secure! Use the clamp and a secondary hook.
How long do chicks stay under a heat lamp?
At first, put the heat lamp around 18 inches from the brooder bottom. Each week, move it about 3 inches further. The brooder temps should be:
- 1-7 Days: 95°F
- 8-14 Days: 90°F
- 15-21 Days: 85°F
- 22-28 Days: 80°F
- 29-35 Days: 75°F
- 36+ Days: No supplemental heat needed as long as the ambient temperature is around 70 degrees.
If you’re interested, you can add a thermometer to the brooder in the direct path of the lamp to keep an eye on temperature. It’s not really necessary, though. If your chicks are cold, they’ll be crowded under the lamp. If they’re hot, they’ll crowd to the other side of the brooder.
If the fire hazard that is a heat lamp worries you, they do make these fancy warmers for your chicks. I haven’t personally tried them, but I’ve heard great reviews and we may invest in the future!
What do you give baby chicks to eat?
Chick starter/grower. Chicks, like all living things, need to eat. Chick starter is the best, most nutritionally balanced food you can give them. It has the right ratios to ensure healthy, well-nourished chicks. Healthy, well-nourished chicks are imperative to healthy, well-nourished hens that provide you with great tasting, healthy, eggs.
We start our chicks on this chick starter/grower and I highly recommend it. It’s organic, it has probiotics added, and it is useable in chicks for up to 16 weeks. Most chick starter goes to 8 weeks before you switch to chick grower from 8 to 16 weeks. Then, layer feed above 16 weeks of age. This feed omits that middle switch. So, my chicks will go straight from this starter/grower to layer feed at 16 weeks of age. Make sure you keep the feed dry and free of rodents and insects!
Feeder. You’ve got the feed, now you need a way to give it to them. Some people recycle old egg cartons. However, there are lots of options available that will also work. We use this fitted with a mason jar. They also have this waterer/feeder combo which comes with the quart jugs attached. They work perfectly. Just make sure you keep them cleaned of poop. Note: yes, I hate plastic. Yes, I use plastic feeders and water founts. I’ll explain why momentarily.
Water. Pretty simple. Chickens need water, right? Yep. I recommend adding a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to every gallon of their water, though. Because I add ACV to their water, that is why I use plastic waterers. The feeders can be galvanized if you choose. ACV and galvanized metal don’t go well together. So, don’t do it.
ACV works as a natural worm preventative and it helps keep algae from growing in their water. Algae is pretty prevalent in warm environments like a brooder. All of our critters get a daily dose of ACV in their water, so it just makes sense to me.
You’re going to want to make sure you switch out their water about twice a day (or more in some cases) because it will get soiled no matter what you do.
Waterer. We use this fitted with this and it works great. When the chicks are older and outside their watering and feeding arrangements will change, of course. These work great in the brooder, though. For the first week or so, it wouldn’t hurt to add some rocks to the waterer so no accidental drownings occur. No one wants to wake up to drowned chickens :(.
How to Select Baby Chicks
This is the fun part! Research the best breeds to suit your needs. Most people go for a dual-purpose breed and purchase pullets. If you’re ordering from a hatchery you will have more variety available to you than at a feed store. However, nothing wrong with a feed store either.
If you choose a hatchery, many of them have minimum purchase limits. Some are as high as 25 chicks, so make sure you know what the minimum is and if it is an amount you can accommodate.
As for feed stores, all of our local stores have a minimum purchase as well. You must purchase 6 chicks or you can’t buy from them. I know some people have had success buying less or finding a different source, just do your homework.
Bringing your chicks home
Mail order chicks
If you order your chicks from a hatchery, they’re going to come by mail. To ensure you are best prepared, make sure you know when their expected arrival is. Make sure everything is in place prior to that date and turn the heat lamp on the day before arrival.
Contact the post office and let them know that you need to know exactly when the chicks arrive so that you can go pick them up immediately. If it’s cold, turn your heater on in your car so they stay warm on the way home.
Feed store chicks
If you go to the feed store, you’ll at least get to see the chicks before you purchase. There are two schools of thought on this, though. First, the chicks have already been shipped and stressed out because they, too, came from a hatchery. Second, you can see them and see if they appear healthy enough and the next journey isn’t near as far.
It’s entirely up to you how you choose to do it. Know that if you purchase from a feed store, you do not have the option to not have your chicks vaccinated. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but from a hatchery, it is typically an option.
If you’re buying from the feed store, make sure you have everything set up before you go and it would be best to make sure you’ve got the heat lamp on for about a day before you pick up your chicks. If it’s cold, you’ll still want to turn the heater on in your car.
When you get them home
Immediately place them in the brooder. You can put the boxes they came in into the brooder and then place them individually into the actual box. Dip their beaks in the warm water first, then in the feed so they know where to get their food and drink.
We chose to leave them alone for the most part the first couple of days except for checking in on them. We did butt checks for pasty butt (more on that later), cleaned appropriately, and then put them back to relax. After the third day or so we started socializing with them a bit here and there and increase that socialization daily.
Fun things to add to the brooder
We added a dowel rod to our brooder box and our pullets love, love, love it! It, of course, is not a necessity, but it helps them practice. There isn’t an evening that goes by that there aren’t at least four on one of the perches.
Chickens love to take dust baths. Add a small tub of fine sand or dirt to their box so they can have some fun in it. They will dust bathe in deep pine shavings, but they’ll love the dirt even more, so give it a try!
Treats and grit
These are not at all necessary and depending on who you talk to, there are conflicting beliefs on this. Chick starter has all the balanced nutrition a chick needs to grow happy, healthy, and strong. So, when you introduce treats, make sure you do so in moderation. I know chickens are like your pets and you want to spoil them, but obesity is a real problem. When you do introduce treats make sure it’s safe to give your chicks and make sure they have access to quality chick grit to help them digest it. Chickens have no teeth their gizzard needs hard materials to help chew things up. (My daughter found this information fascinating).
That’s what you need in order to prepare for your new additions to your homestead! The nice thing is once you have all of these things when you go to add to your flock, you’ll already have everything you need!
Don’t let this list overwhelm you. If you want to add laying hens to your homestead, I say go for it! Just make sure you’re prepared. That way you have the happiest, healthiest flock possible.
Now, off to socialize with their cuteness… we’re all in love.