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Have you ever wanted to learn “How to Raise Baby Chicks”? But maybe felt a little inadequate? Or worried you might do something wrong and hurt a chick?
Well, I sure have! So, I want to share with you, step by step, how to be successful with your baby chicks this year.
It happens to me every year. I stroll into Rural King or Tractor Supply, and it’s “Chick Days”! Even though I raise many of my own chicks, I still get a thrill out of scooping up a handful of chicks and bringing them home.
Chances are you’ll see lots of different kinds of chicks. Look for a chart near the chicks to show you what they will look like when they’re fully grown. In the meantime, here’s some terminology that might be helpful.
Pullet – A young chicken that’s less than a year old.
Layers – Chicks that will mature to lay eggs.
Straight Run – This means that there’s a mix of males and females, with no guarantee either way. There are ways to tell, but that’s another post.
Broilers – Broilers or “Cornish Rocks” are meat birds, in other words, these chicks are raised to be consumed. They have a larger breast than a regular “layers”. These chicks will not lay eggs, so only buy these if you want them for meat.
Good layers include Golden Comets, White Leghorns, Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Brahmas and Plymouth Barred Rocks. Usually the farm stores have the most popular layers. The store will require you to purchase a minimum amount of chicks, usually 6. This is because chicks need to be with other chicks, they will not do well alone.
Once you’ve chosen your chicks, keep them from getting cold until you can get them home. They are very fragile and can die of hypothermia in minutes.
Once home, you’re going to need a place to keep them, this would be called your “brooder”. I like the use the large trough here below. It doubles as a trough for the horses as well as a utility tub for different needs. But in the spring, it’s a chick brooder.
I like using this for many reasons. First, it’s nice and deep. Chicks will get bigger and start to jump out, but it takes them a lot longer to get out of this. It’s also big enough to allow the chicks to move around as they need to. Sometimes the chicks will want to be near the heat lamp, other times they want to move away. Always use something that allows them to get away from the heat as needed. You will not necessary need something this large, however, keep in mind the following points.
Here are some other examples that I found at the farm store that would serve well as a baby chick brooder. Some people use large home-based Rubbermaid storage containers, simply because they have them laying around or because they are easier to find. Keep in mind that you need at least a 40 gallon tub, bigger if possible. Make sure that the sides are high enough to not “bake” the chicks, those heat lamps get very hot. Also make sure that the chickens are able to get away from the light as they need to. I have used Rubbermaid containers before, and they’re fine if you are careful and check on the heat lamp a couple of times a day at least.
Now you’re going to need a few supplies.
- Fine wood shavings
- “Chick Starter” food, non-medicated if possible.
- One gallon waterer
- Heat lamp and bulb
Next, you will need some kind of waterer. This one is inexpensive, and can also be used with a mason jar. It’s good for chicks, but they will outgrow this soon. Go for a gallon-sized waterer if you are able to.
You will need a heat lamp, or two, depending upon the size of your brooder. I like to use two since my brooder is so large.
Next, you will need the heat lamp bulb, which is sold separately.
Head to the check out, you’re ready to head home and set up your chick’s new home!
Start with a very clean brooder and spread your shavings in a thin layer. Little chicks are short, and their little legs can’t manage through thick layers of shavings, so put enough but not too much.
I like to leave a bald spot to place the feed and water. You’ll see how much bedding gets in the water, no matter what you do…so irritating. You can put the waterer on a block of wood to raise it up a bit, but make sure that the chicks can reach it. You just have to clean their water out once a day, at least.
Fill your feeder with chick starter, they won’t need to stay on this long. They can transition to layer crumbles as soon as you run out of chick starter.
Put the light bulbs into your heat lamps, and using the prong, fasten the light securely on the side of your brooder. Turn it on and let the brooder warm up. Chicks like it to be about 98 degrees, until they develop their under feathers.
Once you have your lights on, with water and food ready, then open the box that your chicks came in and lay it on it’s side. Let the chicks enter their new home, on their time. It might take them a few minutes, but be patient. There’s always one brave one, who will venture out first as the others wait.
Enjoy this process, watch your chicks and get to know their temperaments. They are so much fun for adults and children!
The chicks can stay in your brooder for a while, but you’ll soon see that they begin to escape. At that point, you need to have a more permanent coop for them, with a run so that they can scratch the ground and develop their feet. They also need to “meet” any other animals you have with the chicken wire between them. Pullets continue to need some protection from older chickens and/or predators.
Depending upon the breed, your chicks should be laying eggs within about 20-24 weeks.
If you have any questions about this post or the process, please drop me a line below and I’ll try to answer your questions!