You are here
9 steps for raising chicks
Whether you hatch fertilized eggs in an incubator or order baby chicks through the mail, getting started with a new group of chicks is very exciting. If arriving in the mail, make sure the chicks have a healthy appearance. If you're hatching chicks, move them to a warm location as soon as they hatch.
Before your chicks are mailed or hatched, set up a breeder, which is a place for the chicks to live, grow, eat, and drink for the first three to five weeks of their lives. You will need an artificial heat source to replace the warmth they would normally get from a mother hen. This reader put her chicks in a large plastic bin, placed the bin into a bathtub with shower doors, and hung a heat lamp overhead.
Nothing fancy required
A simple option for a brooder is to just use a sturdy cardboard box, like those used by moving companies. Kevin Downs, associate professor of poultry science at Middle Tennessee State University, recommends allowing 1/2 square foot per chick in any type of brooder. "You don't want them to be overcrowded at the water and feeders," he says.
When it comes to food for newly hatched chicks, Downs recommends a good quality starter feed, which can be purchased at your local feed store. Don't be tempted to buy less expensive scratch feed, which can be difficult for young chicks to digest because the particles are too big. Plus, starter feed has the vitamins and minerals chicks need, while scratch feed doesn't. Make sure the chicks also have access to fresh water. Use a very shallow container in case the chicks fall in.
Keep it clean
It's important to clean the chicks' water twice a day, and their feed once a day. Here, reader Nancy Krohn's chicks wait in a basket near a heat lamp while she cleans their breeder. The mother hen didn't take her eyes off the babies. It's important to keep mail-ordered chicks away from hens, who may try to hurt them. If the hen has hatched the chicks, however, it's generally fine to keep them together.
These cats and hens seem to get along well, but be careful about letting dogs and cats near baby chicks. If the birds are kept in the same house or building as other animals, put them in a separate room with a closed door. If the birds are kept outside or in an outbuilding, make sure there are no holes or gaps where other animals such as snakes might be able to sneak in.
Kids and chicks
With supervision, children can watch and hold the chicks. Make sure they wash their hands before and after handling the birds to prevent the spread of bacteria from kids to chicks and chicks to kids. Salmonella in the chicks' manure can also make people ill if they don't wash thoroughly. Here, Mikenna takes great care while holding her baby chicks.
Chicks can be moved into a regular chicken coop at three to five weeks of age, depending on the temperature of the coop. If it's extremely cold or hot, give the chicks some extra time indoors. Once in the coop, chicks should be sectioned off from older birds. They can also start eating a grower feed at this point.
Laying eggs of their own
At about 20 weeks of age, hens can begin laying eggs. Most will lay at sunrise, so it's important to gather eggs each morning. Some will lay later in the day, though, so it's a good idea to collect them again in the afternoon to ensure fresh eggs.