How to Raise Baby Chicks

Start your chicks off right for happy, healthy hens. From Oak Hill Homestead

You've ordered your chicks from a hatchery, or succumbed to the cuteness at the feed or farm store (because no one plans to buy chicks from the feed store, right? It's absolutely an impulse purchase), or maybe you've even hatched your own. What do you do now?

It's best to have your brooder set up before your chicks arrive, but I'm a master at putting it all together at the last minute (because I've definitely fallen for that feed store impulse buy). It isn't that hard.

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How to set up a quick and inexpensive chick brooder

Chicks need a warm and draft-free environment for the first several weeks of life. There are several ways to provide such a home for them.

I use a Rubbermaid storage bin, also called a "tote," in the largest size I can find. A large, empty (of course) aquarium works for just a couple of chicks. A cardboard box isn't a good choice though, the bottom will get wet and soggy.

Little chicks can't hop out of a bin at this young age, but it won't take long before they can! You'll need a top of some kind, something that allows plenty of fresh air to flow through. You'll also want to keep out cats, dogs and older chickens, so depending on where you locate your brooder, make sure the top is as secure as you'll need.

My set-up uses a piece of wire mesh from an old rabbit cage on top. Hardware cloth would work just fine if you don't have an old rabbit cage lying around. If you happen to have a window screen lying around somewhere, that works too.

That wire panel I use sure isn't flat anymore and looks pretty sad. I've replaced it since I took this photo.

Inside the brooder

On the bottom of the bin I add an inch or more of pine shavings from the feed store or the pet department. Don't use cedar shavings, they can irritate the chicks' respiratory systems.

Chick feeder and waterer

Your chicks will also need food and water, of course. Chick feeders and waterers are available at your feed store, farm store, and even at Amazon.

The tops and bottoms are available separately. Instead of the white plastic water reservoir you can use a quart size Mason jar, but I've found that this will make it top heavy and more likely to turn over, so I stick with the plastic jar. Plastic mayonnaise jars work too, as long as the threads match of both pieces match.

The feeder and waterer parts are also available in metal as well as plastic. Honestly, they both have their drawbacks. The plastic breaks pretty easily, so you need to be careful with them - but the metal pieces corrode eventually.

Just accept that you'll have to replace them, no matter which kind you choose.

I set the waterer on a large, flat plastic lid to help keep shavings out of the waterer. Wet shavings can get gross fast.

For happy, healthy chickens, brood your chicks right.

Tiny chicks need special treatment

Day-old chicks have special needs. For the first day or two cover the top of the pine shavings in the brooder with paper toweling. This helps the chicks get traction. Be sure to remove it after that time though to prevent leg problems.

While I've never read anyone else recommending this, I use mayonnaise jar lids for feed and water for the first day or so. While the chicks are tiny it seems to be easier for them to reach the feed and water in the lids.

Of course the lids need to be refilled often since they don't hold very much, and the wood chips can end up in the water too. As soon as the chicks are able to reach the waterer with ease I switch to the plastic waterer; as chicks get bigger - which they do very fast - they can tip the lid over and spill the water on their bedding. Nasty.

Introducing chicks to the brooder

The first 24 hours with your chicks are critical, so take the time to introduce them to their food and water.

Move the chicks into the brooder one at a time, taking each one out of the box you brought them home in and dipping its beak into the water before you let it loose in the brooder.

Once they've had that first drink they'll be able to find the water again when they need more. By introducing each chick to the waterer as you set it down, you'll be sure that each one has had that important first drink.

Keep them warm

Newly-hatched chicks need a temperature of about 95°F at first, lowered by about 5°F each week until it is about the same as the temperature of their prospective home (the chicken coop).

If you are getting your chicks early in the year when it's cooler than 95°F, you'll need to supplement the temperature with a heat lamp or a light bulb. Please take all precautions to keep your chicks safe, a hot bulb that falls on shavings can start a fire.

Use a heat lamp shield that will help keep the bulb from touching anything.

I prefer to start my chicks in the late spring when the temperature in my unheated, uncooled mudroom is pretty warm anyway. This means I don't need to use heat lamps at all; I just spread a towel over the top of the brooder at night to help hold in the day's heat, leaving the end of the brooder open for ventilation.

Remember that piece of hardware cloth I put over the bin? It keeps the towel from falling on top of the chicks.

Week-old buff orpington pullet

Keep your chicks safe

Place your brooder in a safe place where pets can't bother the chicks, drafts don't blow across the brooder, and not in direct sunlight.

The brooder bedding will get wet and icky rather quickly, especially as the chicks get older. Change the bedding often so the chicks will have a dry environment and can breathe clean, fresh air. 

When to move chicks out of the brooder

Cute as they are, I move my chicks out to a small pen inside the chicken coop as soon as I can. You'll notice that chicks produce a thick layer of "dust" on top of everything near the brooder. If you are keeping the brooder in your home, you'll be dusting constantly.

So as soon as my chicks are about four to six weeks old, depending on the weather, I move them to a protected spot inside the chicken coop, where they are safe from predators and from the older birds. By that time I'm definitely ready to move them out of my house - and I bet you will be too.

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How to brood your chicks

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  1. I'm so glad we're not the only one who have such a simple set up for chicks. :) This is pretty much exactly what we did with ours this year. Stopping by from the Homesteader Hop.

    1. It's a simple and easy set-up, isn't it? Thank you for stopping by. :-)

  2. We did something similar with our chicks last year. This year we'll need to make sure our box is strong enough to withstand the dogs. I think our puppy will be more interested in them than the others were. Thanks for sharing on Waste Less Wednesday Blog Hop!

    1. Another reason I keep mine in the mudroom: to keep the chicks safe from the dogs and cats. Thank you.

  3. I love our broodies but I so miss the peeping from the brooder! Thanks for sharing on the Homesteader Hop!

    1. There's nothing cuter than a hen with her fluffy little chicks, but yes, the peeping from brooding chicks is a lot of fun too.

  4. I found you through the Bloom Where You Are Planted Homestead Blog Hop. Great post! I love the simple set up you have for the chicks. We used half a dog crate last time. We raise chicks in winter so they are laying by around February that does mean they're inside a bit longer because of the cold though. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Emma, I'm glad you hopped on over here and hope to see you again. Wow, first eggs in February - that's really early!

  5. Impulse buying today thank you for this!!lol. We have been building our chicken coop and it was taking longer than expected and I have the itch!! I want my chicks today.

    1. It's hard to resist, isn't it?


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