Caring for baby chicks: a guide for raising baby chicks

Frenchie Farm caring for baby chicks raising baby chicks
Cover Photo: Lindsey Kay Photography
Spring is here, which means it’s officially baby chick season! 

Spring on the farm symbolizes new growth and new life. There’s something about baby goats and raising baby chicks that makes my heart so happy. Babies feel like a much needed fresh start after a long and cold winter. If you’re considering adding a few new backyard chickens to your farm (or your backyard!), then look no further. I’m sharing all of the details about caring for baby chicks below.

Where to buy

The first step for raising baby chicks is deciding where you want to purchase them from. We ordered all 20 of our chickens from two different online hatcheries. 15 of our chickens are from My Pet Chicken, and I couldn’t be happier with them. When we decided to add 5 Easter Eggers to the farm, My Pet Chicken was sold out, so we decided to order from a different hatchery. I was so excited when they sent us an extra baby chick … until one of the chicks passed within 24 hours. Seeing as transportation is extremely stressful for the babies, this isn’t uncommon. With that being said, we haven’t lost any baby chicks from My Pet Chicken (knock on wood), so they are my preference for online hatcheries.

You can also purchase baby chicks from your local tractor supply store. I don’t have any personal experience with this option, but many people prefer to take this route. If you do not have a flexible work schedule and are unable to leave work to pick up your baby chicks from the Post Office, then buying from a local tractor supply store would be preferable.

Frenchie Farm caring for baby chicks raising baby chicks

Photo Cred: Lindsey Kay Photography

Post Office Pickup

If you choose to purchase your baby chicks from an online hatchery, then be prepared to watch your email closely for tracking details. Right after we receive the tracking information from the hatchery, Ben calls the Post Office. He simply informs them that we have baby chicks scheduled to arrive on (insert day) and requests for them to call us immediately when they arrive so we can pick them up. The hatchery ships day-old baby chicks, so it’s extremely important that you call your Post Office to schedule your pickup. If you skip this step, then your poor baby chicks will be stuck on a delivery vehicle all day (and may already be dead by the time you receive them.)

Brooder Box Setup

If you’re raising baby chicks, then the size of your brooder box is contingent on how many baby chicks you purchase. Each baby chick should have about two square feet of space (they grow really fast!) For the first few days, we prefer to keep our baby chicks in a large plastic storage container. When caring for baby chicks, the first few days are critically important. Although we have only lost one baby chick so far, it’s not uncommon for babies to pass within the first 24 hours. We keep the large plastic storage container close by for the first 24 hours and check on them every 1-2 hours.

After 24 hours of caring for baby chicks, we generally move them to a larger brooder box in the basement (while still checking on them very frequently!) Depending on the weather, we keep the baby chicks in the basement for at least 4-6 weeks. Ben built a brooder box of out plywood, hardware cloth fencing, and plexiglass.

Frenchie Farm caring for baby chicks raising baby chicks

Bedding

Baby chicks have a sensitive respiratory system, so DO NOT use anything other than pine shavings for bedding. Cover the bottom of the brooder box with a generous layer of pine shavings.  Add more pine shavings as needed to ensure that the space stays clean. While raising baby chicks, it’s important to maintain a clean living environment. Baby chicks poop A LOT, so be sure to add a fresh layer of pine shavings daily (if not more frequently.) Every few days, remove and appropriately discard the soiled pine shavings. Cover the bottom of the brooder box with a fresh layer of pine shavings.

Heat

If you’re planning on raising baby chicks, then you must have a temperature controlled space for them. Baby chicks will require a constant source of heat, so we like to use this heater. For the first week, keep the heat at 95 degrees. After the first week, the rule of thumb is to decrease the temperature by 5 degrees each week.

As always, be sure to keep a close eye on your baby chicks. If your chicks are sleeping on the opposite side of the brooder box away from the heater, then they’re probably a bit too warm. If they’re constantly huddled under the heater and rarely leave, then it might be a bit too cold. Use common sense, friends.

Food & Water

Baby chicks don’t require anything too fancy – just water, chick starter crumble, and grit. We like to add electrolytes to their water for the first 24ish hours to prevent dehydration. Remember, baby chicks should have 24/7 access to fresh water, food, and grit. We have this feeder in the brooder box for feed and grit. We only use this waterer for the first few days until the baby chicks can successfully transition to a nipple drinker.

(Tip: Baby chicks are super messy and poop on everything. When caring for baby chicks, it’s very important to clean food/water feeders. We like to place the waterer and feeder on the opposite side of the heater in the brooder box.)

Frenchie Farm caring for baby chicks raising baby chicks

Photo Cred: Lindsey Kay Photography

Necessary Supplies

You will need all of the items below to keep your baby chicks warm, fed, safe, and happy.

Caring for baby chicks: first 24 hours

Your baby chicks need to drink water immediately after receiving them. One by one, gently dunk the chick’s beak into the electrolyte water. Wait until you see the chick gulping in the throat before moving onto the next chick. This step is very important. Your baby chicks will likely die within the first 24 hours if you do not verify that they are drinking water.

Monitor behavior very closely during the first 24 hours. Your baby chicks should transition between napping under the heater and running out to drink water and eat food. Be sure to have water, starter crumble, and grit available on a free choice basis. Baby chicks will usually nap together and eat/drink together. If you notice one or two chicks staying under the heater while the other chicks run around eating and drinking, then immediately make the chick(s) to drink water. Again, the first 24 hours are critically important, so do not waste time. If the baby chick is especially weak, then you might need make him/her to drink water multiple times. Continue to monitor behavior closely.

During the first 24 hours of caring for baby chicks, you will also want to frequently check for pasty butt. Pasty butt is very common and occurs when droppings stick to the bottom area, which leads to a potentially fatal blockage. If you notice any residue on your baby chick’s bottom, verrrrrrry gently wipe the bottom with a warm paper towel. Remember, baby chicks need to stay super warm, so never use cold water. Continue to check for pasty butt multiple times per day; treat every time you notice any signs of pasty butt.

Frenchie Farm: caring for baby chicks raising baby chicks

Caring for baby chicks: first week

Congrats! You made it through the first 24 hours. Continue to check on your baby chicks multiple times per day. Keep monitoring behavior and check for pasty butt throughout the day as well. Remember: when raising baby chicks, double check that your babies have free choice access to clean water, starter crumble, and grit. When adding clean pine shavings each day, do a quick glance at the poop – does everything look “normal”? (i.e. no blood, etc.) If you make it through the first week, then you’re in the safe zone! You’ve done a great job caring for baby chicks, and your babies should continue to thrive.

While raising baby chicks, be sure to keep your babies in the brooder box indoors for at least 4-6 weeks. After that time, you can transition your chicks to the outdoor coop, weather permitting. If you have other chickens, then you will want to slowly integrate your new babies to the flock. I’ll share a full post about that topic soon! 🙂

Frenchie Farm: caring for baby chicks raising baby chicks

We won’t be adding any more baby chicks to the farm this Spring, so let me live vicariously through you! Tell me all about your experiences with caring for baby chicks and raising baby chicks in the comments below.

 

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