10 Things to Do When You Bring Home Baby Chicks
Thinking of Getting Chicks This Spring?
With spring already here and Easter only a few weeks away now is a good time to talk about caring for baby chicks. Many people buy chicks for Easter because of the symbolism of new life they represent, but then don’t have a clue what to do with them after the initial thrill of petting a soft, fluffy ball of feathers. I don’t recommend buying chicks for Easter unless you are ready to provide for their needs and are willing to make a commitment to raising them. Even if you have a plan to keep them for their eggs or meat, there are quite a few things needed to get ready before you bring home the baby chicks.
Here is a list of ten things you should know or be aware of before buying chicks. There is plenty of information out in cyberspace on raising chicks; these are the tips that I gleaned from my “Chicken Diary” and thought I’d share them with you.
One: They need to have a warm secure place to begin their life in your care. Since they don’t have a mamma hen to watch over them, you will become a surrogate mother and provide for their needs. So be prepared!
Two: Have the brooder box set up and ready for the chicks. Don’t buy the chicks because they are cute and then get them home to find that you don’t have everything necessary to care for them.
Three: Have a brooder lamp in one area of the brooder box. If possible use a 250 watt infrared light bulb. The red light is supposed to help keep the chicks from picking (they peck at each other and pull out feathers, sometimes causing bleeding.) I didn’t have any problems with picking, but thought I’d mention that it could happen.
Four: Buy extra waterers and feeders. It is much easier to give the chicks water if you just have to change out the whole waterer than getting it out of the brooder, filling it with water, and then putting it back. For use in the brooder I like the type of waterers and feeders that screw onto a quart jar because the jars are easy to clean. To keep the chicks from roosting on top of the jars I used the bottom part of a 2 liter pop bottle that I sat over the jar. This was a little wobbly and kept the birds from sitting on the jar and pooping into the water or food.
Five: Raise the waterer and feeder up off the floor. My chicks kept scratching the bedding into the feed and water, making a mess and hard to keep clean. I finally found that a patio block in the corner of the brooder was enough to raise the feeder and waterer up. Make sure the chicks can still get to the water, though, with the height never above shoulder high. Keep the water and food as clean as possible. They are chickens, and will eat dirt and grit, but for now give them clean water and food. Do supply some grit to them, in the form of fine sand or purchased chick grit. Put this in a shallow container and let them take it as they need it.
Six: Have a thermometer in the brooder at the same level as the chicks, so you can make sure the temperature is right for them. I doubt that you will want to be ‘mamma hen’ and carry the chicks around with you all day, so make sure that the heat lamp in the brooder gives the right temperature for the age of the chicks. See the chart below for temperatures.
Seven: Get to know your chicks. Handle them frequently, but gently. Hold them in your hands with one palm under the chick and the other cupped over the chick. Pet them and talk to them. Let them eat food out of your hand. I have one hen that will still not come up to me and let me touch her. I think it was because I just didn’t handle the chicks often enough.
Eight: Put a roost in the brooder. I used a small branch that I wired to the sides of the brooder. It was about ¾” in diameter. They loved it! A dowel or a 1 X 2 would also work. I placed mine about 6” off the floor and they were roosting on it within a day of it being installed.
Nine: Give the chicks treats if you can. I caught crickets and grasshoppers and other bugs and dropped them in to the brooder. The chicks scrambled to get the bugs and then they all chased the one that did catch it, making it fun to watch. Grass clippings are also enjoyed by the chicks, and can be given at about a week old. Yogurt (with live bacteria) is good in small amounts.
Ten: Enjoy the chicks! I love the sounds that the chicks made, and the antics when they were chasing a bug. Take time to spend with the chicks and get to know them. Take plenty of pictures and keep a journal or other record of their growth and how you took care of them. You’ll be glad you have this record when you decide to raise more chicks next year.
Temperature Chart for Chicks
Age in Weeks
Temperature At Chick Level
Some chicks fully feathered at 5 weeks (no wing fluff).
Chicks considered fully feathered.