We have recently added baby chicks to our farm and we are learning along the way. Learn how to care for your baby chicks so that they are healthy and safe.
I plan to talk about this more when I share the full details of our chicken tractor but we have added to our farm! It was on a whim (how else do you do things like this?) and was not well planned. But we are learning how to care for our baby chicks along the way.
Our first “farm” venture since we have moved here has been a spring/summer garden. It was small and gave some produce but like anything else, I am still learning. Once our home is built, the garden will be moving. But I wanted to grow my farm dream a little more and on a whim, picked up six baby chicks at our local farm store.
We had plans to start building a chicken tractor so that they could get fresh grass everyday but have a safe place to do so. We have now almost finished our chicken tractor but have learned so much about baby chicks while they have been indoors.
We are familiar with chickens. I raised them in 4-H as a kid and my parents have had chickens off and on. Keith’s family ran chicken houses when he was growing up. So we are not totally new to keeping chickens but neither of us had been the main caretaker or completely responsible for chickens so we had a lot to learn still. I am no expert and we are still in the awkward teenager stage with our chicks but I wanted to share a few tips on how to care for baby chicks. There is a lot of information out there about how to care for chicks and to be honest, it can be a bit overwhelming.
I have said this many times but we like to jump in and figure things out. I plan (my family might say “overplan”) a lot of things but it usually never works out how I plan and we end up flying by the seat of our pants. But I can easily get overwhelmed with all of the how to’s online for anything.
When I first started cooking and sewing, I would get so stressed thinking I had to do things perfectly or the “right” way and it led to frustration and no consistency. If you are like me, all of the rules make things much harder than they need to be. Do what makes sense in your brain and troubleshoot as you need to. This is how we have gotten through the baby chick stage. Otherwise, I would be diagnosing them with a million different diseases when they were perfectly healthy and stressing out about them constantly.
There is a certain level of care needed, but some of the rules out there are just too much and chicken care could be made much easier.
Getting baby chicks
You can find baby chicks in the spring and fall. It is more common for people to get new chicks in the spring and I believe this probably because they do not have to stay indoors in the brooder as long due to warmer conditions outside. But I was surprised to find that they are still sold in the fall and it is not that hard to care for them even then.
We got our chicks in the fall and since doing so, I have found many reasons why this is beneficial.
Chickens do not lay until they are about 18 weeks old. This means that our chicks will start laying come spring when chickens lay more and we will be off to a good start. If they start laying in fall, your first season of laying may be slow. We will still be adding baby chicks in the spring hopefully, but I am hoping that by having chickens ready to lay by spring will get egg production off to a quick start.
Also, chickens have a molting period. Now this is new to me and I do not remember this as a kid but my understanding is that this will delay our chickens molting period until further into the winter and then will not effect egg production later.
Another benefit is that if you get the chickens early enough, like end of August/September in our area, it can still be pretty warm. Our temps do not drop until later into October and November. This means the chicks can spend more time outdoors instead of stuck in a brooder indoors. We did not let ours in their tractor this early, but we did take them outside while cleaning their brooder and the break was nice!
Last, the chickens will be old enough to serve as pest control in the spring.
I also hope to add some spring baby chicks to our flock as well because there are benefits to this.
When we got our chicks, it was warm enough for them to be outside in short spurts but not warm enough for them to stay in their tractor with a light. Because of this, they had to stay in a brooder in the house which was very inconvenient. Getting chicks in the spring may allow for them to stay in a safe, warm area outside of your house depending on where you live.
Many people just say that keeping chickens healthy and alive in the spring is easier than the fall, likely due to the warmer weather.
What do you need to take care of baby chicks?
Baby chicks really do not need much compared to what we are looking at for adding other animals. Once bigger, they will need a coop and run or a tractor but chicks do not have to have this yet. I would suggest having it ready before buying chicks (unlike we did) but you have a little time if it is not completely done.
Baby chicks need a brooder or safe place to stay, water, chick grower feed, shavings and a heat lamp. We had everything we needed besides a large brooder, shavings and the grower. When we got them, we used a small/medium sized box and then switched to larger ones as we needed. We used a waterer and feed tray we already had and then we were given smaller ones for their brooder from family.
As far as chick grower goes, I took the recommendation of someone in the store and gave them medicated grower at first. It was fine but definitely not the best option when you want organic so after that, I switched to an organic and gmo- free option.
How long do baby chicks need a heat lamp?
By 8-10 weeks or when they are mostly feathered, they should no longer need a heat lamp in the fall. If temperatures are above 70-75 degrees, they may not need it past weeks 4-5. We are just watching how they act now but leaving it up as it gets pretty cold at night.
We leave it on but on one side of their brooder/tractor to ensure that they can get away from it if they get hot.
At what age can baby chicks go outside?
This is dependent on the weather in your area. As a kid, we always kept our chicks in a coop even from the beginning. They had a light and it was always spring so it was plenty warm enough for them.
This go around, we chose to leave them inside until they had some feathers. Then they were moved out to their tractor. It stays locked up to keep them warm and they have a light. They are never cold or huddled up when I check on them and they are MUCH happier out in their new home with plenty of space.
How to care for baby chicks
I shared a lot about what we have done with our chicks above but wanted to write out exactly what we have done and what I would recommend. Information online can be overwhelming so I kept it simple and our chicks seem to be happy and healthy! They are also easy to care for now.
First, be sure to have everything you need before bringing them home. A safe place for them to stay, a light, feed and water, and shavings.
Keep food and water clean at all times. This is really hard in a brooder and I had to constantly change it out.
Keep fresh shavings and keep the brooder clean. I like to give my chickens some time outside while I do this but if it is too cold they may need to stay indoors.
Watch the chicks to determine what needs to be done with the light. There are rules on how many inches to place it but you will know by how they act. If they are constantly huddled up under it, move it closer. If not, and they stay away from it, you may need to move it away. If they are up walking and moving most of the time, they are probably fine with where the light is at.
Like I said, we are still new to this. I do not know everything about how to care for baby chicks or chickens. A perfect example of this is that just today I decided I would let them out of their coop and into the run part of the tractor since it was above 70 degrees. What I did not think about was how I would get them back up the ramp since they are a little too small to climb it themselves. Chickens do not come when called obviously so I spent a good 20 minutes climbing under the coop that sits maybe 2 feet off the ground, grabbing each chick to put back in the coop. Ughhhh.
I keep hearing that chickens are the easiest animal and a great starter animal for your farm. While I do not doubt that one bit, there sure are an awful lot of rules being passed around that I just think do not need to be considered unless something is wrong or you are troubleshooting. So my biggest tip is to not get overwhelmed by the mass amounts of information out there on this… or anything for that matter. Do what makes sense to you and figure it out as you go. I have found that research is good to an extent, but anytime I overthink and research things too much (which is often), things usually end up going a totally different direction and are usually easier than I expected.