Your eggs have hatched, or you’ve brought home some sweet baby chicks from the hatchery. The small, delicate chicks are already charming you and your family, but now you have to keep your chicks alive! You’ve read online about what to feed baby chickens after hatching and seen other hatcher’s baby chick starter kits, but you still have questions about how to care for a baby chick at home.
How long is it safe to keep baby chicks in the house? When do baby chicks start eating and drinking? How do you set up a brooder heat lamp?
Baby chicks are surprisingly easy and enjoyable to care for, but you’ll need some know-how and key supplies to keep them alive. In this blog post, I’ll give you my first-hand experience of raising newborn chicks, including the proper setup for baby chicks, what to do when you first hatch (or get) your baby chicks, what to feed baby chickens after hatching, the best setup for your brooder, and more!
Supplies for a homemade brooder
While the adorable brooder kits are lovely to look at, you can easily make your own brooder setup at home. For ours, we use:
If you are setting up your brooder outdoors in a chicken coop, you’ll need either a roll of cardboard to set up the boundaries for the chicks or to make a permanent brooder station in your coop. Our first set of eggs hatched on March 17th, which is too cold in Saskatchewan for chicks to be in the coop, even with a heat lamp. More on that further down.
When is the best time to get chicks?
While you can get chicks any time of year, especially if you have a heated coop, most people get them between March and June. If you don’t have any insulation or heat in your coop, and you can’t keep them indoors at any point, it’s wise to wait until the risk of frost has passed in your area.
What to Do When You First Get Your Baby Chicks
- If you’re hatching at home, the chicks must stay in the incubator for 24 hours until they’ve fluffed up. If you are buying from the hatchery, you can skip this step.
- Dunk every chick’s beak into the water source. Do not use a bowl, as the chicks will drown. You can use jar lids if you do not have proper water and food containers. We put vitamins in our chick’s water for the first week of their lives to help them thrive.
- Don’t worry; they will find the food! We use medicated chick feed for our chicks. Watch that the chick feed is ground fine enough for them to eat.
- Watch that the heat lamp is not too close or too far for a proper setup for baby chicks. If the chicks are all huddled up under the heat lamp all the time, it’s too cold. If they’re avoiding the area like the plague, it’s too warm. You want to see the chicks go in and out of the area.
- You must pick up each chick daily and check their vent for stuck poop. If you don’t remove the poop, it will eventually kill the chick. When this happens, I run the chick’s bum under the water in the sink for a minute or two, then gently wipe the poop away. Use a very gentle touch, as you can rip the chick’s skin by accident, leading to injury or infection that can eventually kill them.
When Can Chicks Go Outdoors?
It is best to transition your chicks outdoors gradually, and week to week, the care your baby chicks need varies.
If the weather is above 20°C/68°F, you can start letting your baby chicks outside for short periods of time if they’re 3-4 weeks or older. This is kind of like hardening off plants. The chicks will acclimate to the outdoor temperatures, preventing shock once they’re allowed to live outdoors full-time. If your house is 24°C/75°F, you can turn off the heat lamp when your chicks are about five weeks old. Once chicks are six weeks old, they can stay outside for full days. After the six-week mark, once your chicks are fully feathered, they can stay outdoors indefinitely and tolerate much cooler temperatures.
Newborn chicks can stay in a heated coop with a heat lamp or mother hen. If the coop is only insulated and not heated, you’ll need to wait until they are fully feathered, or once the weather is not consistently freezing, to let them be outside.
When will my chicks lay eggs?
Chicks can start laying eggs approximately 16 weeks from hatching.
Birds don’t lay an egg every day, but they do have an approximately 26-hour cycle. The cold, hours of daylight, and amount of calcium and protein they get also affect this. Pullets will consistently lay through the winter, but older hens will not.
My hens decided to lay at the winter solstice instead of October like they should have.
Make Time for Your Chicks
While there’s not too much to do once you’ve got the brooder area set up for your chicks, it’s important that you visit your chicks a couple of times a day and regularly hold them so they get used to you (and your kids if you have them). Last year I thought we visited them enough, but as they grew into hens, it felt like they barely tolerated us. They often followed me around the yard as I did my garden chores but didn’t want to be picked up.
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