Whether you mail order or incubate, you need to know prepare by learning how to raise baby chicks.
Early preparation is key when learning how to raise baby chicks. First, you need to set up a brooder ahead of the arrival of your chicks. The brooder does not have to be fancy, a large plastic storage container, large glass aquarium, wooden or cardboard box work equally well. (We use large fruit crates.) You will need some bedding, water and feed containers, a quality chick starter feed, a source of heat and accurate thermometer.
Shipped chicks are stressed from travel so provide electrolytes or add 1 tablespoon of pure apple cider vinegar to a gallon of water to help balance their system and to help prevent pasty butt and coccidiosis, which are common in shipped chicks and can be very serious.
The bedding for chickens can be shredded or pelleted paper, wood shavings (no cedar), straw, hay, RV slip-proof sheets and we’ve even seen people use oatmeal for bedding. Just make sure whatever you do use that it is clean, and no slippery or wire surface.
Make certain your water container is not too deep, or chicks may drown. Add clean, sterilized pebbles, bolts, or marbles to the base to prevent the possibility of a chick falling into the water. Make sure the feed container does not have large openings that may allow a chick to climb into it and suffocate. All additions to the brooder must be set so that chicks cannot get caught behind them or in them. As long as the brooder is kept to the correct temperature for the baby chicks, a heated waterer for chickens isn’t necessary.
Provide a good chick starter feed. There are medicated and non-medicated feeds available for chicks. Your local farm store can help you decide what is best for your specific needs. The chicks should be kept on the starter feed until they are 12 weeks old, before introducing a flock raiser feed.
Make sure the brooder is kept out of drafts, but has good ventilation, is kept clean and the bedding stays dry. These are necessary precautions for learning how to raise baby chicks that are healthy.
There are a variety of heat sources, from cheap to expensive. Heat lamps are the least expensive of the choices; however, risk of fire is high. Make sure that whatever heat source you decide to use does not come in contact with flammable materials, and make sure it is adjustable so that as the chicks grow, the heat source can be moved farther away as you taper them off the heat. Always check for frayed or exposed wires and proper plug connection as a safety measure. Make sure to check those again when they are put away and when they are ready to use again. Regardless of the heat source, the brooder should be set up ahead of time and a thermometer inside the brooder to check for temperature that should be kept at about 100 degrees for the first two weeks. If the chicks are piled in a heap on top of each other, they are too cold, move the heat source a bit closer. If all the chicks are scattered and moved away from the heat source, it is too warm, and you will need to move it bit farther from them.
After two weeks, you can start moving the heat source gradually farther away, reducing the heat by about 10 degrees per week, until they are receiving no heat except common room temperature.
When learning how to raise baby chicks, be prepared to brood them indoors for no less than 4 weeks, longer in cold weather. When they are fully feathered and the weather is above freezing at least 40 degrees day and night, they can be placed in an outdoor brooder that is sheltered from cold or heat, wind and predators. You may provide a heat source if the weather is predicted to fall below 40 degrees. At 4 to 8 weeks, the outdoor brooders are set up the same as the indoor brooder however if the weather is warm no additional heat will be needed. This is the grow on stage before introducing to the flock.
Do not assume that a hen will automatically accept chicks or that a flock will welcome the new members. When introducing chicks to chickens, the chicks must be old enough and large enough to hold their own (3 months old on average). It is not uncommon for a hen or a flock to object to the newcomers, so when you do introduce the chicks, you must monitor to make sure the flock has not taken exception to the chicks. It only takes one swift peck to the head to kill a chick and it can happen more quickly than you can respond. When introducing the chicks, provide hiding areas that the chicks can get away from the flock and the flock cannot get to them. Try a diversion with treats to take attention from the inductees.
Do you have favorite tips for learning how to raise baby chicks? What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn how to care for baby chicks?
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.