How to Raise Baby Chicks – Beginner’s Guide

Beginner Tips for Raising Chicks

Raising baby chicks is an exciting and rewarding experience for starting or adding to your chicken flock.  This article provides a step by step guide in how to raise baby chicks.  Please leave a comment should you have any questions on how to raise your chicks!

How to raise chicks

How to Raise Baby Chicks – Getting Prepared

Before the baby chicks arrive ensure that each of the following items have been purchase and are ready to go.

  • Brooder
  • Heating Plate or Heat Lamp
  • Feeder
  • Waterer (drown-proof)
  • Chick Food
  • Bedding

Brooder

The Brooder is the pen or bin that the chicks will live in.  Brooders can be purchased, made, or repurposed.  Commonly, plastic bins are used, wood containers are built, or even something like a dog kennel can be repurposed. Optionally, the henhouse in a chicken coop that has no adults hens can be used as the brooder depending on outside temperatures. The brooder should have enough ventilation to not overheat the chicks but not be so drafty that the chicks get cold.  Secondly, the chick brooder must keep the baby chicks from escaping and protect them from predators. Ideally, select a brooder that is easy to clean daily.

Chick Brooder

Heating Plate / Heat Lamp

Baby chicks need heat to survive. Choose between a heat plate or lamp to keep the chicks warm until the baby chick’s feathers come in. Until baby chicks have their feathers they can not properly regulate their temperature. First time chick parents may find a thermometer helpful.  Place the thermometer in the brooder near the heat source to ensure the temperature is in the right range.  See our the Baby Chick Temperature Chart below for more details.

Heating Plate:

Of the two options a heater plate is more expensive but safer.  The plate provides radiant heating with a stable base. While heat plates are more expensive (around $40) they have little to no risk of fire.

Heat Lamp:

Heat lamps, on the other hand, can be purchased much cheaper (around $15) but they have a high risk of fire if certain cautions are not followed. Always use red heat bulbs for a chicken brooder. When using a lamp, always ensure it is well secured.  Plan on the unknown happening! Ensure the device can not fall on any combustible material.  Combustible materials include chicken bedding, wood, floors, even walls.  These products have been known to fall apart, get bumped by a human or animal, or just to come unclamped.  A fallen heat lamp will start a fire in just a couple minutes.

Start off by setting up the lamp bulb about 18 inches above the bedding surface and measure the temperature with a thermometer at the level of the bedding.

Baby Chick Feeder

Chick feeders work best when they have a cover on them.  Without this feature the chicks will get in the feeder and kick the food everywhere and/or poop on the food.  Either the tall or long horizontal feeder type is fine to use.

Chick Feeder

Baby Chick Waterer

A chick waterer’s most important feature is that it be drown proof.  Drown proof waterers will have a very narrow trough with no cover. Waterers with holes in the trough cover have been known to trap and drown tiny chicks that fall in.

Chick Waterer

Chick Food

Chick Starter Food:

Perhaps surprisingly to some people, chick food is different than food for adult chickens.  The main difference with chick food is that it has a higher protein content, typically 20% protein.  Moreover, some adult chicken foods have added calcium which is not good for developing chicks.  Keep chicks on chick starter food until they chicks reach about 10 weeks old.

Medicated vs Unmedicated Chick Food:

Chick starter food comes in regular or medicated versions.  Medicated chick starter feed is formulated with the medication amprollium to help prevent coccidiosisCoccidiosis is a common chicken disease found just about everywhere in the environment.  Ultimately, choosing normal chick starter feed vs medicated feed comes down to a personal choice.

Chick Starter Food

Baby Chick Bedding

Paper Towels are a good bedding choice for the first 1-2 weeks of the new chicks life.  Paper towels provide grip for the chicks little feet and they also make clean up easy.  Most importantly, the chicks will not be trying to ingest little bits of wood shavings their first 1-2 weeks.

After 1-2 weeks switch the bedding to pine wood shavings.  Do not purchase the Fine Pine shavings as those are easily eaten by the chicks and too dusty as well. Do not use cedar shavings as cedar bedding can be an irritant to chickens lungs.

Pine Shaving Bedding

How to Raise Baby Chicks – Adding New Chicks to the Brooder

After the equipment is set up and the new chicks arrive, the steps are fairly simple.

  • Keep food and water available to your chicks at all times.
  • Add new fresh food and water daily or as needed. Clean off or remove any droppings or bedding that may be in or on the feeder or waterer.
  • Change paper towels or pine shaving bedding daily, or as needed, for cleanliness
  • Monitor temperature near the heat plate or heat lamp.  See chick temperature chart below.
  • Watch the chicks behavior occasionally so that any chick that seems ill or acting abnormally can be quickly identified and addressed.

Chicks often sleep laying flat on the ground.  If there is a roost bar the chicks will use it to sleep.  On roosting bars the chicks head may droop straight down to the ground as they sleep – this is normal.

Chicks displaying balance issues, splayed legs or wry neck may be sick.  Separate them from the other chicks just in case until the cause is determined.

Baby Chick Temperature Chart

Carefully measure temperatures During Week 1 to ensure the temperature is not too hot or too cold.  Both overheating and chill can kill baby chicks.  Drop the temperature 5 degrees F each week by adjusting the heat plate or distance of the heat lamp.  When the ambient temperature matches the chart the heat source can be removed.  By 6-7 weeks age most chicks are feathered out enough to maintain their body temperature in cold weather without added heat.

Baby Chick Weekly Temperature Chart

Week 0-1: 95-100 degrees Fahrenheit

Week 1-2: 90-95 degrees F

Week 2-3: 85-90 degrees F

Week 3-4: 80-85 degrees F

Week 4-5: 75-80 degrees F

Week 5-6: 70-75 degrees F

Transitioning Baby Chicks to the Outdoors

Chicks can be introduced to the outdoor environment as soon as age 4-6 weeks. However, ensure the nighttime temperature does not fall below the minimum temperature required in the Baby Chick Temperature chart. As they are brought outside introduce them to adult chicken feeders and chicken waterers at their height for less mess and waste.

Searching for a hatchery to buy chicks from? Check out our list of chicken hatcheries in Texas.

How to Raise Baby Chicks – the Video