How To Raise Baby Chicks: The Complete Guide
Updated: Feb 3
Looking to raise baby chicks this year? Learn what to consider before adding these adorable fluff butts to your family.
Where To Get Baby Chicks
Raising baby chicks is one of our favorite things to do on our farmstead, and we think it's a great way to learn more about where your food comes from, connect with nature, and honestly, have a lot of fun!
There are a few different ways you can go about getting baby chicks:
1. Local Farm Supply Stores
If you've ever been to Tractor Supply or a local feed mill, you've probably seen baby chicks in brooders. This is one way to buy baby chicks each year.
There's nothing inherently wrong with buying chicks from a feed store; however, there are a few things to consider:
Hatcheries that supply to these stores vaccinate their breeding stock and test them extensively
You don't always know what types of chicks they'll have in, so you may have to call or check frequently if you're looking for specific breeds
Speaking of breeds, here's some terminology you'll want to know before hitting up your local Tractor Supply or feed supply store:
Pullets are young, female chickens that have not started laying yet.
Straight runs are a mix of males and females that have not been sexed. Unless you know exactly what you're looking for, you could get any ratio of males to females.
Keep in mind that even if a store advertises that a brooder is all pullets, sexing is never 100% accurate. We are proof of this!
Our first batch of chicks came from a local feed mill, and our goal was to buy all pullets. We ended up with a "whoops" cockerel (rooster), which ended up transforming our whole plan for our flock.
In our case, it was a blessing in disguise, but you definitely want to have a plan for what you'll do with any cockerels if you get them accidentally.
Hatcheries come in all shapes and sizes.
You could find one that specifically breeds certain types of chicks in your area where you can go pick up your baby chicks on certain hatching days that they have available.
You could also search for NPIP-certified farms that sell hatching eggs (that you put into an incubator) or baby chicks to others in their community.
You can also look online for reputable hatcheries that will ship baby chicks directly to you. (There's a whole system for that which we won't get into in this blog.)
3. Broody Hens
This goes along with our previous point, but our absolute favorite way to raise baby chicks is to have a broody hen hatch them out.
We have another blog that goes into more detail on this, and it doesn't apply if you're getting chicks for the first time. Just know that if you ever want to go this route, it is a fun adventure!
How To Set Up Your Brooder
Ok. Now that we've talked about different ways to source your chicks, let's talk about how to set yourself up for success. It all starts with the brooder!
You'll want to have this set up beforehand so you aren't running around trying to get everything you need while you've got chilly chicks in a box.
You can use whatever you have on hand to create a safe brooder for your chicks, but we like to use small stock tanks because the sides are high enough to keep your growing birds inside.
As a rule of thumb, you want a container that has sides that are at least 24" tall because chicks will start stretching their wings and trying to fly out pretty quickly!
We recommend attaching chicken wire or hardware mesh to the top with clamps so that you can see in but also take it off whenever you need to clean the brooder or want to handle your adorable babies.
Pine shavings, straw, or other soft bedding is a must. You'll have to decide which works best for you, but stay away from cedar anything as it's toxic to chickens.
You'll also want to provide a feeder and waterer that's big enough for the amount of chicks you have. Keep in mind that baby chicks are messy! They will kick their bedding into both and poop in them repeatedly.
You can prevent some of this by keeping the chick-safe waterer raised up off the ground of the brooder. This will save you the headache of refilling it multiple times a day.
Also, don't forget to grab a bag of chick starter feed!
Once you have your bedding and feed/water containers, it's time to start thinking about heat.
Our first time brooding chicks we used a heat lamp because it's all we had. It wasn't terrible, but you do have to be extremely careful when using this method. They can pose a fire hazard, and it's harder for chicks to get away from the heat when they're too hot.
If you're going to use a heat lamp, try to concentrate the bulb over one side of the brooder so they have the ability to get away from it if need be.
We prefer using a heat plate instead. It is AMAZING and much safer. Because of the way it radiates heat, it mimics a mother hen's feathers so babies can run underneath to get warm or come out and run around when they want.
Make sure you understand the size of your heat plate for how many chicks you have. You may need several, depending on the size of your brooder.
Baby Chick Temperature Guide
You'll want to hang a thermometer on the inside of your brooder so you can keep an eye on the temperature.
Here are the general guidelines for how warm the brooder should be each week:
Days 0-7 - 95 degrees
Week 2 - 90 degrees
Week 3 - 85 degrees
Week 4 - 80 degrees
Week 5 - 75 degrees
Week 6 - 70 degrees
After 6 weeks - If fully feathered, they should be ready for outside!
We recommend letting your chicks have field trips outside before you fully commit to sticking them in their coop or letting them run around unsupervised. This lets you keep an eye on their behavior and make sure they're not too cold.
Note: In our personal experience, we've noticed that chicks need a little less heat than this traditional chart recommends a bit sooner. The best way to ensure your chicks are happy and just warm enough is to make sure they aren't sprawled out and panting (too hot) or all huddled together under the lamp or heat plate (too cold).
You can accidentally freeze or burn your chicks if you aren't paying attention. But with some experience and a close, watchful eye, you should be just fine!
What To Know About Pasty Butt
When you commit to baby chicks, you commit to lots of poop...and lots of booty checks.
Pasty butt is when droppings stick to a chick's vent area preventing them from being able to poop. It can kill your chicks if you don't catch it, so we recommend daily fluff butt checks.
Simply pick your baby chicks up, look at their vents to ensure no poop is stuck there, and return them to the brooder. If there is a bit of poop, use a damp cloth to wipe it away. Easy peezy!
Note: The vent is not the bellybutton. It may appear black like poop, but you do NOT want to pull this off. Remember that the vent is just below the tail. That's where you're looking.
How To Introduce Baby Chicks To Your Flock
If you already have an existing flock and are adding to it with these baby chicks, you'll want to have a plan in place for how to do that safely.
Once they are old enough, you can place your baby chicks in a crate or pen with a top in the coop so they can get used to the older chickens, and your older chickens can get used to them with a physical barrier between them.
This does help with some of the bullying younger birds experience, but there will always be a re-establishing of the pecking order. Because of this, we typically keep them in these separate-but-together places for at least a week before letting the baby chicks out to explore alongside the older birds.
If you are new to keeping birds, the pecking order establishment can be really uncomfortable. There will be some literal pecking, and your baby chicks can get picked on.
This is one reason why you don't want to just throw them into a chicken run or out in your yard with the rest of your flock and walk away. Keep a close eye on what's going on for at least the first few days.
You may also have to move your new pullets or cockerels onto the roosting bars when they're getting used to the coop at night. We've had some take to it right away and others that tried to sleep in nesting boxes, dust baths, etc.
For the first few nights, we would go into the coop after they'd all tucked themselves in for the night and move any of the baby chicks that were in random places onto the lower roosting bars. This was just a subtle reminder of where they should be, and then they were great!
A Few Final Notes On Raising Baby Chicks
Raising baby chicks is such a fun experience! Once you've done it, it's easy to get hooked.
One of the last things we'll mention is that baby chicks create a lot of dust, and things can get pretty smelly as they get older and produce more poop. If you're planning on keeping your brooder inside your house, you'll be dusting until the end of time. (And that advice comes from people who put their first brooder in the laundry room...it was a MESS!)
Obviously, sometimes you just have to make it work! But, ideally, a garage or other draft free building is the best for your sanity and your baby fluffs.
So, there you have it, friends! We are always happy to answer any questions you have and hope this helps you get started off on the right foot!