Raising Baby Chicks to Laying Hens Step by Step

Baby chick
KarenMassier / Getty Images
  • 01 of 10

    Gather Your Supplies

    Chick feeder.
    Chick feeder. Lauren Ware

    First things first: make sure your baby chicks have everything they'll need on the first day home. Raising baby chicks into gorgeous, healthy, productive laying hens for eggs is easy, but having the right supplies helps a lot.

    As they get older, you will use different feeders, but for the first week or two, plastic chick feeders like the ones you see above will make life a lot easier for you. Chicks love to stomp in their feed, tip it over, and generally make a mess. They're also not terribly...MORE smart and can eat quite a lot of shavings or bedding while they pick spilled feed off the floor. These feeders are perfect - the chicks can see the feed clearly because they're attracted to the color red, they can't tip them, they can't roost on them (and therefore poop in them), and they're at the right height when placed on the brooder floor.

    Here's what you'll also need: waterers, bedding, a brooder including a heat lamp, and special chick feed. See this handy checklist with more details:

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  • 02 of 10

    Fill Waterers and Feeders

    Chick waterer
    Chick waterer. Lauren Ware

    This may seem obvious, but it's really important and many first-time chick owners don't know it. You will be receiving a box of loudly peeping, hungry and thirsty, somewhat stressed-out baby chicks. Think about it: they've been in a box in a truck or plane for several days with just a little bit of gel-like food to keep them happy (and of course, they don't need food for three days after hatching, but that doesn't mean they aren't hungry!).

    Fill the waterers with fresh, clean water and top off...MORE all the feeders you have with fresh chick starter. I recommend you do this two days before the chicks are due to arrive. Sometimes, like babies, they make an early appearance!

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  • 03 of 10

    Set Up the Brooder

    Brooder set up for chicks.
    Brooder set up for chicks. Lauren Ware

    This is another critical step. Before the chicks arrive, you must have a warm, cozy spot all ready for them. If you wait until you get them home from the post office to turn on the brooder lamp, they are going to get chilled. Until you open that box, they are all keeping each other warm with their own body heat packed into a tiny space. Once in the brooder, they won't have that anymore and it won't take long for them to get chilled - which leads to stress, which leads to pasting up. We...MORE don't want that.

    So, make sure your brooder is set up, the bedding is scattered, the filled waterers and feeders are placed as you see here - around the edges of the heat lamp's influence, not too far away from the center but not right under it, either. And turn on that lamp, get your thermometer probe on the bedding underneath the lamp, and make sure you have a nice, toasty 95 degrees happening. Depending on the outdoor temperature, it may take a few hours for the brooder temperature to stabilize, so keep checking and adjusting the lamp height as needed. You'll tweak it again later, but you want to be in the ballpark of 95 degrees now.

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  • 04 of 10

    Bring the Baby Chicks Home

    Chicks in their shipping box
    Chicks in their shipping box. Lauren Ware

    When the post office receives your chick shipment, they will usually call you as soon as they open in the morning - typically 7:00 or 7:30 am. Be prepared to pick your chicks up immediately! Since you might be heading to work shortly, all that preparation you did to get their brooder ready is about to pay off.

    Make sure you have a warm, secure place for them in your car (the back of a pickup truck is not a good idea, and they should probably be on the floor of the car so they don't go flying...MORE in a sudden stop, and don't take the family dog) and drive them home to the farm. Place their box inside the brooder area and get ready for the fun to begin!

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  • 05 of 10

    Check Your Shipment

    Open shipping box of chicks.
    Open shipping box of chicks. Photo © Lauren Ware

    Open the box. Ah! Be careful you aren't blinded by the cuteness. They are seriously adorable. But some may actually not be so cute. They might have gotten squished, stressed or otherwise not made the trip. If you have small children, you'll want to take the first peek without them around if you think they might be upset by a dead baby chick. (Then again, if you're ​farming, they probably need to learn this lesson sooner or later.)

    Don't stress about one or two dead chicks. That's par for...MORE the course, and any good hatchery will send an extra or two to make up for the potential loss. But if more than one or two of a box of 25 chicks is dead, or if they're wet or otherwise messed up in some way, contact the hatchery immediately.

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  • 06 of 10

    Dip Beaks in Water

    Dipping chick's beak in water
    Dipping chick's beak in water. Photo © Lauren Ware

    As you take each chick out of the box and place it into the brooder, you'll want to do two things:

    • Dip its beak in the water. Just like in the photo, use a finger to push its head into the waterer tray. If you just lean its head toward it, it will wriggle and get all confused and it will take forever. Just be firm and push its head into the water. You'll see it actually take a little drink within a second. Then, gently place the chick on the bedding (preferably near the feeder).
    • Count your...MORE chicks. This is the time to count each variety as best you can, distinguishing them by color and markings (they won't look quite like adult patterns yet but you can get a general idea). Forget about sexing them at this point. Just make sure that everything you ordered is there.
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  • 07 of 10

    Sit Back and Watch The Chicks

    Chicks happily set up.
    Chicks happily set up. Photo © Lauren Ware

    Once everyone's out of the box, watch for a while. It's hard not to! They are so funny and interesting. When they first arrive, everyone should find the water and the feed within an hour or two. If you see a baby chick wandering around lost and peeping loudly, it's either cold or can't find water or feed. If it's outside the circle of warmth cast by the brooder, you can gently usher it back underneath.

    And you can catch it (if you can) and dip its beak in the water again, or put some food on a...MORE small piece of cardboard. I find that the sound of one chick's beak tapping on the cardboard attracts more of them and there is soon a feeding frenzy! So if you have any worries about chicks eating enough, try that. It just gets messy because the feed gets into the bedding that way - which is okay, but in the first two to three days you want to minimize how many shavings they eat.

    The other thing to watch for is temperature. Chicks should be milling around happily under the lamp and venturing out to the edges of its warmth to eat and drink. If they are huddled together in a clump under the lamp, they might be too cold (although they also can sleep in piles like this - the key is, if they're cheeping loudly and not asleep, they are likely to be cold). If they are avoiding the red area cast by the brooder light bulb, staying only at the edges, it's too hot. Keep a watch on this a few times a day the first day and every day thereafter for the first week or two.

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  • 08 of 10

    Check for Pasting Up

    Checking for pasting up.
    Checking for pasting up. Photo © Lauren Ware

    Everyone's home, set up, fed and watered, and doing well. Right? Well, there's one more thing. Every day for the first week or so, you'll need to check for pasting up, a condition where the baby chicks' poop gets stuck on the downy feathers outside their vent and prevents them from pooping. This condition can be fatal if left unattended. It is usually caused by stress from shipping or overhandling.

    Pick up the chick as shown in the photo and inspect its vent. The chick in the photo does not have...MORE pasting up. If she did, you'd see feces stuck to the vent area. You can use a warm washcloth to wipe the vent clean (you didn't know you'd be wiping chicken butts, did you?). But sometimes that doesn't work. I've also used scissors to cut away the down near the vent, but this can be hard with very young chicks. The other option if it's on the dry side is to rip off the poop like a band-aid. Gross, but very very effective. The down comes off too and if the chick continues to have nasty poop, it has nothing to stick to.

    Although gross, pasting up is nothing to joke about. You can and will lose chicks to it if you don't clear their vents. So pay attention! Check chicken butts every day. Also, using electrolytes or gel can help minimize their stress and thus prevent pasting up.

    If you have children, be careful of overhandling. If chicks are pasting up, make the kids leave them alone until the problem is gone. Pasting up chicks are stressed chicks. Curious ​dogs are also a risk to baby chicks. Put a screen door or other cover over the brooder to keep the chicks safe.

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  • 09 of 10

    Keep Bedding Clean

    Bedding needs replacing.
    Bedding needs replacing. Photo © Lauren Ware

    Check the baby chicks' bedding daily for spilled water and buildup of feces. Remove any wet bedding because this can chill them and stress them. Replace with fresh bedding. When the bedding gets saturated with chicken poop like you see in this photo, scoop it all aside and put down fresh bedding - or if that's not possible, put a nice thick fresh layer on top of the existing bedding.

    Keeping bedding fresh will keep things smelling good and prevent health problems like chilling from being wet....MORE After the first couple of weeks, as the birds begin to feather in, they're less susceptible to chilling and a lot easier to take care of.

    They will get their waterers and feeders filthy with bedding. Clean it up as much as you can. You don't want them ingesting large quantities of bedding.

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  • 10 of 10

    Move Them to the Chicken Coop

    A chicken coop.

    As your chicks grow, you can follow these steps to slowly acclimate them to outdoor temperatures and eventually, once they're large enough, sturdy, and feathered in, move them to their chicken coop.

    Lowering Temperature

    Each week, lower the temperature by 5 degrees until the temperature reaches outdoor temperatures. So for the first week, keep them at 95 degrees F. The second week: 90 degrees F. Third week: 85 degrees F. Adjust this as necessary so that they are comfortable - not huddling under...MORE the lamp (too cold) or scattering to the edges (too hot).

    Outside Time

    Starting at around 2-3 weeks of age, if the temperatures are warm (over 65 degrees F), you can bring them outside for short periods of sun and foraging. Make sure to add grit to their feed if they will be eating anything other than chicken feed. Grit is small stones that chickens keep in their crop to help them grind up bugs, grass, and other food.

    Moving the Chicks to the Coop

    By 4-5 weeks of age, the chicks are ready to move to their main coop full-time, or if the brooder is in the main coop, for the heat lamp and brooder to be removed. When you move them, keep them closed in the coop for a day or two (rather than letting them free-range) so that they learn that the coop is "home." Once there, follow basic chicken care to keep them growing strong! They will start laying eggs at around four to six months of age.