Once you've ordered some day-old baby chicks from a hatchery, it's easy to become impatient waiting for their arrival, like a proud new parent. But don't let your excitement get in the way of your preparation. It is critical to be ready for your new chicks as soon as they arrive. You'll need several supplies for housing the baby chicks and for keeping them warm and well-fed.
01 of 07
A brooder area is a draft-free place for housing your chicks. Feed and farm supply stores sell large tubs for this purpose, and you can also buy specialized brooders complete with heat. A brooder can also be made out of cardboard, a plastic tub, a kiddie pool, or another suitable large container. If you decide to make your own do-it-yourself brooder area, make sure that it provides at least 2 square feet of space per chick.
02 of 07
Unless you have a complete brooder that includes a heat source, you'll need a heat lamp with a 250-watt bulb to keep the chicks warm. This size of lamp will warm 75 chicks at an ambient temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It's a good idea to buy two bulbs so you have a backup in case one burns out. Chicks will die if they get too cold.
The lamp must include a housing with a metal safety guard to prevent starting a fire if the lamp falls (250-watt heat lamp bulbs run extremely hot). It also helps to have a height-adjustable lamp or have means for moving the lamp to regulate the temperature.
The area under the lamp should be 95 F the first week, then it should be decreased by 5 degrees per week until the chicks are fully feathered out. This takes about six weeks or until the outdoor nightly temperature meets the target temperature.
03 of 07
Simple Mason jar bases will suffice for chick waterers for the first week or two. You'll find as chicks grow, the jars will have to be refilled more frequently. Try using two half-gallon Mason jars with bases per 25 chicks and refilling every two or three days. The bases should have a very small trough that the baby chicks can access without falling in (if they fall in water and become chilled, they can die).
Once they're a bit bigger, they can handle a gallon-size or larger waterer. After about two weeks, move to a 5-gallon metal waterer. Place the waterers a piece of wood or other makeshift stand to prevent shavings from falling into the water.
04 of 07
Chick-sized feeders are helpful for the first week or so. The structure allows for the chicks to easily reach the feed without offering the opportunity for chicks to walk through or otherwise contaminate the food supply. This means you save money on wasted feed, which offsets the cost of the feeders.
Allow free access to the feed at all times. The very first day, spread some feed on a piece of cardboard, then tap the cardboard. The chicks immediately find the feed, and the sound of beaks tapping on cardboard leads other chicks to the sound. After about a week or two, move to a tube-style feeder, but leave out the chick feeders and the new feeder together for a day or so, to make sure they find the new food.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Baby chicks need bedding, just like older hens. Pine shavings are best, as straw or hay can easily get lost. Many people start chicks on newspaper covered with hardware cloth. However, it's important to avoid starting chicks on newspaper alone, because it's too slippery. This can make chicks develop a condition called "spraddle legs."
06 of 07
Feed your baby chicks with a high-quality feed called chick starter. Always follow the feeding recommendations of the feed manufacturer because different feeds transition at different rates.
Important: Chick starter feed comes in medicated and non-medicated formulas. If you have your chicks vaccinated for coccidiosis at the hatchery, do not use medicated feed. If they're unvaccinated, you might want to provide them with medicated feed for extra protection.
07 of 07
Supplements can aid in your chicks' growth; for example:
- Gro Gel Plus is a gel that you feed to new hatchlings to help them find the feed.
- Quik Chik is a vitamin and electrolyte powder that you add to their water.
- Diatomaceous earth (food-grade) can be sprinkled in your chicks' feed to help prevent diseases. When they're older, sprinkle it in the coop (be sure to wear a respirator) to kill mites.
- Grit can be helpful after the first week, if the birds have any access to bugs or worms. This allows them to better digest "real" food. Grit is sold at feed or farm stores.
Management Guide for the Backyard Flock | UGA Cooperative Extension.