Raising Chickens 101: Bring Up Baby Chicks

February 27, 2012

Credit: Eigenproduktion
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Want to learn how to raise baby chicks? Here's a beginner's guide to bringing up baby!

(This is the fourth post in our Raising Chickens 101 series.)

You can purchase chickens at several stages of development—it all depends on how long you’re willing to wait for eggs.

  • Day-old chicks are available from hatcheries. Most farm suppliers do one or two chick orders a year, so you can get your chickens where you plan to get your feed. They’re usually under $3 each. You’ll have to wait about 6 months for eggs.
  • Ready-to-lay pullets are 20 weeks old and just about to start laying. They’re more expensive than day-olds, but of course you get your eggs sooner. They can go straight to the coop and are all females. These, too, can be ordered through your farm supplier from the hatchery.
  • Mature laying hens are harder to come by. Unless you have someone with a small flock nearby who wants to replace older hens and will sell their “old girls” to you, chances are that you’ll have to buy pullets or chicks. (Battery hens are not good candidates for a farm flock—they’re confined in tiny cages, debeaked, and made to produce so hard that they’re “laid out” at 2 to 3 years of age.)

Raising Chicks

Tending young chicks isn’t difficult, nor need it be elaborate. As well as chick starter and clean water, they need a draft-free brooder pen with a red brooder lamp on at all times. This keeps the temperature at 92oF at 2 inches above the floor. (It also reduces picking and cannibalism among chicks.) When the chicks have feathered out, reduce the temperature by 5 degrees per week until they are 6 weeks old, then switch their feed from chick starter to grower mash.

Hatching Chicks

Instead of buying chickens every year, you could hatch your own. Of course, you’ll need a rooster to get fertile eggs. Check your zoning regulations; some places allow hens, but not roosters. Hens will lay perfectly well without one. (The occasional blood-spotted egg isn’t caused by the rooster and is perfectly fine to eat.)

You’ll also need a broody hen. Broodiness—the instinct to sit on eggs until they hatch—has been bred out of a lot of chickens, but we always had one or two who would begin to sit tight on the nest and peck if we tried to remove their eggs. Bantams are famously broody, and a bantam hen will hatch other hens’ eggs.

You can hatch replacement chicks yourself with a home incubator. Eggs take 21 days to hatch. (Did you know that there are best times for setting eggs under a hen or in an incubator? You can find more about setting chicken eggs by the Moon's Sign here. An incubator must be watched; chicks left too long after hatching will die of dehydration or picking. One particularly determined one in our incubator picked its way through the screen guard around the ventilation fan and was decapitated. On the whole, we found it best to leave it to the hen.

More Tips for a Happy Coop

  • Many sources say that you can’t keep a flock of mixed ages. We never had a problem with older chickens picking on younger ones or vice versa. Our hens raised their chicks happily in the flock. Most picking is the result of overcrowding. Give your chickens lots of space.
  • Young chicks need to be close to water and food at all times. Spread a 4-inch layer of pine shavings on the floor, then lay several layers of newspaper over that. Scatter lots of chick feed on the paper and also have feeding troughs filled in the pen. Remove a layer of paper every day, and by the time the last layer is gone, the chicks will have found the feeding trough.
  • Always use red bulbs; injury doesn’t show under red light. Under white light, any bloody spot immediately attracts pecking. Chicks will cheerfully and efficiently peck each other to death.
  • Block corners of the pen with cardboard to make wider angles that are harder for chicks to pack up in. (You could also make a circular pen.) This prevents suffocation.
  • Ensure that waterers are shallow and cleaned daily to avoid having chicks drown. My hatchery recommends one gallon-size waterer for every hundred chicks. I always had two or three, even for fewer chicks, so that they wouldn’t crowd.
  • With pullets, I used one waterer for every six to eight chickens and a feed trough long enough to accommodate all of them at once.

Next up is eggs! Let's talk about collecting, cleaning, storing, and maybe even hatching chicken eggs.

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Elizabeth Creith has fifteen years of experience keeping chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys on her farm in Northern Ontario. She currently dreams of a new flock of fancy chickens. Elizabeth and her husband also have six and a half years experience running a pet store. On top of that, she's kept more animals than you can imagine from cats to cockatoos!


Hello , I have six baby

By Carol Deveno on April 17

Hello , I have six baby chicks and they are growing very fast. My concern is their behavior. they jump around at each other, flighty, and loud peeping. their brooder is a rabbit cage on legs. They have plenty of food, and water, warmth. They peep loudly and for long intervals. They are not friendly as my last batch of four. The red heat lamp is on at night and the sunny window during the day. I don't know what more to do for them.

Hi Carol, It's a bit hard

By Celeste Longacre on April 17

Hi Carol,

It's a bit hard for me to say since I can't see them, but they could be too warm (are they staying away from the heated spot?). Different breeds also act differently. They also may just be working out their pecking order--chicks usually do this quite quickly.

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By Aurelio on April 19

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We have a baby chicken that

By Maria F. Bonner on April 9

We have a baby chicken that had fallen out of the nest yesterday. It was almost dead by the time we got to it. We brought it in the house and placed it under heat lamps all night to get its body temp back up. Today it does seem to be doing better however it is pretty wobbly. It does not move around as well as the other chicks. Can it be returned to its mother today??? We really need to know ASAP, THX. Maria

I should also say this baby

By Maria F. Bonner on April 9

I should also say this baby chick is only about 24 hours old. thx.

Hi Maria, I think that I

By Celeste Longacre on April 9

Hi Maria,

I think that I would wait a few days until the chick is a little less wobbly.

Thx so much for your reply.

By Maria F. Bonner on April 9

Thx so much for your reply. Ya the mother has moved the rest of them. She was not our chicken. she was a neighbors that came here and had them under our front steps. Now she has moved on. So looks like we are the parents of a baby chick. (OH GOODIE) LOL. Thx so much.

I had 25 four week old

By Teresa Durbin on April 8

I had 25 four week old chicks. They were overcrowded in the brooder box so we placed them in the coop. No other chickens are in the coop just the baby chicks. I provided heat lamps, water, and a hanging feeder. They mush have discovered the hanging feeder last night. Nine of them were found inside the feeder dead this morning. I will now be placing a lid on the feeder. Did they all kill themselves trying to get out? I have never had this happen before.

Hi Teresa, I'm not sure

By Celeste Longacre on April 8

Hi Teresa,

I'm not sure what kind of feeder you have, but if you had this experience, I would'nt use it with baby chicks anymore. Baby chicks do sometimes kill each other without meaning to--they pile up on top of each other. So sorry for your loss. Good luck with the rest of them!


I'm so sad right now. We are

By kcrosse on March 28

I'm so sad right now. We are 1st time chicken owners and last night, we had a casualty. We had 5 (7-week-old) and 1 (5-week-old) chicks in our backyard coop that were as happy, friendly, and trusting as can be. We let them out to free range and our neighbor's dog dug under the fence and killed 3 of my girls. This was in the middle of the afternoon! One of them is injured, one is okay (just traumatized) and one is still missing. We also have 2 (2-week-old) baby chicks that we keep indoors for the time being. I am keeping the injured (7-week-old) separate until she heals, but I put the other older chick with the babies (indoors). The little 2 week old chicks seem to be pecking at the bigger chick! Not, too badly, I'm keeping an eye on them all.
My question is this: What kind of arrangements should I be making? Do I put them all outside in the coop now? or do i keep them indoors for a while longer? I want to go get more chicks, but the ones at the store are 5 days old and would need to be separate, but for how long? should I even bother getting more chicks? I'm so confused and heartbroken.

Hi kcrosse, I don't know

By Celeste Longacre on March 31

Hi kcrosse,

I don't know where you live, but here in the northeast we keep our chickens in a warm place with a heat lamp until they feather out (about four to six weeks). They are also very "flock" oriented with their established pecking order and all. If you need to add new chicks to the established ones, it's best to do it at night. If they all wake up together, it works out better. We also put hardware cloth (not a cloth at all) on the bottom of our fence (about four inches up) and out about eighteen inches under a few inches of dirt. That way, anything that tries to dig under the fence is stopped from doing so. Ask at your local hardwars store what hardware cloth is. Good luck!

I can't seem to find anywhere

By Dottie Atwater

I can't seem to find anywhere how MUCH to feed baby chicks. I was leaving food (and water) available for them all the time, but some would get so fat that their legs would splay out and they couldn't walk. Then someone told me that their food supply should be restricted to about an hour a couple of times a day. Does anyone have an answer to how much to feed baby chicks - and if feeding too much could cause the splaying of the feet/legs.

Baby chicks eat a "starter

By Almanac Staff

Baby chicks eat a "starter feed." At this age, they can eat as much as their body needs; do not regulate.
Some starters will used for 4 weeks before moving onto grower; some combine a starter and grower, so you need to look at the feed information for more details.

which chicks have tail

By /Roger Goble

which chicks have tail feathrs first, the pullets or roasters?

I have 4 day old chicks and 3

By Herbert Dressler

I have 4 day old chicks and 3 week old chicks together so far no problem in 19 days I am due to receive a few more day old chicks. My brooder is fairly large. would there be a problem adding these day old chicks to the brooder after their travel day recovery.

I have 4 day old chicks and 3

By Herbert Dressler

I have 4 day old chicks and 3 week old chicks together so far no problem in 19 days I am due to receive a few more day old chicks. My brooder is fairly large. would there be a problem adding these day old chicks to the brooder after their travel day recovery.

Never again will I have

By Robin Roland

Never again will I have chicks shipped! I had 18 chicks delivered the latter part of May. Silkies and Orpingtons. I have since lost all but 5. This is not my first experience of raising chicks but is my first experience of receiving shipped chicks. Every silkie I had has died and I really have no idea why. I use the Brensea eco brooder so they stay warm. I supply clean water and feed. I am wondering if the chicks could have cocci? I do see some red tinge to their poop. But it is not runny. They have never seemed to be bright eyed and active like all other chicks I have raised. Any suggestions of anything I could give them to insure the remaining 5 orps survive?

I just hatched a batch of

By Larry Millr

I just hatched a batch of bantum chicks, dates ranged from 23 to 25 days. last one out seems to be having trouble withone of its wings, it hangs down lower than the other wing and has trouble balancing and getting off its back. it is 2 days old. Any suggestions on if I should try to keep it alive and if so, how to treat the wing.

when raising a flock of

By Vicki Muller

when raising a flock of Chickens mixed ages, What type of feed do you use for the Flock?????

I have a small flock of Rhode

By Penny Scruggs

I have a small flock of Rhode Island Reds and have 2 questions about them, 1 How can I remove the spurs from the rooster, he is a year old now, the second is how can I get the hens to set on eggs to hatch them, they lay well then ignore the clutch

I used a dremal and the round

By victoriawalker

I used a dremal and the round disk and as gyou are cutting it off it cartarises so that it doesn't bleed. Takes just a couple of seconds and no mess.

In order to remove the spurs

By jhon doe

In order to remove the spurs take pliers or two fingers and just simpally twist off the spurs. when spurs are removed put bag balm or some kind aof salve. b leeding should stop in a day or so. In regard to the hens you cant make them go broody its somthing they do on their own.
ps. rhode islands dont go broody often get a silkie to brood chicks or by an incubator

Hi Penny, I don't know the

By Celeste Longacre

Hi Penny,
I don't know the answer to your first question. However, I do know that certain breeds are better for roosting (getting the eggs to hatch) than others.

help, I have 4 baby chicks

By Stampingranny

help, I have 4 baby chicks that were hatched in the wild. Have no idea how old they are. Mother was killed last night. She had been scratching for them. Will they eat chick food? I have caught them and penned them. Now what?

Hi Stamingranny, They should

By Celeste Longacre

Hi Stamingranny,
They should eat chick food.

my husband was wondering when

By yevette clark

my husband was wondering when to give young chickens "scratch"... (i think) they are about a mo old and are "red" breed... thank you!

Hi Yvette, I would wait until

By Celeste Longacre

Hi Yvette,
I would wait until the chickens are about 5 months old before giving them "scratch". Be careful not to give them too much, too, as it will cause their shells to be quite thin if they get too much.

Hi...I have 8 healthy Barred


Hi...I have 8 healthy Barred Rocks that are 12 days old & growing very fast & already attempting to fly. At this point, they are going to outgrow their brooder very soon. When can I move them to a coop? Can I make the move as long as I control the temp properly? I live in the Desert Southwest so it is already in the 90s outside. Thank you.

Hi BJW, The important thing

By Celeste Longacre

The important thing with very young chicks is to keep the temperature right. If you can keep them warm at night, I see no problem with moving them.

Have been raising golden

By A.Johnson

Have been raising golden comet & black austerlop chickens for a few years, & decided to try Rainbow pullets this year. After the first week following shipment & loosing 2, the rest are doing great! Eating & growing well. What I can't seem to recall, is how old chicks should be before you can touch them? Mine are about 3 weeks, & their combs & tail feathers are just comming in. Their not afraid to inspect my hand when I re-fill their food.

Hi A. Johnson, I don't think

By Celeste Longacre

Hi A. Johnson,
I don't think that there is a problem with touching baby chicks. If you want them to be friendly, it might be a good idea to handle them.

Hello i wanted to no if i can

By Vercheta

Hello i wanted to no if i can put my baby chicks that my wife recieved from a coworker outside with my other grown chickens. Will the big chicks hurt the babys

Hi Vercheta, You need to wait

By Celeste Longacre

Hi Vercheta,
You need to wait until the chicks are about the same size as the grown chickens. Then, the best way to integrate them is to put them in the big coop at night. If they all wake up together, they will be fine. Otherwise, the big chicks can hurt the babies.

We would advise that you keep

By Almanac Staff

We would advise that you keep them separate until the baby chicks are bigger and less vulnerable. At minimum, separate them for a couple of weeks so they can see each other, but not touch each other. This is also safe to ensure no sickness passes between them. Some people claim they don't have problems, but it all depends on the breed, age, and other factors, so play it safe.

I bought 8 bantum chicks at a

By Rjustice

I bought 8 bantum chicks at a local "supply" store about 1 1/2 weeks ago . they have all died (from something that I haven't been able to diagnose yet, because of the lack of symptoms) except for 1 tiny little guy, the 1 seemed weak for a few days ( when the others were sick)but when the others were all gone the 1 seemed to get better with the exception of one problem... now that it is getting feathers on its wings, they are all turning outward instead of laying smooth against it's body. what can be causing this? is it because it was sick or maybe the breed it is? ( im not sure of the breed, I bought them out of the "assorted" bin)Could it still be sick? im NOT new to raising chicks (im the proud owner of buff orphs. & sum old English bantums).and I don't want to risk my other birds if this chick could still be sick. I have NEVER seen this issue before, & would be greatful for any advice or help that you can offer.

It is hard to diagnose

By Almanac Staff

It is hard to diagnose without knowing more about their appearance and conditions. Here are a few thoughts: Is it possible that they were not getting enough water and food at the supply store? Is your brooder too hot? The chicks like it less than 90 degrees or you'll see them flatten themselves out. For the weak chick left, try electrolyte water or Pedialyte for a few days. In terms of the wing feathers turning outward, it might be a 'frizzle' breed and this is normal.

We have begun to raise some

By Smartymarty

We have begun to raise some chick and a few of them seem to be sitting down and not moving. It seems like their legs are out to one side and they are not getting to the food or water! I noticed it with one and now another has started doing it! I have been using the medicated chick food and cleaning their water trough daily! Getting concerned I will lose them.

It's hard for us to diagnose.

By Almanac Staff

It's hard for us to diagnose. Some chicks are a bit slow in figure out how to eat and drink. You could try to separate those chicks--take them out of the brooder with everything they need, of course -- a heat lamp, food on the paper towel (no shavings), and water. Make sure they get vitamin drops and a shot of electrolytes. And then put back in the brooder for 15 minutes a few times a day for a few days until they adjust.

how hot do baby chicks like

By j c b

how hot do baby chicks like it

See the temperature

By Almanac Staff

See the temperature information on this page.

@tim munson, we just got some

By e.smith

@tim munson, we just got some chicks and I was reading up on how to raise them.what I think is happening to urs is called "pasting up". Its fatal.Hope this helps.


I am trying to rase chicks

By tim munson

I am trying to rase chicks but thay are dying on me. I keep clean water in there waterer, I keep there heat lamp on 24 7 I feed them the recameded feed but I still lose one about every other day, the only thing I have noticed that is differant from the ones I have rased in the past is that this batch always have poop on stuck to there buts. am I doing something worng that can cause this, is this a sign of something that could be killing them. or is this just normal for chicks.

This is from the type of

By DaisyJane

This is from the type of shavings you are using.

Hi Tim, This is called

By Celeste Longacre

Hi Tim,
This is called "pasty-butt" and it does kill the birds. Keep a watch out for it and wash it off with warm water (sometimes you have to soak them for a bit) & the birds will be fine.

How old does the chicks have

By awhile

How old does the chicks have to be before u can take the light off of them

The baby chicks need to have

By Celeste Longacre

The baby chicks need to have their full feathers and the weather needs to be warm. So, this can happen at various ages.

I have some 6 week old baby

By Linda C

I have some 6 week old baby chicks and they love to peck each others feathers and eat them. What is wrong, do they need something special that they may not be getting in the complete grower feed. Thanks

They need more protein

By mstricer

They need more protein

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