Here's how to raise baby chicks the right way—from the day they arrive to the day they start laying!
When choosing to start out with chicks, it is often necessary to mail order baby ones. These generally come through the mail a day or two after they are born. It's quite important to pick them up at the post office as soon as possible to get them out of their box and introduce them to their new home.
The Perfect Baby Chicken coop
Chicks will need a warm, draft-free, and safe environment to begin their new life. They also need a heat lamp, preferably with a red light, for warmth purposes. Set them up in a sectioned-off piece of the barn or in a horse watering trough on an enclosed porch. You don't want to bring them into the house, as they produce a great deal of dust.
Here's how to build a chicken coop for your new chicks.
Adjusting to Their New Home
Once they are out of their box, it's imperative to make them drink some water. Bring them over to the source and push their little beaks down in it to show them that it's there. They get the idea pretty quick.
Have a nice padding of wood shavings in their space to keep them comfortable and make sure the heat lamp is hung about 18 inches off of the ground. They will want to start their lives at about 95 degrees F, so a thermometer can be a handy helper. You can let the temperature go down about 5 degrees a week until the ambient room temperature is enough for them. You can tell if the chicks are too hot as they will congregate far away from the lamp. Too cold and they will all crowd in under it.
For more advice on keeping chicks, see Raising Chickens 101: Raising Baby Chicks.
With proper care, the chicks will continue to grow, and grow, and grow...
After a while, it's nice to give them a low roost to practice on.
Eventually, you will want to move the chicks to their own little coop with limited access to the outside.
Provide a standard roost for them to sleep on here, too.
Introducing Baby Chicks to Adult Chickens
If you already own adult chickens, it's imperative that you keep the young chickens away from any larger birds until they are just as big and are able to defend themselves.
We have an entirely separate coop for the new birds, complete with their own fenced-in yard. It's actually inside the bigger chickens' yard, so the chickens can see each other, but the little ones are protected from the pecking challenges of the larger ones.
We keep them here until they are just as big as the older birds. Then, we open the gate to the larger fenced-in run, shut the door to their little coop, and watch them get acclimated to the entire scene. There is generally a lot of running around as the new pecking order gets established, but after a few days, they are all acclimated to the big coop. Laying begins at about 5 months of age.
More About Chickens
For more advice on keeping backyard chickens, see our Raising Chickens 101 series, which includes topics like How to Build a Chicken Coop, How to Choose the Right Chicken Breed, and How to Collect, Clean, and Store Chicken Eggs.