Thinking about raising chicks for the first time this spring? Chicks are a great addition to small back yard or even a homestead. Chickens will provide so much, from delicious farm fresh eggs to manure for the garden and endless entertainment. You can even put them to work turning a compost pile, eating the bugs in your yard, and preparing your garden for planting.
If it isn’t evident by now, I love my birds… Actually, at some point (I have absolutely no memory of this) I told my mom that ‘Birds were my life’… ok so I may have been just a touch of dramatic there but I do love birds.
Raising Chicks For Beginners
Before you every purchase your first chickens, you need to make sure you are ready for the commitment that comes with raising chicks. All together chicks aren’t a lot of work, but they do require daily care and at the very least weekly upkeep.
Figure out who will take care of raising chicks. If you (or the person responsible for them) is going to need help will the rest of the family pitch in?
How many chicks should I start with? How many chicks do you know for sure you can care for? You do not have to start with a ton of chickens when you start out raising chicks. Start with two or three, and later if you feel you can handle more add a few more.
Do you have the time to invest in raising chicks?
Raising chicks does have some upfront costs, is that in your budget?
How Long Does It Take To Raise Chicks?
Typically when raising chick they will be fully feathered in 5-6 weeks, once they are fully feathered they are ready to leave the brooder and will not require a heat source any more.
What Do You Need When You Are Raising Chicks
So here is what you need to get started with raising chicks for the first time. This is the bare bones, no fluff things you Absolutely have to have when raising chicks. Some of these items you’ll have to pick a type that works best for you (like bedding or the type of brooder).
- A Chicken Waterer (You can pick these up at your local CO-OP or Tractor Supply store. You could also check places like Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace for them but if you do choose to bring home a used one make sure you wash it really well so that it doesn’t carry any nasty things to your birds.)
- A chicken feeder (These also can be bought at the CO-OP or Tractor Supply. Same with this one if you decide to buy a used one make sure you wash it really well. Anything that is not bought new I spray down with GSE(Grapefruit Seed Extract) and water or a bleach and water mix.)
- Shavings (DO NOT USE CEDAR SHAVINGS the oils in the chips irritate their lungs). You can also use something like hemp bedding, some people also like to use puppy pads.
- Heat light or an Ecoglow brooder – The Ecoglow brooder is safer but you can use a light from the local feed store with either a regular light bulb or a heat bulb (I usually just use a normal bulb). You can get the Ecoglow Brooder HERE The Ecoglow is a much safer option. I know many stories of families having their barn burn because of the heat lights. You can read more about using heat lights here and decide for yourself.
- Brooder or you can use a tall storage plastic bin with the lid off of it (The last one I use, because I like to keep the chicks close for at least the first week or so, that way they can hear us and be handled a lot. It just seems to make them more friendly than the ones I raised outside the whole time. Once they get bigger you’ll need to transfer them outside or cover the brooder with a net. If you choose to cover it, pool noodles sliced and placed over the net along the edges of the brooder is a great way to secure it.
- Marbles (these will prevent the chicks from drowning in their water, they tend to be a little wobbly and slightly suicidal).
- And the best part Chicks! – You are going to want to do your homework on which breed of bird you want. Figure out if you want egg layers or meat birds. My favorite breeds are Bahrama, Black Australorp, and Buff Orpington.
Some other things that are handy to have on hand when raising chicks is:
Chicken Care Supplies
What You Should Know Before Raising Chicks
Bedding: Don’t use slick paper like newspaper or magazines as bedding in your brooder, this can make your chicks slip around and can injure their legs. It’s better to use something like pine shavings, hemp bedding, chopped-up corn cobs, or straw (this is my least favorite for a brooder because it tends to be a pain when cleaning).
Feed: You need to feed the chicks you are raising a chick starter for the first 8 weeks and then you can switch them over to a grower feed.
Treats: Chicks love treats, you can feed them small amounts of meal worms, greens, weeds, fruits, meat scraps and even boiled eggs.
Handling: If you are raising chicks, and want them to be friendly you need to handle them and a lot. Chicks are fragile so be careful with them, hold them securely and don’t let them fall. Supervise any children handling them to make sure none of them get squished.
Raising Chicks: Setting Up A Brooder
To set up for the chicks you are going to want to find a place for your brooder or box (Put it in a place not drafty and where if you have other pets the can’t get to them). If you use a box put the shavings in it. This helps their legs to not get injured and is also for the waste. You will need to change this often.
Fill your feeder with a chick starter feed and put it in the brooder in a place they can get all the way around it but it is out of the direct heat.
Fill the water bottle and put in the box. (again put in a place where they can get all the way around it and where it is out of the direct heat and add the marbles. They need constant access to both food and water at all times.
If you are using a light in your brooder while raising chicks you are going to want secure it (Make really sure that it is secured well and can not fall, keep it far enough away from the bedding that it doesn’t start a fire.) Place it so that the entire brooder is NOT covered. You want cooler spots where your chicks can move if they get to warm.
Place your new chicks into the brooder but keep an eye on them if they start panting you are going to need to move the light up. Or if they peep really loud you want to lower the light.
For the first two weeks, the temperature at the bottom of the brooder should be between 95-100 degrees, then reduced by 5 degrees until the chicks are 1 month old. A good way to ensure the temperature is by placing a thermometer in the brooder, if you don’t have one or are setting up an emergency brooder check the warmth with your hand and watch your new birds for signs of stress and adjust as needed.
How long do chicks need a light? When you are raising chicks they will need a light, or a heat source for roughly 8 weeks or until they are completely feathered out.
Raising Chicks: Daily Care & Cleaning
When you are raising chicks their are some things you’ll need to do every day to keep them happy and healthy.
- Fill their feeder: Unless you are raising meat birds your new chicks should have 24/7 access to fresh food. Fill their feeder at least once a day and clean it as necessary.
- Fill their water: Refresh their water as needed, a good rule of thumb is at least once a day with clean room temperature water.
Every couple of days to a week you will need to:
- Clean the brooder and refresh the bedding with the medium of your choice.
- Scrub the water container out.
Adding New Chicks To The Brooder
If you decide to add more chicks to your flock in the brooder later make sure you do not just drop them into the general population, make sure they are around the same age as the ones in the existing brooder (if they are smaller set up a new brooder).
Introduce new chicks to the brooder slowly, put them in a place they can see each other but not touch for at least a day. When you do officially add them to the brooder, stick around and make sure they don’t get picked on too much – some pecking is normal, try to resist being “mom” and coming to the rescue unless absolutely necessary, they must figure out where they are in the pecking order.
Raising Chicks For The First Time
Chicks are a great addition to a backyard flock or homestead! Raising chicks is a wonderful hobby, and a great activity if you have kids or home school. All in all chicks are easy to raise and a great hobby. They are also a great place to start if you are interested in raising your own food and want to dip your toes in raising livestock.
Before you go, check these out!