Free shipping on all U.S. orders $100+

So You Want To Raise Chickens.......Part 2: Bringing Home Chicks

September 18, 2012

In my previous "So You Want To Raise Chickens..." post, I discussed making the decision to raise chickens.  Once you've decided chicken-keeping is for you, now you have to bring them home.  If you've decided to purchase day-old chicks {as opposed to pullets or grown chickens}, these are some lessons we learned along the way of raising our first 3 batches.

Typically chick raising posts are found in Spring, but with more people starting new flocks in Fall, I thought it could possibly be perfect timing for someone.

Chick Preparation
If you are already raising chickens and are adding to your flock, if you happen to have a broody hen you may be able to get her to raise the chicks for you.

Mama Claire with Sam and Renee
Try putting a couple of them in the nesting box with her to see how she'll respond.  If she nestles them underneath her, chances are good her mothering instinct has kicked in.  If she's upset and continues to reject them, chances are she's just broody and has no desire to raise you're newly purchased chicks.  Remove them before she harms them.  If you're able to get the hen to raise the chicks, you'll need to move her and the chicks to a safe place, away from the other birds.  Make sure Mama Hen is able to have some privacy away from the very nosy ladies, and that the chicks can't get through the cage/box/pen.  If they get into the main pen with the other chickens, they likely will kill the chicks.

If you are going to be "Mama Hen" you'll need a brooder.  A brooder is a heated space or structure in which you raise young fowl.  A large box works great as a makeshift brooder.  You could also try a tote, galvanized tub, or whatever else you have laying around.  The main thing is you want something you can get into easily, can clip a heat lamp to, and is tall enough the little chicks won't escape.  An alternate idea is to lay an old screen over the top, as long as the heat lamp can stay intact, in order to keep any potential escapees in.

A chick should have at least 1/2 square foot of space from age 1 day to about 4 weeks and then 1 square foot of space from age 4 weeks to 8 weeks.

Here's a basic shopping list to prepare for the arrival of the chicks:
  • Brooder {again, if you have a box, tote, etc. that you can use, by all means re-purpose that}
  • Liner for the brooder {non-glossy newspaper sections}
  • Wood Shavings
  • Heat Lamp and bulb {they are likely sold separately}
  • Chick Feeder {could be something re-purposed such as a box lid, tupperware, etc. as long as it's shallow enough for chicks to get to}
  • Chick Waterer {it's best to use a commercial chick waterer so you don't risk them getting in it and drowning}
  • Chick Feed
  • Chick Grit {mix with the feed - read the package for amount}
Place your makeshift brooder in a safe place and away from drafts.  Cats, dogs, children, and others are all things to consider.  You don't want anyone accidentally letting the chicks out and you certainly don't want a dog or cat getting at them.  I'm sure they would look like fun squeaky play toys.

Inside your brooder you'll need wood shavings, cut straw, or some other type of chicken-approved litter.  For the first day or two I like to lay newspaper on top of the litter to discourage the chicks from eating the litter.  After that, I put the newspaper in first, then about 2 inches of wood shavings laying on top of that.  This will make it much easier to keep clean.  The day before the chicks arrive get everything ready - food and grit, the waterer full of water and placed in the brooder, and make sure the heat lamp is working.  If the waterer you've purchased is more than 1 1/2 inches deep, you may want to consider adding marbles to it for the first week so the chicks don't drown in it.

Chick Arrival
If you've mail-ordered your chicks, the post office will call you as soon as they arrive {I would advise letting them know ahead of time and giving them your phone number(s).  They will very much appreciate the "heads up"}.  You'll hear them as soon as you get there as your package will likely be the only package making a lot of noise. 

When you get them home, open your box carefully and assess the health of each.  There is a chance one or two may have perished during transit.  Hopefully this won't be the case.  They will likely be huddled together in the corner, making it difficult to look at each, so you can remove them, one at a time and place them in their brooder once you've checked them over.

If the vent area has any pasty or crusty poop on it, remove it with a wet paper towel.  Carefully rub away the poop with the paper towel, working it between two fingers, until it comes loose.  Simply pulling it off will possibly injure the tiny chicks.  The poop must be removed in order for the chicken to continue to produce excrement.  I like to add a dab of neosporin once I've removed the poop.  The chicks vents must be checked daily for the next few weeks.

Plug in the heat lamp.  The heat lamp will get very hot.  Make sure it's secure on the brooder and away from the chicks.  The lamp will start out fairly close to them, and as they grow, you'll adjust it further and further away.  The lamp will most likely start out around 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and you should be able to raise the lamp to reduce the heat about 5 degrees per week.

As you move each chick from their shipping box to their new home, dip their beak in water.  Each chick will need their beak dipped and you should watch to make sure they drink.  Next, dip each chick's beak in the food so they know where to find it.  They may start pecking at the shavings but you can re-direct them to the food and they'll catch on.

Keep on eye on the chicks for the next 2 days watching for signs of illness as well as watching them waddle.  You'll also need to keep a close eye on them for the purposes of monitoring the heat.  Cold chicks will huddle and chirp loudly and hot chicks will look agitated and pant.  Content chicks will spread out and enjoy their full surroundings.  Adjust the heat as needed.

Keep a good eye on their food and water.  They should never run out of either.  You'll be cleaning their feeder and waterer daily  and disinfecting both weekly with either white vinegar and water or an ounce of bleach and water.  Rinse thoroughly after cleaning before filling them up again.  Their pen will need to be cleaned daily as they will spill their water, leave you lots of little "packages" and just plain make a mess.  They love to play and scratch and will do so quite happily.

Moving The Chicks Outside
Chickens produce a lot of dust, so it's easy to look forward to the day when they move to their new home.....outside of the house or garage.

A few things to keep in mind prior to transitioning the little ones from the artificially heated pen to the outside.  First, wait until the chicks have developed feathers both on their wings and backs.  These are typically developed around 3 weeks of age, but could take longer. If they are moved this early on, make sure the temp's stay consistently above 60 degrees Fahrenheit {this includes nighttime}.  I like to wait until mine are a little older to ensure they remain healthy.

Second, transition the chicks when the weather is nice {not rainy, windy, etc.}.  Chickens are not big on change, so making the transition as easy as possible is a big benefit.

Third, if you're adding them to an existing flock, you likely will need to wait until the chicks reach 6 weeks or older.  They need to be old enough to fight for themselves when bullied.  The way we've transitioned ours, is from the house they go to a pen within the coop.  The holes of the pen are small enough that they can't get out, but the existing flock can check them out. {because all chickens are always in each others' business}  The pen needs to be cleaned daily, and we daily close the flock outside and let the chicks run around the indoor pen to get some exercise. They enjoy trying out their newly discovered wings.  Eventually, they are released to mix in with the rest of the flock and the pecking order gets re-established.

Enjoy watching their crazy antics as they learn their new surroundings and find new things to get excited about.  Don't get the egg cartons ready just yet, as you won't see your first egg until the chicks are 21 - 24 weeks old.

Additional Chicken-Keeping Posts:When Will My Chickens Start Laying?
Using Diatomaceous Earth For Chicken Health
Supplementing A Chicken's Diet
Chicken Water
Chicken Coop 101:  13 Lessons We Learned Building Our Coop
The Chicken Coop at Cobble Hill Farm
All You Need To Know About Chicken Roosts
All You Need To Know About Nesting Boxes

Also in Life At Cobble Hill Farm

12 Tips For Eating Real Food On A REAL Budget

February 15, 2018

1. Maximize Less Expensive Foods
Part of this tip is getting into the habit of eating in season because in season veggies are typically much cheaper than out of season. The other thing to consider is thinking about ingredients you and your family enjoy that are (either seasonally or year-round) cheaper and incorporating them more into your meals. For instance, carrots are a pretty inexpensive...

View full article →

Change Your Life In 2018 - February Challenge: Figure Out What To Do With Your Life

February 13, 2018

If you’re just joining in, the “Change Your Life In 2018” series is my quest to make some small changes this year. Rather than setting easily forgotten resolutions I wanted to focus on 12 changes that would help me learn and grow as a person. I’ve chosen to focus on one change per month so that it could not only become a more manageable goal, but I have a better chance at making these new habits...

View full article →

$100.00/Week Real Food Meal Plan - Week 7

February 11, 2018

If you’re just tuning in, this is an ongoing series in which I share our weekly meal plan as I (attempt) to convert us to a Whole/Real Food lifestyle.  Our grocery budget is $100.00/week for 2 adults.  Often I make 2 different meals because I am primarily plant-based and my husband is not.  Most of what we eat is made from scratch and any boxed, canned and/or frozen products follow the Real Food...

View full article →

We're so happy you're here!

We'd love for you to sign up for our newsletter where we send occasional new product alerts, discount codes and farm happenings.  And maybe an occasional chicken or goat hug....