Learning how to raise baby chicks at home is a fun and exciting activity for all ages. It’s a great way to get started with homestead animals and eventually, a super nutritious source of food for your family!
How Many Chickens do I Need?
Your first question may be, “how many chickens do I need?” In peak production months (spring through fall), you will get about an egg per day per chicken. However, when the hours of daylight decrease in the winter, the chickens will slow down their egg production, or sometimes stop completely. Some may slow down to producing an egg every other day or maybe even one egg per week. It varies based on breed, age of your chicken, what they are eating, and exposure to artificial light.
I have always erred on the side of too many and gave away eggs when we had more than we needed in the summer. This also meant we had enough to get by in the winter when they slowed down significantly.
Where do You Buy Baby Chicks?
When you’re ready to purchase baby chicks, you have several options. Ordering from Hatcheries, local feed stores like Tractor Supply or Rural King, and local chicken owners or farmers may all be good sources for purchasing baby chicks.
Hatcheries are a great option if you want specific breeds, rare breeds, or large quantities of birds. You will typically pay a premium for chicks from a hatchery especially if they are not local to you and the chicks are being shipped through the mail.
These chicks may range in price from about $4-$10 per bird for standard breeds, and upwards of $30 per bird for the rare breeds. Additionally, when chicks ship, you need to be ready to run to the post office as soon as possible after they arrive. The post office will notify you fairly quickly after receiving your order.
Local feed or farm stores are also a great option. Stores like Tractor Supply or Rural King typically carry baby chicks from late winter (February) through the fall (October). They will have a range of varieties and breeds at any given time but may not be able to tell you exactly what is arriving or exactly when. It is a bit of a dice roll on getting the breeds or amounts you want. The chicks at these stores typically range from $3-$6 per bird. If you’re lucky, you can find a deal when they are trying to clear out excess chicks. You can go in at any time to purchase your birds and take them home.
Local Chicken Owners
Another option is to find someone local who is hatching their own chicks. If possible, make sure you know and trust the source and the quality of birds they are selling. Ask if you can see their set-up or their coop. Make sure your chicks are coming from healthy hens and coming from an environment that lives up to your standards.
You could go a step further and purchase an incubator and then buy fertile eggs and hatch them yourself. My area has several local Facebook groups where you can find people who have animals for sale. I highly recommend getting into these groups even if you aren’t looking to acquire your chicks this way because they are full of good information and helpful folks who have been in your shoes.
Additional Things to Consider When Buying Chicks
I personally have brought home baby chicks through all the methods listed above. My favorite is through local feed stores. I get to bring them home on my own schedule and not stress about being available to go to the post office. I get to look through the bins and specifically indicate which ones I want and avoid some that may not look healthy. Lastly, the price is lower than hatcheries and you may even be able to find some reduced in price because they have too many.
Birds coming through the mail are typically barely a day old. It is common to lose a few to the stress of travel. Depending on when you get the chicks from the feed store, they may be a few days old and many of the ones that aren’t going to make it, have already been weeded out. It sounds harsh, but it is the reality of raising such fragile tiny beings.
When hatching your own chicks, they are obviously a mix of male and female, referred to as straight-run. If you are not familiar with the dynamic between male and female chickens, check out my first post about the basics of raising backyard chickens here. I discuss why having multiple males may not be a great thing for your flock. You can attempt to sell or rehome extra roosters but that can be difficult. There is also the option of butchering your excess roosters.
What do I Need For Raising Baby Chicks?
Baby chicks have basic needs: food, water, heat, and protection.
What Should I Feed My Baby Chicks?
Baby chicks will need a high protein grower feed until about 18 weeks. We have always used the Dumor brand and never had any complaints. There is a debate over whether you need to feed medicated feed or not. I personally have never fed any of my birds medicated feed, nor are they vaccinated, and I have never had any issues. Do your research and determine what is best for your flock.
There are several different types of feeders you can purchase. Ground feeders or Flip-Top feeders like these are common for the first couple weeks. Any feeder will work as long as it’s short enough that the chicks can eat out of it while they are tiny. We’ve always used a standard 7lbs feeder that the chicks can grow into as they get bigger, like this.
How do I Water My Baby Chicks?
Waterers are similar to feeders in that any waterer that will hold water and the chicks can access without issue, should be fine. One thing to consider when the baby chicks are freshly hatched and less than a week old, they tend to be a little clumsy. This can lead to the possibility of a chick falling into a waterer and drowning. To eliminate this risk, keep shallow waterers, like these, (top and bottom) in the beginning or place marbles into the water dish to prevent anyone from being able to submerge their head. We sized up to this 5-QT waterer once they were bigger.
How do I Keep My Baby Chicks Warm?
A heat source is one of the most important parts of raising baby chicks. When chicks are hatched by a mother hen, she keeps them warm by sitting on top of them. They cannot regulate their body temperatures on their own for the first 4-6 weeks of life.
Many people use heat lamps to maintain a warm brooder. I personally do not recommend heat lamps because of the fire hazard they present. Although, many people successfully raise chicks with heat lamps and no issues.
I highly recommend this brooder plate. Brooder plates are heat plates raised up on legs that the chicks can sit or lay under to stay warm. They are not a fire hazard and work great to keep chicks warm. They are more expensive than heat lamps and bulbs however, personally, I believe the risk outweighs the cost savings.
How do I Keep My Baby Chicks Safe?
When it comes to protection, chicks need a safe place to grow. A brooder is what you call the safe area where you raise baby chicks. When a mother hen decides she is ready to hatch some babies, she goes “broody” and sits on those eggs until they hatch. Therefore a brooder is just the man-made version, taking the place of the mother hen.
To recreate the same environment a mother hen would provide, we need warmth and safety. It is recommended to keep the brooder around 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week of life. Then it is decrease the temperature 5 degrees every week. When using a heat lamp, raise the lamp higher or further away from the brooder to decrease temperature. If using a brooder plate, adjust the height to raise it further away from the chicks as they get bigger.
If the brooder is inside your home, beware of other pets or children in the house. Keep a lid on the brooder to avoid the chicks jumping out or anything unwanted getting inside. Also, ensure the brooder has plenty of airflow. As discussed in my first post in this series Backyard Chickens 101, chicken feces contains ammonia and if there is no air flow, this can affect the chicken’s lung health.
What do I Fill the Brooder With?
You will also need bedding inside your brooder to help absorb the droppings from the chicks. My personal favorite is flake pine shavings but I have heard of several other options including newspaper, paper towels, sand, or straw. The pine shavings have a wonderful pine smell which helps keep odor reduced. Additionally, the shavings create a plush surface for those wobbly chicks to fall into and not injure themselves.
How Long do Baby Chicks Stay in the Brooder?
Chicks need the warmth of the brooder until they are fully feathered. This means about 4-6 weeks is the appropriate amount of time. If you have warm weather, it is not as much of a concern. My chicken coop is built inside our barn. I typically move the babies outside around 3-4 weeks but keep the brooder plate available to them until they are about 5 weeks. If it is extremely cold, I may hold off on putting them outside or taking the brooder plate away. It is always better to play it safe then risk them freezing to death.
How do I Incorporate Baby Chicks into my Flock?
Chickens have a pecking order and full grown chickens might kill babies if they are too small to protect themselves. Do not combine the babies with full grown chickens without an introduction period. An introduction period is a way for the older chickens to get used to the younger ones without being fully incorporated 100% of the time.
We have a small brooder box built into the corner of the chicken coop. There are little windows with chicken wire and a small door that can be raised and lowered to the size of the babies. They move this box after 3-4 weeks inside. They stay in the box, separated from the flock until they are at least 6 weeks old. The chicken wire window makes it so the adult chickens can see, hear, and smell the babies. We then begin introducing them by raising the door just enough that the babies can get in or out but the adult chickens cannot get into the box. This creates a space for the babies to escape if they are getting picked on.
I typically start with a few minutes of supervised interaction where I can intervene if something goes wrong. 10-15 minutes once per day, maybe 3-4 times. Then about an hour, unsupervised but with frequent check-ins, maybe 2-3 times. If all seems to be going well at this point, I leave the door to the brooder box open just enough for the babies to move between the box and coop.
I find the babies will not venture out of the coop until they are much bigger. Once they are at least 3-4 weeks old and if the weather is decent, I will gather up the babies and put them into a large dog crate in the grass for short periods of time. Starting with about 30 minutes, then an hour, then two hours, just to make sure they are getting some fresh air and sunshine in small doses. The bottom of the crate has open grates so they can eat and scratch around in the grass.
I hope this information helps you get started raising baby chicks at home. My chickens are truly one of the biggest blessings and bring me so much joy on a daily basis. My methods discussed in this post have worked for me through 4 different batches of chicks. I am no expert but I feel very confident in my choices for my chicks and how I raise them.
Make sure you have read my first post about the basics of backyard chickens. Also, check back in for the next post in the series about everything you need for your chicken coop!
I hope you enjoyed this peek into Life at Metzger Acres!