Yay! You got babies. Now what?
Baby chicks are not just miniature big chickens. They have some of the same needs, but require some stuff that older chickens don’t. Here’s what to give them and what to avoid.
Chicks, if with their mother, spend a good part of their day underneath her, nestled in her blanket of soft feathers, stifling hot. They like it that way. In fact, for the first couple weeks, they want to stay at about 90 degrees and no draft.
So, especially if you live in a colder climate, you must provide them a heat source, especially at night. We prefer a red heat lamp bulb. You can get them just about anywhere.
Rule of thumb: If your chicks are piled on each other for anything other than sleeping (they sleep in piles when they are young), they are cold. If they are scratching and roaming around, not too cold.
Chicks have small everything – mouths, throats, and crops. They need small food. It’s called starter crumbles or starter grower, and they eat it about the first 8-12 weeks of life. After that, you can usually move them big kid food, layer pellets.
Starter crumbles also have the right mix of protein, fat, and nutrients that the chicks need to get a strong start.
Btw, there are feeders just for babies too.
Should be obvious, but wanted to make sure it was on the list.
Our favorite is pine shavings, like your gerbil cage.
Chickens must dust bathe, even little ones. It keeps them clean and itch free. We use an old paint pan filled with sand from the yard. Watch the video below to see ours.
Chicks are completely defenseless. You must provide a safe, isolated place for them to spend their first six weeks or so. You even have to protect them from the older chickens.
You can use a box for the first couple weeks, but they will quickly outgrow it. We built a dedicated nursery addition onto our coop to keep babies.
Everything wants to eat your chicks – snakes, hawks, dogs, raccoons, foxes, everything. Keep them completely locked down or you will lose them, I promise.
Pro tip: If there is a hole anywhere in your nursery that you can stick your index finger through, a rat snake can and will get in and eat your chicks. Lock down every nook and cranny.
Here’s my coop. See the separate nursery? It’s close to the big chickens so they can all get used to each other but protects the babies from the big bullies.
What’s that? You don’t know what a “broody breaker” is? No worries, I wrote a whole post about it.
All chickens, even little ones, like to perch on things off the ground, even if it is a few inches. I make my baby perches out of old shovel handles.
Here’s my nursery set up:
Do Not Give Them
No chicken likes a windy draft, but it can be fatal to babies. Remember, they want to stifle under Mamma. You may think they want a fresh breeze, but they don’t.
Adult Chicken Food
Just because a chick can get something in her mouth doesn’t mean she should eat it. Keep them on starter crumbles for at least 6 weeks, 8 is better. Then SLOWLY transition them to layer pellets.
Also no kitchen scraps yet. Just starter crumbles and water.
They’re defenseless, remember? And don’t think your older chickens will just take to the newcomers and protect them. Many times the opposite is true. The older chickens peck and bully the babies. Lock your chicks down until they can fend for themselves, usually 6-8 weeks.
Don’t Worry, it Won’t Last Long
Chicks grow super fast, so they only need coddling a little while. Within two months you can put them in general population with the rest of your flock.
Way quicker than raising a human. 🙂