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Heat, Water and Food: A Recipe For Healthy Chicks

At last, your baby birds have hatched. Now what are you going to do?

empty egg

Photo: Auntie P (Flickr)

Once your chicks have left the comfort of their cozy eggs, they're going to need a lot of care and attention.

I’m betting many of you are preparing for the spring chick frenzy! That’s a good thing. These first few months of life are extremely important.

Bring The Heat

First on your list should be figuring out a way to keep your chicks warm. Since that fuzzy down is not a very good insulator, you will need to help them stay at a constant 95°F for their first seven days of life.

If you are new to all this, I would recommend placing a thermometer inside the brooder at about the same level as the chicks’ heads.

Don’t rely on the thermometer alone, though. If the chicks are all huddled under the lamp and not moving around, they’re not warm enough. If they’re flinging themselves at the outer walls, they’re too hot. The ideal situation is to have your chicks milling calmly around the box, eating, drinking or sleeping.

Lower the temperature five degrees per week until your chicks are covered with real feathers. After 4 to 6 weeks, they will be ready to be on their own.


Photo: Jana Wilson/WFIU (Flickr)

Enjoy these first weeks. These Sicilian Buttercup Chicks will grow up fast.

The Brooder

Where you keep the chicks also matters. If it’s still cold at night outside, you’re better off housing them in a draft-free and heated room.

Use a smallish enclosure to begin with, but as your chickens grow, gradually give them more and more space. My personal preference is a cardboard box inside a wire dog crate. The chicks stay in, and my dogs and cat stay out.

I line the brooder with an old towel for the first week, switch to paper towel for a couple of weeks and then begin lining the box with newspaper and wood shavings at about week three.

Finishing Touches

In addition to heat and a mindfully-designed living space, your chicks will also require a constant supply of fresh water and specially-prepared chick feed.

Small waterers and feeders are available at farm supply stores or online. They are the perfect size for the tiny birds. You should change the water every day, since the heat lamp can cause things other than chicks to grow.

Following this advice will go a long way towards getting your flock off on the right foot. Good luck, and happy brooding!

Learn More:

Jana Wilson

Jana Wilson lives on 20 acres just outside of Bloomington, IN and writes her blog, The Armchair Homesteader. In addition to the chickens, she has ducks and a border collie named Winnie who helps her with her various efforts at becoming more self-sufficient.

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