Baby chick care is an important part of keeping a healthy happy flock. Before you hatch eggs or order chicks you need to prepare for their arrival. Be sure you have everything on hand to keep your new chicks warm and safe.
Basic Guide to Baby Chick Care
Supplies You Need for Baby Chick Care
You’ll need some basic equipment and supplies for day-old chicks. Here are the important things you’ll need:
- Brooder box
- Feed and water containers
- Heat source
- Proper feed
- Chick grit
In addition to these basics, you may also want the following:
A brooder box may be a large plastic tote or another container that is easy to clean. It should be at least 1 foot deep and should have a screen over the top to keep chicks from jumping out.
The brooder box should also be large enough for your baby chicks to move around and get away from the source of heat if they get too warm.
I like to line the bottom of the brooder box with a textured vinyl shelf liner that is easy to clean. Do not line the bottom of the box with newspaper because it is too slippery for the chicks. Chicks that cannot get traction may end up with spraddle leg, a condition where the legs do not develop properly. Once they have spraddle leg, it is very difficult to correct…so make sure the bottom of their brooder is not slippery.
Chick Feeders and Water Containers
You don’t necessarily need to purchase feeders designed for chicks. However, make sure that chicks can’t get into their water dish and drown. Special chick feeders prevent the little ones from scratching feed out and wasting it. You can purchase just the base and attach a 1-quart mason jar in place of the plastic containers. For large numbers of chicks, you will need larger feeders.
Heat Source for Chick Brooder
Chicks raised in a brooder in the house won’t need as much heat as those raised in the coop or barn. A specially designed chick brooder, such as the Brinsea EcoGlow brooder, will keep baby poultry comfortable when room temperature is 50 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer.
For chicks kept in room temperatures lower than 50 F, you will need a heat lamp with a 100 watt or 250-watt heat lamp bulb. Be absolutely sure to follow all safety precautions and use the proper heat lamp and bulb. Secure heat lamps to be sure they cannot fall and cause a fire. For more information, see Safely Heat Your Chick Brooder.
Here are the proper temperatures for chicks for their first few weeks…
Week 1 – 95 degrees F
Week 2 – 90 degrees F
Week 3 – 85 degrees F
Week 4 – 80 degrees F
Week 5 – 75 degrees F
Week 6 – 70 degrees F
Chick Starter Feed and Chick Grit
Chicks need more protein and less calcium than layer rations provide. Purchase a chick starter feed that has a protein content of 18 – 22%. If you are raising replacement layers or heritage breeds, a starter feed with 18-20% protein is best. For Cornish cross chicks raised for meat, you will need a 22% protein content.
Make sure that feed is fresh and doesn’t have a rancid or moldy scent. A moldy or rancid feed can kill chicks. Nutrients break down over time in chick feed, so purchase a fresh bag to prevent nutrient deficiencies.
Provide chicks with a clean dish of chick grit at all times. They need the grit to help grind food up in their gizzards. I use a chick grit with probiotics added to help populate their digestive system with beneficial bacteria.
Best Bedding for Chicks
An absorbent material that isn’t slippery is best for young chicks. Finely shredded paper works well for the first week or two. After that, you may switch to pine shavings. Do not use cedar shavings for chick bedding as the aromatic oils can be dangerous for their respiratory system.
Clean bedding when it becomes soiled to prevent illness from the bacteria. Make sure the bedding isn’t wet or chicks may become chilled.
Get the Brooder Ready for New Chicks
Set up the brooder box and heat source 2 or 3 days before the chicks arrive. This allows you to adjust the temperature and have the brooder warm enough, but not too warm! A thermometer under the heat source helps when adjusting to the proper temperature.
Lay down a liner in the bottom of the brooder box that will aid in clean up and prevent chicks from slipping. Add bedding and fill the feeder with chick starter feed. Fill the water container so that it will reach room temperature before the chicks take their first drink…however, don’t add electrolytes or probiotics yet!
If you are hatching chicks in an incubator, you may not need to give them electrolytes. Since they will begin eating and drinking soon after hatch, they should be fine. However, probiotics are helpful and may be supplied with plain yogurt or a purchased product.
For chicks arriving in the mail, you’ll want to give them their first drink of plain water at room temperature. After several hours you may add electrolytes or probiotics to the water to give them an extra boost of energy and good bacteria for their digestive tracts. Be sure to follow instructions on the package and don’t give them more electrolytes than directed, as this can lead to pasty butt.
Watch the new chicks to see if they are warm enough. They will give you signs if they are too cold or too warm. Adjust the heat source to keep them comfortable. Check on them often.
Too Cold – Chicks will huddle under the heat and pile on top of each other.
Too Warm – Chicks will move away from heat and pant with their beaks open.
Caring for Sick Baby Chicks
Sometimes young chicks will get sick and need extra attention. Here are some common problems to watch for in your new chicks:
- Coccidiosis – Bloody diarrhea. Feed a medicated chick feed unless they had a coccidiosis vaccination. Add electrolytes and probiotics to drinking water.
- Pasty Butt – Runny feces pastes over vent, or accumulates on down around vent. Use warm water to wash feces off of the vent and surrounding down. Add 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar per 1-quart drinking water.
- Mushy Chick Disease – Foul smelling discharge may ooze or there may be a dark bluish discoloration around the naval area. This disease is caused by unsanitary conditions in the incubator or brooder soon after hatch and is more common with home incubated chicks. Remove affected chick from brooder and disinfect brooder to prevent spread to other chicks. You may check with a veterinarian for antibiotics and apply antibacterial cream (without pain relievers), but the affected chick is unlikely to survive.
For more information, see How to Care for a Sick Chick.
Pay Close Attention to New Baby Chicks!
For the first few weeks of their lives, chicks rely on you for everything. When they are hatched by a hen, you don’t need to provide much care. Hatching or ordering chicks is a commitment and you’ll need to spend extra time caring for the little ones. </p>
Check on your chicks often to make sure that they are healthy and happy. They should be warm enough, but not too hot. Provide clean water and food and make sure they don’t run out. Clean their bedding often. Watch to make sure that your chicks are acting alert and energetic between their naps. Spending a bit of time with them several times a day will allow you to catch problems quickly and correct them before your hatchlings have serious problems.
Enjoy your new baby chicks!