You’ve decided to bring some baby chicks home! Congratulations, you will love the experience! It doesn’t matter if you’re in year one or year thirty of chicken keeping, collecting fresh eggs and watching your chickens roam will never get old. We’re here to help you every step of the way. Here’s all the essential supplies needed to raise baby chicks, make sure you are all set up before you bring them home.
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Supplies Needed to Raise Baby Chicks
What is a brooder? A brooder is a heated, safe space for baby poultry to live within in order to keep them healthy.
In nature, these chicks rely on their mother for warmth in order to reduce stress on their tiny little bodies. It takes about six weeks for them to develop all of their juvenile feathers. Once those feathers come in, they will be able to go without the heat source within the brooder space.
When deciding on what to use as a brooder consider:
- Can I safely add a heat source?
- Is it large enough to accomodate my growing chicks?
- Do I have space for their feeder and waterer?
- Can I put down proper bedding?
- Do I have a place to put them where I do not mind getting dust all over (as they grow they produce “chick dust”)
- Can I “cover” the top so they cannot jump out?***
***Once chicks are about four weeks old, they may try jumping out of the brooder. You can cover the top with chicken wire or screen material, but do NOT put a solid lid on top or even one with small holes. Those chicks need to have generous ventilation.
There are hundreds of options for a DIY chick incubator. You can use large metal or plastic troths like you seen in feed stores for your chicks. Kiddie pools, fish tanks, or wooden crates could be used. You can even buy incubator “kits” online.
If you’re even half creative and want to save money, there are limitless options. In the past we’ve used large cardboard boxes placed inside of kiddie pools. We then placed extra screens on top to keep them from escaping. No need to overthink it. Though we did have our kids color all over the cardboard, have some fun and call it “The Chick Inn”.
Consider Creating “Walls” If Container Is Too Large
If you have a massive container and only 4 or 5 chicks, consider adding temporary, secured walls in order to make their space more comfortable and cozy. You can always make it larger as your chicks grow.
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Heat Lamp vs. Ceramic Bulbs vs. Heat Plates
Like stated above, baby chicks need a heat source for the first six weeks of their lives. You can purchase these online or at a local store.
Here are the approximate temperatures needed per week (Fahrenheit):
Weeks 1 & 2: 95 degrees
Week 3: 90 degrees
Week 4: 85 degrees
Week 5: 80 degrees
Week 6: 75 degrees
There is more and more research surfacing showing the many disadvantages and even damage done to baby chicks from what has been the traditional, constant light source heat lamps.
Basically in a nut shell, it is not the healthiest for chicks to have constant, 24/7 exposure to light. It is much better for chicks to enjoy the benefit of natural light from day one, while still having the perks of warmth whenever needed.
We used a heat lamp for our last two batches of chicks, but will not use it again. However, we will have a way for our chicks to have access to natural light each day. If you are putting your chicks in an otherwise dark space, they will be better off with a heat lamp bulb.
If you do decide to use a heat lamp, the temperatures mentioned above are recorded from the floor of the brooder. You need to have the lamp hung a certain distance away from the brooder. Use a thermometer to know what temps you’re looking at. Heat lamps are notorious for actually being way too hot when not closely monitored, which can cause a lot of health problems for your chicks. Make sure your heat lamp is 100%, properly and securely set up. Many fires have started due to heat lamps being improperly used.
These work essentially the same as a regular red bulb heat lamp, except they do not emit light. It’s just a ceramic bulb that emits heat. However, the downside is there is still a very real fire hazard as they do get extremely hot just like the regular heat lamps. Again, take caution when using hot, ceramic bulbs.
You guessed it, for our next batch of chicks we will be using a heat plate. Heat plates are essentially what they sound like- a heated, flat, rectangular surface that can be hung, mounted to the wall or have built in legs for the chicks to huddle under in order to stay warm. While these are more expensive, they are well worth it.
Heat plates best mimic the chick/ hen experience of huddling under a broody hen who is taking care of them. They can get their warmth and then easily step away when they are ready to cool down. They can start a natural adjustment to their day and night cycles of natural light.
Things to consider when purchasing a heat plate:
- They are more expensive than the bulbs and heat lamps initially, but may save you money in electricity use.
- If your space goes below 50 degrees at night, make sure it’s rated for that.
- Make sure it will be large enough for the amount of chicks you are raising.
- If your space is completely dark then perhaps a heat plate is not the best fit.
It is very important for chicks to have a clean, safe surface to walk on. There are a few options for bedding for your baby chicks.
The most common option is just laying down newspaper, and then a nice 2 inch layer of pine chips or shavings. Once they are soiled and ready to be changed, simply roll up the newspaper, add to compost and replace with fresh bedding. *Do not lay down newspaper alone as it will be too slick for your fragile chicks and can cause leg and foot deformities.
Pine shavings also make great bedding in the chicken coop and laying boxes later on. Soiled shavings can then be added to your compost pile.
Other options include:
- Shredded Newspaper
- Shredded Burlap
Feeding & Watering Systems
The most important part of these is that they will be able to keep your food and water clean from shavings, sand, droppings and more. You can purchase some feeders and waterers for your chicks. Most are fairly user friendly and will get the job done with daily checks and refilling.
Make Your Own
We found that we could easily make our own with stuff we already had and save tons of money. Not just that, I feel that these actually helped reduce the wasting of feed and water.
For our feeder we use our cylinder oatmeal containers, cut 3 or 4 holes in it according to the height of the chicks, fill it up to the holes and put the lid on top. The chicks will come up to it, stick their heads in and eat their feed happily. As the chicks got taller we just made another one with holes slightly taller.
For our waterer we used a recycled plastic cashew container. Cut three or four holes in the same way as the oatmeal containers. Add water, put lid on and there you go, the chicks stick their heads in, drink and pop their heads out. The water stays much cleaner this way and it is easy to see at a glance if it needs replacing. Make sure the watering system you use is not deep enough for your chicks to drown in, and that the holes you add are only big enough for them to stick their little heads through.
Feed & Water
For your chicks you will want to feed them a chick starter. This will give them the basic, balanced nutrition that their growing bodies need. If you feed them adult pellets or mash you could potentially kill them from a variety of digestive issues.
Chicks and adult chickens always need access to fresh clean water. Change it daily. If you need to weigh it down to keep them from knocking it over, add some clean rocks to the bottom.
Apple Cider Vinegar, Electrolytes, Probiotics & Other Gourmet Treats
Apple cider vinegar (organic and unpasteurized): Apple cider vinegar is said to help with digestion, boost their immune system and help with their respiration (breathing). It is a natural probiotic and provides vitamins and minerals to your chicks. It is safe to use for baby chicks and for the rest of their lives. 1 Tablespoon added per gallon of water and you’re good to go.
Baby chicks are susceptible to bacterial infections, dehydration and getting clogged up, especially the first couple weeks of life. That is why it is recommended to mix in a probiotic and/or electrolytes with their water. You can use organic, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar or purchase probiotic or electrolyte packets at the store. Remember to change out and replace their water daily or as needed. Follow the instructions of the back of the packets.
Before you start giving extra treats to your chicks, make sure they have a bowl of chick grit to help with digestion. This is essential. They will not be able to digest the food without it.
Do NOT replace your chick’s starter feed with something else entirely. However, these healthy, tasty treats are sure to get your cute fluff balls excited. No more than 1 teaspoon per chick, every few days.
- Meal Worms
- Alfalfa Hay
- Eggs – Boiled, Scrambled
- Sprouts (see Lentil Sprouts for Your Chickens)
- Most fruits and vegetables (when in doubt, look it up first)
As chicks get older they enjoy jumping up on perches. If you add a few you may eliminate the risk of them trying to jump up on the upper edge of your brooder. This will also help to minimize the risk of injury that might occur if that happens. Smooth sticks, large rocks, broom handles etc. Anything 3-6 inches off the floor would do.
When Can I Move My Chickens To The Coop & Run?
Like mentioned above, It takes about 6 weeks for baby chicks to develop all of their juvenile feathers. Once those feathers come in, they will be able to go without the heat lamp or other heat source. At this point (6 weeks old), your chicks are ready to be moved outside as long as temperatures are not going lower than 50 degrees at night. Now that we’ve covered the essential supplies needed to raise baby chicks, make sure that you have all you need set up for their coop and run.
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Essential Supplies to Raise Baby Chicks Are Really Quite Simple.
That’s it for this post. I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about the essential supplies needed to raise baby chicks! Overall, it’s a simple process, just a few things to learn and gather upfront. I hope you enjoy this exciting time with your loved ones, raising baby chicks is such a fulfilling adventure.
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Wishing you and your family all the best in your self reliance journey!
Herbs, Birds & the Bees
Garden, Chickens, Bees & Homestead