Raising Baby Chicks – What To Feed Them & How To Care For Them

Congratulations, you’re now a proud grandma to adorable and yellow fluffballs!

So, what now?

Just like your nana, you’ll need to give your baby chickens some TLC. And, we’re not just talking about giving them a buffet of food and water, a brooder lamp, and a comfy bed of pine shavings.

Your new babies need special care (and even some playtime!) so they’ll grow to healthy and happy adult backyard chickens!

Ready to become a responsible and loving grandma to your chicken babies? We got you covered. Here is everything that you need to know about raising baby chicks so they can get an early start in life.

Learning How To Care For Your Baby Chicks Means Knowing How To Do The Following

Raising baby chicks
  • What to feed your baby chicks, and how often;
  • How to keep your chicks warm;
  • How often you need to clean your chicken brooder;
  • The importance of playing with your baby chicks;
  • The right time to move your baby chicks from their brooder to their coop!

What To Feed Chicks & How To Feed Them

Feeding and keeping your young chicks hydrated is simple, easy and a very enjoyable experience at the same time. In terms of WHAT you should feed them, you have the following options:

What To Feed You Baby Chicks

what to feed baby chicks

Many (beginner) chicken owners make the mistake of feeding baby birds with adult chicken food. Don’t be like them! A baby chick should be fed with “crumbles.” It is a complete food source for your baby chicks. It has the right balance of nutrients to sustain your adorable chick’s growing body and plumage.

Although it is super hard to resist giving them some yummy treats, you should feed them crumbles and nothing else for the first 2 weeks of their lives. You can get crumbles from local farm suppliers. You can also purchase from an online feed store.

Sometimes your baby chicks will seem confused not interested in their chick feed when they are young. So what can you do about it? Try these 2 handy tricks:

1) Super special chick feed – Mix approximately 1 teaspoon of plain yogurt and a dash of warm water in with their chick starter/crumbles. They will love it and it will train them to eat their crumbles. You gradually reduce the yogurt and warm water (although you don’t have to!) 

2) Train them by using your finger to mimic a chicken eating – watch the video below and it will all make sense!​

At week 2 you can and should start giving your chicks treats once per day, such as:

  • Chopped up vegetable scraps
  • quakers oats
  • Mashed up boiled eggs
  • Chopped up strawberries
  • Meal worms
  • Crickets
  • Plain yogurt
  • Grapes

When feeding treats, you must add small rocks/course sand/chick grit into the mix so the chicks can grind up the food with their gizzards (chickens don’t have teeth).

For more ideas of what to feed your chickens and homemade recipes, see our article on Chicken Feed.

How To Feed Your Baby Chicks

Now that you got crumbles, the next step is, well, where you should put the crumbles? Or the better question is, should you buy chick feeders or make your own chick feeders?

chicks at the feeder

The advantage of buying special chick feeders is that they are harder for chicks to jump on and poop in (which they will do) meaning you have to worry less about keeping them clean. Plus, they are not too tall for a chick to reach – you don’t want to starve your little kids, right? Both local and online feed stores carry chick feeders so sourcing for one shouldn’t be an issue.

If you’d still prefer to make your own DIY feeders, you don’t have to put a dent in your wallet. As a matter of fact, you may not even need to spend a single dime. If you have egg cartons or peanut butter/jam jar lids, you can use these materials and fill them with chicken feed. Yup, that easy!

DIY chicken feeder

So, how much should you feed them? Chickens are not like dogs that will continue to eat until they are sick – they eat until they are full, so keep your feeders stocked up with food as much as you want.

Water For Your Baby Chicks

Chicks with Watering Container

Alongside crumbles, water is also important when raising baby chicks. Water should be plentiful but it should be served at room temperature – not hot or cold. If you’re raising baby chicks during the cold winter months, here’s what you need to do to keep chicken water from freezing.

Again, you can make your own DIY water-er out of household materials, however, we recommend getting a premade chick waterer to prevent chicken poop from contaminating the water. Plus, it makes your life easier when cleaning. You can get chick waterers in local feed stores.

Watch how fast your chicks are drinking: birds tend to drink to cool down if they start going through more water than normal, this means that the brooder temperature is too high and you should turn it down

When the chicks are several days old and have grown up a little, consider putting the water on half a brick which will stop it from constantly filling with shavings and pooping in it.

Keeping Your Baby Chicks Warm: Do You Need A Heat Lamp?

You’ll need to supplement chicks with a heat source if you want them to grow to healthy adults. You can even put wood shavings or cedar shavings to make your babies as comfortable (and spoiled) as much as possible. But why?

Chicks can’t regulate their body temperature yet (1).

Early in life, the chick is poorly equipped to regulate its metabolic processes to adequately control its body temperature. As a result, the young chick is dependent on environmental temperature to maintain optimal body temperature.

Follow the guide below to regulate the temperature of the brooder from the first week to 8 weeks:

WEEKTEMPERATURE (F)
195 Degrees
290 Degrees
385 Degrees
480 Degrees
575 Degrees
670 Degrees (or room temp.)
765 Degrees (or room temp.)
8Room temp

The above is just a guide; you may need slightly different levels based on your climate and conditions.

So, where should you place the heat lamp? Keep the heat lamp in the middle of their home so all your babies can get all the heat that they need stay warm. You can also suspend the light but never place it at the sides.

If you’re wondering if your chicks are warm enough and ready to go outside, have a quick read of this simple guide here before making your decision. 

Note: Many chicken owners avoid using a heat lamp because it’s a fire hazard. If you want your babies to be safe while staying warm and cozy in the brooder box, consider getting a heat plate or a heat mat. We’ve compiled a list of the safest heaters for chickens.

Observe your chicks often and watch out for the telltale signs that they are too hot or cold:

Warning Signs That Your Chicks Are Too Hot…

Are they drinking their water fast? Do they seem to stand away from each other, and away from the heat source? Do they seem to be ‘panting’ with their beaks open? It’s likely that the brooder temperature is too warm. You can either reduce the temperature or get a bigger brooder.

Warning Signs That Your Chicks Are Too Cold…

Are your chicks huddled together under the heat source? If so they may be cold; increase the heat by lowering your lamp, adding another lamp, or getting a smaller brooder.

For more tips, you can check out this article.

Playing With Your Baby Chicks (& Why It’s Important!)

​You’ll be tempted to play with your young chicks because they are oh-so cute, and the good news is: you should indeed play with them!

playing with your chickens

It’s important for your chicks to grow up being comfortable around humans – the last thing you want is an unsocial flock of chickens who peck you and your visitors when you have friends over.

So don’t feel bad for picking them up and playing around with them – even if they look a little scared (they’ll be a little shy at first).

How To Raise Baby Chicks With Manners

It’s important to teach manners to your chicks from a very early age so that they are used to humans when they are grown up. The following rough guideline shows you what you can do each week as they are growing up in your brooder:

Days 1-3: For day-old chicks, it’s best to avoid playing with them and let them be – they need to get used to their new environment and explore the brooder. This will be hard because they are so cute, but let them be for a few days.

Days 3-5: You can put your hand in their brooder, and let them explore around your hard – no sudden movements – be gentle.

Days 5-6: Keeping your movements slow, continue to put your hand in the brooder, however, start feeding them from your palm. It helps for you to softly talk to them as you feed them too – this way they will associate your voice with feed time.

Week 2-3: You may start to gently hold them, and continue to feed them from your hand while talking to them.

Week 3 onwards: By now your chicks should not be afraid of you. Don’t forget to keep feeding them with your hand, speaking to them, and picking them up.

When To Move Your Chicks From The Brooder To The Coop

When should you do this?

The short answer is: it depends.

The main reason you have your chicks in a brooder is to keep them warm while they grow and develop their feathers.

Once they have their full set of feathers, they have the ability to keep them warm and can be moved into a coop.

In general, if most chicks are fully feathered at about 6 weeks old, and hence, this is a good time to start assessing whether your chicks are ready for the coop.

If you already have chickens and a coop and are wanting to know how to integrate new with old, click here to find out how to introduce new chickens to the flock!

If you live in cooler weather (where the temp outside is consistently lower than 95 degrees) you’ll know that you likely need a heat source in the coop as well. In these situations, it’s better to wait for more than 6 weeks to allow the chicks to completely develop their feathers.

Tips:

  • Don’t judge based on age, judge based on development (i.e. if they have developed their feathers, not how old they are)
  • Don’t forget to ensure that your coop is predator-proof before moving them in (we’ll show you how to do this in the next chapter on setting up your chicken coop!)

Final Thoughts

And there you have it: Everything that you need to know about raising baby chicks!

Let us know in the comments how you raised your little yellow puffballs or if you opted for a heat mat rather than a heat lamp. Don’t forget to share this with your backyard chicken keeper friend so they’ll know what to do when they chicken babies!

FAQs

You should use heat lamps when your babies are 4-6 weeks old. You will need to monitor and change the brooder temperature as they mature. The idea is that as your chicks grow they should rely less and less on the warmth of the brooder heat source.

No, it’s not bad to hold baby chicks provided they are at least 2-3 weeks old. Don’t hold newborn baby chicks because they need to get used to their new environment. Holding them at an early stage can make your babies stressed. Also, they are a bit skittish at first – you don’t want them to fall on the ground, right?

Yes, it’s OK to leave a heat lamp on overnight, especially for the first few days. But, make sure that the brooder box has enough space for your babies to move away from the heat source and self-regulate. Don’t forget that you’ll need to adjust the temperature as they grow older.

  1. Environmental Factors To Control When Brooding Chicks. Retrieved from: https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1287
Chicks

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