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How To Raise Chicks - The First 6 Weeks

Have you been eyeing those adorable baby chicks at the farm store for years now but are hesitant to bring them home because you have a few unanswered questions? What supplies do I need? How long do they need heat? When can they be outside?

We have been very successful at hatching and raising chicks for many years. You can be too!

It is gratifying to watch your chicks grow and prosper into full-grown chickens.

Here are a few informative tips to be successful at raising your chicks into egg-laying chickens for your backyard.

Baby Chicks
Welcome to the Farm Little Chicks!

Preparing For Your Chicks

Chicks require a safe, warm home with freshwater, feed, and bedding. The best place to house them is inside a building, either your house or an outside draft-free barn. The chicks will do better in groups as opposed to single ones.

You will need to purchase or make a brooder (a heated house for chicks). I use a stackable GQF Brooder; has a build-in heat lamp, temperature gauge, and tray to collect all of their droppings. We then move them, around three weeks old, to a GQF Grow-off Pen before they go to the coop at 6 - 8 weeks old.

A cheaper option is to design your own using a plastic storage container or a wooden box (at least 18 inches tall). I do not recommend a cardboard box because of the fire hazard with a heat lamp; it also absorbs water. Line your container with pine shavings, hang a heat lamp (recommend a 175-watt red bulb; prevent pecking on each other) or use a radiant brooder, a thermometer and add a chick waterer and a chick feeder. The top will need to be covered (use screen or something similar); they learn to fly quickly.

The Chicks Are Here!

Okay, now you have your brooder set up and are ready to go pick out your chicks! I recommend adding the water and feed the day you bring your chicks home. The water needs to be warm (prevents chicks from getting cold) and add an electrolyte to boost their system. We use ADM Chick Starter Grower feed in crumbles (other brands are available to your farm store) and will work well for your chicks, too; feed at least the first eight weeks. We use it until they are 20-24 weeks old, then move them to a layer feed. The option for medicated or organic feed is also available; we have had better luck with medicated.

When you purchase your chicks, the store places them in a box. I recommend driving straight home and placing them in the warm brooder. Chicks do not like to get cold (it will stress them). If your chicks come in the mail, the same applies: get them under heat asap.

Gently pick up your chicks, one at a time, and dip their beak into the warm water; it helps chick easily find their water source. Next, set them down in the brooder so they can get used to their surroundings. Watch them closely for the next few hours, making sure each one finds the water and feed.

While bonding with the chicks is essential, we always wait until they are a few days old before picking them up. The chicks need to adjust to their environment and get used to their voice.

I always enjoy watching new chicks, so keeping an eye on them is fun!

Tending To Your Chicks Daily

The chicks will need to be monitored closely for the first week. Coccidiosis (gastrointestinal disease) and pasty butt (chicken dropping stuck to their vent; butt) are common in chicks. If you notice a pasty butt, wet a paper towel and gently wipe their vent. If you see bloody diarrhea, lethargy, unwilling to eat, you need to treat them immediately for coccidiosis. The natural way is to add Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar to their water. The most popular treatment is Amprol 128; treated in the water also.

A stress-free environment and a very, very clean brooder, waterer and feeder will help minimize the threat of coccidiosis and other parasites.  Always sanitize and provide fresh bedding weekly to keep your chicks healthy.

Brooder Temperature

The temperature in the brooder will need to be adjusted as the chicks grow; they grow fast!

Your chicks will tell you if they are comfortable by being active and spread out. If they are too cold, they will huddle up together. If they are too warm, they will stay far away from the heat source.

Here is a chart I made to help you set the brooder temperature weekly for your chicks.

Chart for keeping the brooder temperature

Chicks Grow Fast

You will be amazed at how fast your chicks grow in the next few weeks. One day, they are still fuzzy chicks, and the next day they are feathering out and flying all around. They are fascinating little creatures that can provide a lot of entertainment but can also be very messy.

*Put their waterer up on a brick to prevent shaving overtaking it.

*Chicks like to perch; stack a few brinks up so they can rest on them.

Your chicks are ready to be weaned off of their heat source (reference chart above). Most breeds will be fully feathered and ready to be moved to a coop. I recommend the temperature be at least 65° or above before they go outside. Their coop also needs to be enclosed to keep the predators out. We free-range but at an older age, when they start laying eggs around 20-24 weeks old. Always lock them up in their coop at night to keep them safe.

If this is your first time raising chicks, congratulations! I am so excited you are a chicken owner, just like us! Let me know what breeds you get, and we will talk chickens! Enjoy them, love them, and keep them safe!

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