Homestead and Gardening

How to Take Care of Chicks – the ULTIMATE Guide to Caring for Chicks From Hatchling to Egg Laying

Egg prices surged and now there is a growing interest in raising chickens! We understand because we became chicken owners in 2020 when everyone and his brother was building a chicken coop and buying chicks.

Are you thinking about getting chicks but aren’t sure what you need? We will take you through the steps of how to care for chicks from hatched age all the way up to their first egg.

(To be clear, we’re talking about egg-laying chickens in this post not meat chickens.)

Here we go with an extensive guide: how to care for chicks.

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Where to Find Chicks

Chicks may be a little hard to come by. I’ve been hearing rumors that the brooders at Tractor Supply are empty. I don’t know about all the available places for chickens, but I can give you ideas about where to look.

1. Local Feed Stores

Your local feed store or box feed store can often get chicks for you. Places like Rural King or Tractor Supply often carry chicks, but our local feed store will also order them for customers.

2. Local Hatcheries

You can use a simple Google or Duck Duck Go search to figure out where you can find hatcheries in your area. If your search results come up empty, ask friends or other people in the community where they get their chickens.

3. Join a Local FB Group

There are often people giving away or selling chicks on local chicken Facebook groups.

4. Order Chicks Online

I’ve never gone this route (YET!) but you can order chicks online that will be delivered to you.

Some popular hatcheries include:

5. Get Chicks From a Friend

You may have a local friend who can get you chicks from their chickens or they may be willing to put them in an incubator for you. If you purchase an incubator, you may be able to get fertilized eggs from someone local or order them online.

6. Raise Your Own Chicks

Those of you who already have chickens (and a roo!) can get new chicks from your fertilized egg. You can either let a broody hen do her thing, or you can take the fertilized eggs and put them in an incubator.

Here is one incubator my parents used from Tractor Supply. It’s the Nurture Right 360 Egg Incubator and it holds 22 eggs. You can also buy this incubator on Amazon.

Another good option is the Farm Innovator’s 41-Egg Capacity Pro Series.

My mom used both of these options in a school project, and she said she preferred the Farm Innovator design but thought in the long run the Nurture Right 360 might last longer since the former is made from styrofoam.

This Farm Innovator’s 41-Egg Capacity Pro Series is also available on Amazon.

What Is a Straight Run?

When you get your chicks at a place like Tractor Supply you may notice a sign says, “straight run.” Straight run means you will be getting a mix of boy and girl chicks. In some cases, you may end up with more male than female chicks.

If possible, it’s best to choose sexed chicks so you can end up with hens that lay eggs instead of a bunch of roosters. If you prefer to keep multiple roosters on your property then go ahead and get the straight-run chicks, but if not, you’ll want to purchase pullets as opposed to cockerels.

Why You May Want a Rooster in Your Flock

Roosters can be incredibly useful for your flock, so don’t count them out just yet. Here are some reasons why you might want a rooster:

  • They help protect your flock from predators and sound the alarm when your hens are in danger.
  • He helps the hens find food.
  • You can have fertilized eggs if you want to have baby chicks of your own one day.
  • Roos can be so beautiful!

Considerations Before You Get Your Chicks

chick beside a carton of colored eggs

Are you thinking about getting chickens? Here are some things to consider first.

Are You Allowed to Have Chickens Where You Live?

Before you buy chickens or build a chicken coop, I highly recommend finding out if there are any ordinances against owning chickens where you live.

Your city may not allow backyard chickens, but it can also be more local than that. For instance, you may have an HOA that prohibits chickens and other livestock.

Look into it before you buy your flock so you won’t have issues when you do bring home your little fluff balls.

You can also petition your ordinances as I believe some people in our local town did where I live. (Keep in mind that even if chickens are allowed, there may be certain rules pertaining to the chickens such as how many you can have or how close they can be to your neighbors).

How Many Chicks Should You Get?

Your next decision is how many chickens you want.

Most people talk about “chicken math” which means if you want to have 2 chickens, you’re probably going to have 8. If you already have 15 chickens at home, you’ll still be tempted to get more when you go to Tractor Supply (ask me how I know!).

The first and second times we got chickens we got eight chicks. Baby chicks are incredibly adorable and fairly cheap, so it’s easy to pick up a couple more when you go to buy them.

Keep in mind that when you add to your flock that you have enough room in your coop for each chicken. The Cornell Cooperative Extension suggests having 2.5 to 3.5 square feet per bird in your coop, and 4-5 square feet available per bird in your run or outdoor area.

More chickens also equal more feed. The average chicken eats about 1/4 pound of feed a day, according to Purina. That’s 78 pounds per chicken per year.

For a flock of 8 chickens, you’d go through around 12.5 50 lb bags of feed per year.

Do You Have Time for Chickens?

flowers grass meadow time
Photo by Pixabay on

Another thing to consider when getting chickens is how much time it takes to care for them. In my opinion, chickens are fairly low-maintenance animals.

You don’t have to spend time walking them or necessarily giving them a lot of attention (although we do give our chickens attention), but you will want to check them daily to make sure they have clean water and food. It’s also good to check on things like the cleanliness of their coop or any signs of predators trying to break in.

You will also have to dedicate some time to cleaning the coop and adding new bedding. How often or how long it will take is determined by the type of bedding you’re using, how many chickens you have, and your method of cleaning. For example, many people use the “deep litter method” which involves adding new bedding on top of used bedding in a sort of dry compost situation.

You can learn about the deep litter method more over at Carolina Coops. We like to use hemp bedding for our coop because it’s very absorbent, has a low odor when used, and lasts a long time. However, for our chicks, we just use pine shavings and throw them out every few days when it becomes overly soiled from the chicks.

Other things that may require time are:

  • Healthcare — care of sick or injured chooks.
  • Collecting eggs
  • Shutting in chickens at night and letting them out in the morning (unless you have an automatic chicken door)
  • Sitting and watching them and being amused by their antics

The Cost and Expenses of Chickens

pile of gold round coins
Photo by Pixabay on

The cost of chicks has gone up a little bit in the past few years. This year, we paid between $4-$5 a chick. At Tractor Supply, each chick was $4.49 a piece and they were selling out very quickly.

To get the chickens from chicks to laying age, you will need a few special accessories:

  1. Chick feeder ~ $10
  2. Chick waterer ~$10
  3. Heat lamp for chicks $25-$35 or heater plate $45-$90
  4. A place to keep chicks while they’re very little (We just used a big plastic tub) $10
  5. Medicated starter chick feed (not everyone uses medicated feed for chicks but we do) $15-$30
  6. Bedding $8

Supposing you’ll start with 5 chicks, the cost of the chicks and their supplies will cost roughly: $130

The nice thing though is if you plan on getting chicks again in the future, most of the cost is one-time only. Unless they break, you won’t need to buy a new heat source or food container every time.

The Cost of the Chicken Coop

The cost of the chicken coop can range widely. Some people say they’re able to build a coop with stuff already lying around their house, and others spend $4000 for theirs (this would be the high end of things for sure).

We estimated that ours cost around $1,200 to build which is what I would consider the higher end of a DIY build, but was also built at the beginning of 2020 when materials were less expensive. Certainly, you could spend more, but it’s not exactly a “cheap” way to get what you want.

We based our coop on a US company called Carolina Coops. Their coops are well built and designed and understandably cost more to purchase than we did to build them. That being said, if you love their style and aren’t into a DIY, you can check out their website and see if it’s something you’d like. At this time they don’t sell plans, but they do seem to be OK with people using their design, re: their FAQ section:

Some of the more expensive parts of the build include:

Hardware cloth is an expense for the coop that not everyone chooses to spend. We spent money on it because it’s supposed to be much stronger to keep our predators than regular chicken wire. We live next to the woods and predators are a real concern (they can be anywhere). That’s why we chose to spend a little extra $$ on the build to get it.

You can learn more about our chicken coop build in our guide: How to Build a Chicken Coop.

Total cost for a chicken coop: $100-$4,000 (varies greatly depending on what materials you use, how big your coop is, and what design you choose). 

The Overall Cost of Maintaining Chickens

shallow focus photography of brown chicken
Photo by Daisy on

Once your upfront costs are out of the way, the cost to keep chickens is fairly inexpensive. You’re paying for food, water, bedding, and maybe some supplements or treats.

For a flock of 8 chickens, you’ll probably go through about 50 pounds of feed a month.

If you use hemp bedding, you will likely be looking at spending between $100-$300 a year or $12.5 a month. The cost will be dependent on how often you change the bedding and the cost of it when you purchase it. The cost varies and has gone up since we got our chickens in 2020.

This bedding from Amazon claims to last for a year in an average coop using the deep litter method.

Other costs like water, coop maintenance, and treats are minimal. (Although I will say the cost of meal worms has me looking into starting a meal worm farm).

Your overall costs per month of maintenance will be around $35-$45 a month for eight chickens.

The Basic Needs of Chicks at a Glance

What to Feed Chicks

yellow and brown chicks eating feeds
Photo by Julya Kamenskih on

One of the biggest questions you will find yourself asking is what to feed your chicks.

Medicated? Unmedicated?

Organic? Non-Organic?

To start, chicks need to eat chick feed.

What’s in Chick Feed?

Chick feed is specially formulated for the needs of baby chicks. Chick feed is in little crumbles that are easy for babies to eat, and it meets their nutritional needs for growing.

Things your chick feed will include:

  • Protein
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Grains
  • Fats

Some people may recommend making your own chick feed. While I believe it’s possible to do so, one has to have a very good idea of what a chick needs to grow so they can grow strong and healthy.

Medicated or Unmedicated Chick Feed

Medicated chick feed helps prevent your chicks from coccidiosis. Penn State Extension states,

“Coccidiosis may be one of the most common diseases affecting small flocks around the world, causing loss in performance and even mortality. This disease can be complicated by bacterial agents such as Clostridium perfringens. Vaccination, preventative medication, and good management practices can help control the disease.”

Penn State Extension

Coccidiosis is contracted through parasites found in fecal matter and baby chicks are susceptible to the disease.

Medicated chick feed contains amprolium which helps prevent chicks from getting sick. Adult chickens will build up an immunity to the disease so it’s no longer necessary to feed them medicated feed.

Some people do not feed their chicks medicated feed and it’s a personal choice whether or not you want to. It’s helpful to know that you’re not giving your chicks antibiotics with medicated feed. Also important to note is that medicated feed is preventative, not remedial. Meaning, if your chick already has coccidiosis it won’t cure them.

Note: If your chicks have been vaccinated against coccidiosis you should not give them medicated chick feed. It will counteract their vaccine and make them more likely to contract the disease.

Organic vs. Non-Organic Chick Feed

The choice between organic and non-organic is specific to the person raising the chickens. Chicks (and chickens) fed non-organic feed well grow and produce eggs, just as those will that eat organic feed.

The difference between organic/non-organic is in the way the feed is grown and produced. Organic feed has been federally certified and should not include things such as pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, or GMOs.

Non-organic feed may have been sprayed with pesticides or grown with synthetic fertilizer.

Although I would prefer using organic feed for our chickens, we don’t simply because it’s considerably more expensive to purchase organic feed.

Once our chicks are full grown, we do feed them scraps from our kitchen and garden and they usually get time outside to free range and enjoy what nature has to offer. I think this helps balance out their diet and helps them produce some lovely eggs.

What You Should Not Feed Chicks (Less than 8 weeks)

Feeding chickens treats is a joy, but it really should be reserved for chicks when they’re older than eight weeks. They eat so little that eating a treat (anything other than chick feed) can affect their nutritional intake. If you do feed them something other than chick feed, they will also need chick grit to help them digest their food.

When to Change Feed for Chicks

There are some differences of opinion about what/when to feed chicks, but here’s a general guide for you when you’re deciding what kind of feed to give your chicks.

  • 0-6 weeks – starter feed
  • 6-16 or 20 weeks – grower feed
  • 16-20 weeks (or when your chickens start laying) – layer feed

You’ll likely see some feed that says “starter/grower” on the label, and this type of feed can be given to your chicks from when they first hatch until they begin laying.

When to Give Chicks Grit

Anytime your chicks begin eating anything besides chick feed, you’ll need to give them chick grit.

The Cooperative Extension writes,

“Grit, a commercial product made up of small stones, can be used as a supplement to chicken feed. Chickens fed only commercially prepared feed do not need grit. Chickens that eat whole grains or chickens kept on pasture that do not consume enough pebbles with the forage typically require a supplementation of grit. Grit should not be confused with limestone or oystershell, which are given to laying hens as sources of calcium for their eggs’ shells.”

If you give them scraps, if they begin foraging for food, or if you give them lil snackies — it’s time for some grit.

What Type of Heat Source Should You Get For Your Chicks?

In a world where your chicks are being raised by a mama chicken, they would spend a great deal of time underneath their warm mom. She keeps her chick warmer than you keep your thermostat, so without a mother hen present, your baby chicken will need a heat source.

For the first week of life, your heat source should be 90-95 degrees. Over the next six weeks, you’ll drop the temperature by 5 degrees each week until they can be weaned from the heat source.

There are two main sources of heat that you can get for your chicks: a heater plate.

A heat lamp is what we’ve used all along. It does work well and it keeps the chicks warm, but it can be a fire hazard.

If I were to start over, I would get a heater plate because it’s a safer option and it’s easier to control the temperature for the chicks.

Heating plates are also preferable because they use less electricity than heat lamps and it simulates the presence of a mother hen.

The pros of a heating lamp are they’re usually less expensive, easier to locate, and can accommodate a larger flock of chicks (you may need more than one heat plate if you have a lot of chicks).

How Do You Know If Your Heat Source is Too Hot or Too Cold?

You can use a thermometer, but you can also observe your chick’s behavior.

Whatever type of heat source you use, I do very much recommend giving them a space in their brooder where they can get away from the heat lamp.

A chick that is cold will be loud and upset. You’ll know their sounds because it’s distinct from their normal happy chirpy noises.

If your heat source is too hot, the chicks will try to get as far away from it as possible. They won’t sleep or rest under your heat if they’re feeling too warm.

What Bedding Should You Buy?

white chicken on brown soil
Photo by cottonbro studio on

There are multiple options for bedding that are suitable. We’ve tried hemp bedding, pine shavings, and even shredded paper and cardboard.

All of these work for chicks, but my preference is pine shavings. They’re inexpensive and when they’re little I like to change out their bedding often. They’re in a small confined space and they poop and pee constantly. I’d rather not use the more expensive hemp during this portion of their life, and pine shavings are absorbent and fairly easy to clean out and replace.

If you go with pine shavings, get the bigger flake option because it is less dusty and won’t upset the chick’s respiratory system.

When the chicks are older and ready to move out of their brooder, I would switch to hemp bedding and begin using the deep litter method. This one from Amazon claims to last for one year:

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that Tractor Supply started carrying hemp bedding.

What is a Safe Location for Chicks?

chicks in a basket
This is not a suitable brooder for a chick 😀
Photo by Cheryl Prince on

Chicks that aren’t with a mother hen start out living in a brooder. A brooder is a place where you keep young chicks after they’ve hatched.

You can set up a brooder in a large plastic bin, inside brooder panels, or in a stock tank (for a few examples).

Brooders should be in places that are outside of the elements, dry, well-ventilated, and safe from predators. Good options can include, a garage, shed, sunroom, basement, barn, or other types of outbuilding.

As chicks get older, they may try to hop out of a plastic bin with relatively low sides. In this case, you may want to place a plastic mesh over the top of the brooder to keep them from escaping. Do NOT use a solid lid to cover them as they won’t be able to breathe.

While we’re waiting for our most recent set of chicks to be old enough to go in the coop, we’ve actually been using a dog crate.

We zip tied some boards around the bottom to try to keep some of the bedding inside, and although it isn’t a perfect solution, it’s working pretty well.

Setting Up a Home for Chicks

Before you run to the store, pick up your chicks from a local hatchery, or receive a chick delivery, having their home ready is a good idea.

Have a plan for where you’re going to keep them, and have prepared all their basic needs such as food, water, and shelter, set up and ready to go.

Give Your Chicks to a Broody Hen

I haven’t had experience with doing this, but a friend of mine recently said that she had a broody hen and she gave her chicks to the hen. She turned out to be an excellent mother to the chicks!

If you are able to do this successfully, it would help acclimate the new chicks more easily to your flock and you wouldn’t have to be as concerned about having a heat lamp or heat plate available.

Kat Ludlam at Mother Earth News writes, “Is it possible for a broody hen to raise chicks purchased from the store and/or hatched in an incubator? Yes! Using a hen to brood chicks means less work for you and a more natural experience for the chicks.”

What It’s Like to Get Your Chicks

yellow and black chicks in the basket
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Your experience with getting your chicks will depend on where and how you get them. There are several ways to get chicks (as discussed at the beginning of this blog post) and each one is unique.

Getting Chicks in the Mail

We have never received chicks through the mail, but if you order yours you will receive information about the delivery from your sender.

Most chicks are sent without having had food and water because baby chicks can live for three days without eating or drinking. When they arrive at your house you will want to have water and a heat source prepared.

When your chicks come in they will be at the post office and you’ll receive a phone call from a postal worker. You will have to go to your local post office to pick up your chick parcel.

Traveling through the mail can be stressful for chicks, so there is a chance that some will not survive the journey. If your package is delayed, their chance of survival decreases.

A lot of sources suggest giving the chicks warm water and some say it’s better to delay feeding them until after they’ve warmed up. It may also benefit the chicks to increase the brooder temperature slightly higher than normal.

Getting Chicks at Tractor Supply (or a place like TS)

When you go to Tractor Supply you can choose your chicks and they will put them in a little box for you to take home. It’s a very simple method to take them home and put them directly in the brooder.

Getting Chickens at a Local Hatchery

We’ve purchased chicks from two separate local hatcheries and the experience was slightly different at each one. The hatcheries will tell you what to do when you arrive.

One hatchery we picked chicks up from provided us with a box of chicks. The other one told us to bring a box along.

It’s very easy to transport chicks home, and they don’t mind being in a small space together during transport.

Check on Chicks Regularly

When you bring your chicks home, take time out of your day to check on them regularly. Chicks are adorable so you’ll want to keep popping and seeing how they’re doing.

Some reasons to keep a close eye on chicks include:

  • Keeping their food and water stocked and clean. Chicks poop everywhere and have no regard for keeping anything clean. They’ll kick shavings into their waterer and leave dropping in their food and water. They also tend to go through food and water quickly when using small waterers and feeders.
  • Keep an eye on escapees. When they’re tiny they likely won’t be able to go anywhere but in a couple of weeks your young chicks will begin to get adventurous. They might roost on their waterer and leap out of their box.
  • Check on the heat lamp situation. Your heat source needs to create the right temperature for your chicks so it’s helpful to have a thermometer to tell you what temp it is. Heat lamps can also be a fire safety issue, so I like to keep checking on the heat lamp to ensure it’s free from debris, hasn’t been knocked over, and is overall safe and effective.

Should You Handle Your Chicks?

Should you handle chicks?

I don’t know if this question is controversial, but I think it could be.

We absolutely do handle our chicks. Our kids hold them, and they hold our grown chickens as well.

That being said, there are some good reasons why not to.

  • The first reason is — when you first bring home your chicks it’s a probably good idea to hold them minimally. They’ve experienced stress and are also the most fragile at their youngest age.

  • The second reason is sometimes chicks carry diseases even when they look or act healthy. One of the biggest concerns is salmonella. Salmonella is most likely to be the most concerning with children under five, elderly people, or those with a weakened immune system.

  • The third reason is it’s also possible to pass diseases to chicks when you handle them.

The best way to keep you and your chicks safe is to wash your hands before you handle them, and wash your hands after you handle them. That helps keep both you and your chicks safe.

We have found that picking up chicks and spending time with them helps them develop a better bond with you, and makes it easier to collect them when they’re free-ranging or catch them when necessary.

Common Issues Chicks Have

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Photo by Pixabay on

Your chicks may have a few issues when they arrive or after they are at your house. Some of the most common issues include:

  • Pasty butt. This happens when a chick’s bum vent gets covered in poop. This can be caused by chicks being too cold, or becoming overheated by a heat lamp. You can clean off their bum using lukewarm water and gently cleaning them off. It’s pretty common with little chicks so keep an eye out for this problem.
  • Dehydration. Chicks may come to your house dehydrated, especially if they have traveled through the mail. Signs of dehydration might include panting, fluffing their wings, or difficulty breathing. If this happens to your chick, you can place them in a warm (not hot area) and provide water with electrolytes.
  • Coccidiosis. Coccidiosis is a disease caused by parasites. It’s fairly common among chicks and is the reason that many people feed their chicks medicated feed. Signs of coccidiosis include lethargy, watery or bloody stool, loss of appetite, pale combs, weight loss, or poor growth.
    • The best way to care for coccidiosis is to prevent it by keeping your brooder clean, regularly cleaning out its water, and giving a medicated feed.
  • Splay-legged. Some chicks are born with legs that stick out to the side. Another name for it is “spraddle leg.” Chicks with this condition will point their feed to the side instead of to the front. You can hobble the chick’s legs together to help this condition. Meyer hatchery has ideas for how to properly fix spraddle legs.
    • To help prevent this condition try to keep their environment dry and not slippery. A slippery surface can cause a chick to develop spraddle leg.
  • Scissor beak. Scissor beak or cross beak is when the chick’s top and bottom beak are not aligned. Unfortunately, there’s no real cure for this deformity. You can try feeding a chick with scissor beak separately from the group to ensure they’re getting enough food. If the case is mild enough, the chick can live a healthy life.
  • Twisted neck. Some chicks come out with something called twisted neck, also known as wry neck. A chick like this may look like they’re staring up at something interesting, but in reality, their neck is twisted in a position they can’t change. Another name for this is torticollis, and this is something humans can get too (a couple of our babies had this!)
    • To fix it, you’ll need to separate the affected chick from the rest of the group so it isn’t stressed or bullied by the other chicks. Torticollis in chicks can sometimes be caused by a vitamin E and vitamin B1 (selenium) deficiency, so it’s a good idea to supplement the chick’s feed with these supplements. For more treatments, Grubbly Farms has a nice tutorial about this condition.
  • Marek’s disease. A herpes virus causes Marek’s disease and is almost always fatal. Penn State Extension calls it, “the most common illnesses in small flocks and not treatable once the clinical signs have begun.” Unfortunately, there is no cure for Marek’s disease, but you can get your chicks vaccinated. Healthy birds can carry Marek’s disease with no symptoms, but symptoms include:
    • Lameness
    • Gasping
    • Incoordination
    • Torticollis
    • Enlarged feather follicles
    • Paralysis
    • Inflammation
    • Tumors
      • For prevention, Penn State Extension suggests, “Vaccination of day old baby chicks is the most dependable way to prevent the clinical disease. Birds must get the vaccine before they are exposed to the virus. Then the birds need about 4-7 days for the vaccine to do its work. That means complete isolation of the chicks for at least this time.”

Why Chicks Can Survive Without a Mom

brown and white chickens on gray concrete floor
Photo by Gilmer Diaz Estela on

Watching a mama chicken and baby chicks is one of the most magical things to watch. If I could raise chicks this way, I would do it 100% of the time.

The reality is that most of us don’t have the correct resources to make that happen. You have to have a broody chicken, fertilized eggs or a hen willing to take day-old chicks, a hen that is actually a good mother, a separate space for the mom and chicks, etc.

We don’t really have those circumstances, so ours are raised in a brooder under a heat source.

If you’re like me, you may wonder how chicks can learn to do all the things they need to do in life without a mother.

The answer is that most of the behaviors a chicken needs are done so instinctively. Chicks will instinctively preen themselves and scratch the ground, for example. A lot of resources say that chicks will not drink on their own without someone pushing their beak into the water.

The Extension Foundation published an article by Dr. Jacquie Jacob of the University of Kentucky entitled, “Normal Behaviors of Chickens in Small and Backyard Poultry Flocks.”

Jacob writes,

Much early research on chicken behavior focused on determining which behaviors are instinctive and which are learned. In a study, chicks blindfolded from the onset of hatch until one to three days of age instinctively preened themselves and scratched on the ground. In addition, when given a worm, even if alone, these chicks ran around as though there might be others in pursuit of the worm. Research has shown that chicks instinctively show fear of stinging insects but try to catch flies. Some behaviors, however, have to be taught. For example, chicks peck at their own excreta until they learn not to. Chicks must also be taught to drink—when chicks are raised without a hen, producers must dip their beaks in water so that they learn to drink. (When the beak gets wet, the chick’s drinking response is initiated.)

I do think that it can be beneficial in many ways to have a mother hen to teach her young, but I am surprised by all the things that my flock of chickens just know to do without anyone showing them.

The other thing you may notice is if one of your chicks knows how to drink, your others will likely follow along with the one that knows how.

How Chicks Will Change Over the First Six Weeks

When a chick first hatches they look like a strange little alien. Cute, but wet and wobbly, and kind of weird.

Day 1 chicks are absolutely adorable fluff balls.

Between the first and second week your chicks will begin to grow some feathers around their wings and tail.

Week 3-5 your chicks will grow considerably. They’ll go through an awkward period while their feathers grow in and they’ll lose that cute fluffy look they had as a new chick.

When your chick is 6 to 7 weeks old they will be fully feathered and quite a bit larger than they were eat week 1. They will no longer have that awkward half-feathered look, but will have their full feathers in place. They will look like miniature chickens.

Be Ready to Move Chicks to a Bigger Space

If the temperatures are not too cold outside and you’re not placing your chicks in with an adult flock, your chicks are ready to move into the coop between 6-8 weeks of age.

If temperatures outside are cool or fluctuating, you’ll want to slowly wean them from the heat lamp and get them used to colder temperatures a little bit at a time.

Want to know how to build a chicken coop for your chicks? You can learn about it in your guide How to Build a Chicken Coop.

How to Introduce Chicks to Your Flock

Introducing your young chickens to an older flock can be a bit intimidating. We are in the process of doing this ourselves, and it’s something that I wish I had given more thought to before we bought chicks this season.

Chickens adhere to a strict pecking order, so you want to be careful introducing any new chickens but especially young ones.

Here are some tips for making the introduction of new chicks to an older flock go more smoothly:

  • Wait until they’re old enough. Most sources recommend waiting until chicks are at least 8 weeks old before introducing them to an older flock. It can be beneficial to wait even longer so they’re bigger and stronger before facing older chickens. Some people wait until they’re about the same size before introducing them.
  • Understand that chickens can be deadly. No matter how you introduce the new chickens, there’s a chance that one or more can be harmed or killed. That’s why some people wait until they’re older before adding them to the flock.
  • Put them near but not together. You can start by placing the younger chickens in a dog crate inside the run or henhouse or just outside it so they can get used to each other without having access to one another. (If it’s cold outside, just do this during the day when the temperatures are higher). Do this for 7-14 days.
  • Distract the hens with treats. If you put them together during the day, you can use treats to distract the older hens from the new ones.
  • Allow chickens in the run or free range together. You can allow them in an open run or free range for a short period of time together each day to help acclimate each other.

Since my experience in this is limited, I will refer you to some articles I felt were helpful on the subject:

Introducing New Chickens to your Flock: Proven Step-by-Step Method by Backyard Chicken

4 Steps for Introducing New Chickens to your Backyard Flock by Fresh Eggs Daily

How to Introduce New Chickens to Your Existing Flock by The Happy Chicken Coop

What About Free Ranging?

white chicken on green grass field
Photo by Brenda Timmermans on

If you want to start free ranging your chicks you can do so by beginning in the evening when you’re around to watch them. You can teach them to come to you by using a consistent call and providing a treat when they come. (We just say “Here chicky chicky chicky” like we’re Ernie from Sesame Street.)

They’ll soon learn to come to the sound of your call, and they’ll naturally want to roost at night in their home.

I wouldn’t let them free-range until they’ve been acclimated to their coop for at least a couple of weeks.

Are You Ready to Get Chicks?

Okay whew. I know that was a lot.

Taking care of chicks is a fairly easy gig (although definitely messy at times!) but I wanted to give a very thorough overview of everything so you could have a one-stop-location for all your chick questions.

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below if you have any additional questions.

Have you taken care of chicks before? Would you add anything to this list? I look forward to hearing from you!

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