Caring for Chicks
Baby chicks can walk and scamper about immediately upon
hatching and can fly within a week. They can see well, and they
know how to eat. If the chicks don't have their mother they need
some sort of brooder in which they can be kept warm and safe
while they are growing. You can use a cardboard box or a wooden
box for a brooder. Or you can buy one at a feed store.
For a homemade brooder, use a cardboard box with a layer of
litter (sand, woodchips, rice hulls, etc.) or newspaper in the
bottom, which should be changed frequently. Partially cover the
top with newspaper or cardboard to help keep out drafts and still
allow some fresh air in. A lightbulb suspended in the box
provides heat. The bulb should be far enough away from the edge
of the box that it won't start a fire. You can screw the bulb
into a spotlight reflector with a clamp to hold it in place. Such
reflectors with clamps are available in hardware stores.
The box size depends on the size and number of chicks you
plan to put in it. The size will have to be increased as the
chicks grow. They should have plenty of room to move around in and
to spread out to sleep. They should also have enough room to get
away from the heat of the bulb if they need to. If they pant or
press against the corners and edges of the box, away from the
bulb, they are too hot and could possibly suffocate. Reduce the
bulb wattage or get a bigger box. If the chicks huddle together
in a pile under the bulb, they are chilly. The bulb could be too
high to provide enough heat, the wattage too low, or the box too
The temperature in the brooder should start around 90
degrees F. for newly hatched chicks and be decreased by about 5
degrees F. each week. Comfortable chicks make contented peeps.
Chicks distressed from cold or hunger will cheep loudly and
insistently. Comfortable chicks will pursue their normal
activities of walking around, pecking at the food, pecking at the
sides of the box, drinking water, and sleeping. They need a lot
of rest and will frequently lie on the brooder floor with their
heads down and wings spread out.
Sanitation is essential. Provide a new box with fresh litter
or newspaper every day. The litter should never be allowed to
remain damp. If water is spilled the litter should be cleaned
out. Chicks must have clean, fresh water at all times. You can
buy plastic or metal watering basins that fit onto mason jars and
are ideal. Or use a small cup or bowl that does not tip over.
You can buy a fine-ground mash called "chick starter" at a
feed store. It comes in fine to slightly coarser grains. You can
mix a little of the very fine and the slightly coarse together.
Mix in tiny pieces of dark green lettuce, little pieces of grapes
or apple, or tiny pieces of bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts. You
could add dry baby cereal from the supermarket (barley, oat,
Plan to keep the chicks inside for four to six weeks. When
they are about a week or two old, they can be put outside for a
while on warm days. They come when you call them. Don't put them
outside and leave them. You have to supervise. Cats will not
normally bother an adult chicken but they will go after a chick.
Dogs are a definite danger along with raccoons, possums, foxes,
weasels, owls, and hawks.
At about four to six weeks the chicks have most of their
feathers and can go outside permanently if they have a predator-
proof enclosure and a roosting place. Chicken start perching at
about a month to six weeks old. Provide small, low perches.
Summary from Chickens in Your Backyard by Rick & Gail Luttmann