Baby chicks are very cute and difficult to resist, but it’s best to plan for their arrival before you get them. Prepare first by gathering not only the correct materials, but also the proper knowledge to care for them. Raising baby chicks is relatively simple, you just need to provide them with the following:
- A clean and warm habitat
- Plenty of food and water
- Attention and love
Your habitat can be a simple box, aquarium, cat carrier, or guinea pig cage. Line it with old towels and blankets (with no loose strings!) to start, and after a few weeks use straw over newspaper. Note: Avoid using only newspaper or other slipper surfaces – or your chicks legs can grow malformed.
You also need something to serve up food and water in, such as a chicken feeder and water dish from the feed store, or a pickle jar lid for food and a pet bird water dispenser from a pet store. Also, as the chicks get older you can introduce a perch into the habitat to get them trained on perching.
To keep your chicks warm you need to provide them with a heat source. This can be as simple as a 100 watt light bulb in a reflective clamp style lamp from a hardware store, or an infrared reptile heat bulb also work very well (my recommendation). Chicks need this warmth 24/7 until their downy fluff is replaced with feathers (which can take up to two months). The newly hatched need a temperature between 90 and 100 degrees, and each week this can be reduced by approximately 5 degrees or so.
The heat source should be on just one side of the cage to allow chicks a range of temperatures. The chicks are your best thermometer- if they are hiding in the opposite corner of your heat lamp, you need to reduce the temperature. If they are smothering each other under the heat (not just snuggling), you need to add some heat.
Cleanliness is key and it keeps your chicks healthy. Be sure to change the bedding often and always provide clean food and water.
Food and water
Chicks grow very fast which requires plenty of clean food and water. Provide enough at all times and check often to prevent thirsty and hungry chicks. Chick food is different than adult chicken food, and it comes in both medicated and non-medicated varieties. Feed chick food for the first two months, then switch to a grower food (~17% protein) for another 2 months, and then to a slightly lower protein feed or a layer feed (if you have layers).
Some chicks like to get a head start on taking dirt baths, while others won’t take up that activity until they are older. If you have the space in your chick enclosure, introduce a tray of sand or dirt for them to bathe in.
Attention and love
There are a few benefits to spending time with your chicks. First of all, they will most likely bond with you and not run away as adults. Second, if you examine your chicks daily and watch their behavior, you can catch illness or other problems earlier. Keep an eye out for wheezing, limping, or other unhealthy signs. Be sure to also look at their poop, as diarrhea can lead to matted feathers and clogged cloaca. Lastly, it is important to watch out for social issues, such as the smallest chick getting picked on.
Empty nest syndrome
So your chicks are now fully feathered and its time for them to leave the safety of your home and move outside into a coop. Check out our section on chicken coops to learn more about coops and proper coop habitats.