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Getting Started with Baby Chicks

Here I drowsily sit in my living room on a Sunday evening, listening to a drone of crickets and bullfrogs pulsing steadily through the window, punctuated now and then with soft chirps of contented chicks in their brooder.

Getting started with baby chicks is quite simple, but you need to make sure that you’re ready for the commitment and that you’ll be around at least every morning, evening and night to keep an eye on them.

The first step is to construct a brooder before bringing them home. You’ll need:

  • A large box, storage bin or other container to keep them in – you need about 2 square feet of room per chick, and it should be at least 12 inches high so they can’t hop out
  • A screen to cover the brooder
  • A 250 watt red heat lamp – the red prevents them from pecking each other in sore spots – with a reflector, hanger or clamp and a wire guard to prevent fires
  • A tripod or other way to securely hang lamp above brooder
  • Pine shavings (not cedar, it is toxic to chicks) for bedding
  • A feeder, waterer, and chick starter feed

That’s it! I was able to purchase everything I needed, including the chicks, for around $40. That’s a great investment, considering what they can provide in return.

I started out with a medium box for the first week, then moved up to a bigger container.

For bedding, use about 2″ of pine shavings in the bottom of your brooder. If you’re using a cardboard box, you can put paper bags or something absorbent underneath. Never use bare newspaper, it causes spraddle leg.

Place the heat lamp about 20″ from the bedding, off to one side of the brooder so the chicks have a choice of temperature.  Your chicks will be your thermometer. If they’re huddled together under the lamp it means they’re cold and you need to move it closer. If they’re as far away from it as possible it means they’re too hot and you need to raise it. If you want to use a thermometer, start off around 95˚F. You’ll be reducing the heat 5˚ a week (raising the lamp about an inch), until they can go outside.

Next, place your feeder and waterer as far away from the lamp as possible so the water doesn’t get too hot. I’ve also learned it helps to keep the water and food clean if you elevate them on a 2×4 or brick when the chicks are big enough to reach.

When you bring your chicks home, be sure to dip their beaks in the water so they know where to find it.

Chicks are prone to a condition called pasty butt, which mine did have when I brought them home and thankfully I had read about it. This happens when their droppings dry to their rears, which can clog their vents and lead to death. Should this happen, soak their bottoms with a towel dipped in warm water to remove the plug. Then rub a little olive or grapeseed oil on. I found that adding a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to their water prevented this from happening again.

When your chicks are about 2 weeks old, you can make them a roost about 4″ off the bedding. Here are Henrietta and Penguin testing it out. Happy chickens!