Farm Store | articles | How To Care For New Chicks

How To Care For New Chicks

More and more hobbyists each year are interested in raising a small flock of chickens in their backyards or on a small farm. Most owners know that the brooding period, a chicken's first 8 to 10 weeks of life, is crucial, but what's the best way to get your flock off to a good start?

First, decide whether you want your flock to be raised primarily for egg laying or broilers and consult with your local Southern States dealer for advice on the best breeds to choose for your area. Then, prepare for the chicks' arrival with this step-by-step guide on what to do when you bring your new chicks home.

Preparing their new home

Girl with a box of baby chicks.

You should start preparing your chicks' new home several days before they arrive. There are four key things to remember when making your plans:

  • Chicks need ventilation but also warmth and protection from drafts.
  • The housing unit must be protected from household pets and outdoor predators such as foxes or rats.
  • Chicks always need access to food and fresh water.
  • Sanitation and cleanliness is of utmost importance.

A housing unit for chicks, commonly known as a brooder, can be a commercially produced metal enclosure or something as simple as a cardboard box. Your brooder should have solid walls at least 18 inches high to block drafts and be large enough that chicks can move about freely. When calculating space needs, University of Maine Cooperative Extension specialists recommend an average of one-half square foot per chick for the first four weeks, 1 square foot from four to eight weeks and 2 square feet from eight to 12 weeks.

A wire mesh floor, often found in commercially available brooders, may be beneficial to help keep the enclosure clean by allowing waste to fall through the bottom of the cage. Spread pine wood chips, ground corn cobs, rice or oat hulls about 2 inches thick on the floor of the brooder. Don't use cedar chips, which give off fumes toxic to chicks. You may choose to spread newspapers on the floor for the chicks' first week of life. This may help chicks learn to eat feed scattered on the floor of their cage. But after the first week, switch to another flooring material as newspaper on a flat surface may lead to leg and foot problems, and the moisture it collects may lead to diseases.

Use a heat lamp to keep the chicks warm. Attach the lamp so it hangs over the middle of the brooder, about 18 inches from the floor. Use a red bulb in the heat lamp to limit light levels; too much bright light might cause the chickens to pick at each other's feathers. The brooder should be kept at 95 degrees for the chicks' first week of life. You can reduce the temperature by 5 degrees each week until chicks are six weeks old; then keep them at 70 degrees. Don't move them to outdoor enclosures until they have feathered out and can handle average nighttime low temperatures.

Adjust the temperature by raising or lowering the heat lamp. To get an accurate temperature reading when checking the brooder, Mississippi State University poultry specialists recommend wrapping the bulb end of your thermometer with black electrical tape.

When the chicks arrive, watch how they react to the heat. If they huddle in the area underneath the heat lamp, the temperature may be too low. If they seem to crowd the edges of the enclosure away from the heat lamp and look like they might be panting, the temperature may too high. At the proper temperature, the chicks should be spread fairly evenly about the enclosure, peeping contentedly. Use caution anytime you use a heat lamp near flammable materials such as cardboard, newspapers or wood shavings.

Water and food

When the chicks arrive, they may be very thirsty. Take each chick and dip its beak in water to help it learn to drink. If the chicks appear lethargic, University of Florida animal science specialists say you can add one-fourth to one-half cup of sugar to each gallon of their water.

Make sure fresh water is available to them at all times. Note that chicks prefer room temperature water. A 1-gallon fount (watering station for chicks) should suffice for a small flock of chicks. Mississippi State poultry specialists recommend two 1-gallon founts, four 1-quart founts or a 3-foot trough-style waterer for up to 100 chicks.

After the chicks have taken a drink, it's time to introduce them to food. Use a commercially available chicken starter feed for the first six to eight weeks, switching to a grower feed at about nine weeks. A commercial starter feed should have the proper protein levels and all of the vitamins and minerals they need to get off to a good start, and it may also include antibiotics to keep them healthy. Don't simply give them corn or grains—alone, these feeds won't provide enough nutrients. As with water, make sure food is available at all times.

In the first week, you may want to spread the feed on a newspaper to help the chicks learn to eat. Later, switch to a chick feeder, making sure it's large enough to allow all the chicks access. Mississippi State specialists recommend: 1 inch of feeder space for each chick for the first two weeks; 2 inches for up to six weeks; and 4 inches up to 12 weeks. The rim of the feeder should be about the same height of the chick's back.

Watch the chicks closely in the first hours after they arrive to make sure they are learning to drink and eat properly and that temperatures are comfortable.

Keep them healthy

Before the chicks arrive, make sure you give your brooder a thorough cleaning with disinfectant if necessary. As the chicks grow, make sure their area stays clean and dry. Wash founts daily and disinfect once a week. Keep contaminants and dirt out of the feeders. Limit visitors, who can bring in germs on their feet and clothes if they've been in other areas where chickens have been. Never allow your chicks to mingle with other flocks, and remove any sick birds.

Chicks may need to be vaccinated against diseases such as Marek's disease, fowl pox, Newcastle or bronchitis. Your supplier may have already performed some of these vaccinations. Check with your supply store to see what follow-up vaccinations may be needed and whether your chicks need antibiotics added to their feed or drinking water.

Remember that chicks can harbor bacteria; make sure children do not handle the chicks and then put their hands in their mouths. Always wash your hands after handling your chicks.

As your chicks grow, experts at your local Southern States store should be ready to assist you with further advice. With their help, and by following these tips, you should be able to ensure your chicks grow into healthy adults.

Shop Incubators

Related Products

More Products Like This:
Grid View
List View
  • Southern States All Grain Layer & Breeder Pellet 50 lb

    SKU 52352011
    Southern States All Grain Layer & Breeder Pellet is a complete vegetarian feed that is ideal for egg layers and breeders 16 weeks of age and up. The nutrient dense, all-natural formulation results in eggs produced with higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and omega 3 content, and superior egg shell and yolk quality. The added pro-biotic optimizes feed digestion and overall heath in a natural way. Southern States All Grain Layer & Breeder is free of antibiotics, animal proteins and animal fats. Available in crumble form, SKU: 52352071.
    to see pricing & availability
  • Southern States All Grain Layer & Breeder Crumbles 50 lb

    SKU 52352071
    Southern States All Grain Layer & Breeder Crumbles is a complete vegetarian feed that is ideal for egg layers and breeders 16 weeks of age and up. The nutrient dense, all-natural formulation results in eggs produced with higher levels of vitamins, minerals, omega-3 content, and superior egg shell and yolk quality. The added probiotic optimizes feed digestion and overall health in a natural way. Southern States All Grain Layer & Breeder Crumbles are free of antibiotics, animal proteins and animal fats.
    to see pricing & availability
  • Southern States Traditions 2-Grain Scratch 50 lb

    SKU 52354051
    Southern States Traditions 2-Grain Scratch is a high-energy supplement for poultry with coarse cracked corn and whole wheat. Use it blended or top-dressed with other supplements or regular feeding regimen for chicks after four weeks of age through maturity.
    to see pricing & availability
  • Southern States Traditions Egg Layer Poultry Feed Pellet 50 lb

    SKU 52711011
    Southern States Traditions Egg Layer Poultry Feed Pellet is a complete feed for laying poultry over 16 weeks of age. This feed is available in crumble or in pellet form to suit the preference of your flock, and contains 16% crude protein to promote bigger eggs. Healthy hens eat Southern States Traditions Egg Layer Poultry Feed. Available in crumble form, SKU: 52711071.
    to see pricing & availability
  • Southern States Traditions Chick Start & Grow (AMP) Medicated 50 lb

    SKU 52360071
    Southern States Traditions Chick Start & Grow (AMP) Medicated is a complete starter and grower feed for meat and egg type chicks. Medicated with Amprolium as an aid in prevention of coccidiosis. An economical formula that provides complete and balanced nutrition without compromising on quality.
    to see pricing & availability
  • Southern States Flock Balancer 20% Booster 50 lb

    SKU 52543011
    Southern States Flock Balancer 20% Booster is a pelleted complete feed for growing and mature poultry. It brightens plumage, builds great muscle tone and improves all-around performance. 20% crude protein ensures developing birds get the nutrition they need to be in top form.
    to see pricing & availability
  • Southern States Super Breeder 50 lb

    SKU 52361071
    Southern States Super Breeder is a complete poultry breeder and layer feed for all your egg producing birds. From broilers to turkeys, gamebirds to emus, Southern States Super Breeder gives you healthy birds and healthy eggs. PrimaLac for good gut microbials and 21% crude protein for excellent muscle development and beautiful plumage gives you poultry that's healthy from the inside out.
    to see pricing & availability
  • Southern States All Grain Start-N-Grow 25 lb

    SKU 52350072
    Southern States All Grain Start-N-Grow is an all natural 18% protein feed for growing chicks. This feed has added vitamins, minerals and amino acids for growth, muscle and feather development. Southern States All Grain Start-N-Grow is free of antibiotics but does incorporate a pro-biotic which optimizes feed digestion and overall health in a natural way. This feed includes marigold extract for a bright, healthy skin and plumage.
    to see pricing & availability

Find Your Nearest Southern States Location

Sales & Offers