Moving Your Chicks Outside
If you're raising chicks, you're probably wondering when you can move them from the brooder box to their permanent home outside. Your local climate and availability of outdoor heating should influence your decision, but the most basic rule of thumb is that your chicks need to be fully feathered before you put them outside full time without supplemental heat.
Chickens of different breeds get their full feathers at different stages, so research your breed to determine when you should expect to be able to move them outdoors permanently.
Moving Out: A Gradual Approach
Some people use a graduated approach to moving their chicks outside. When your indoor chicks no longer need a heat lamp, move the brooder to a colder part of your house. During warm days, chickens that have most of their feathers (sometime between 2 and 4 weeks old) can spend the afternoon outside and return to the brooder at night. Try the indoor/outdoor routine for several days in a row to get your chicks used to being outdoors.
If the chicks show signs of distress by huddling together or cheeping loudly and persistently, they may be too cold and should be brought back inside or provided a heat lamp. Depending on the breed, chickens will have all of their feathers sometime after 4 to 5 weeks old and will be ready to be outside full time without a heat source.
Moving Out: A Faster Method
Another approach is to harden off your chicks more quickly by putting them out early without any transition period, usually after two weeks in the brooder. If your chicks show signs of distress, bring them back inside or provide them with an outdoor heat source.
Whether your approach is gradual or quick, have your chickens' outdoor space ready for them. Make sure their feeder and water source are set up and functioning correctly and that their coop is elevated 6 to 12 inches off the ground. If you are going to have a run for them, make sure it is attached and secured.
Once Outside: Finding Home
When you are ready to move your chickens outside full time, teach them where "home" is by keeping them in their coop for three to four days. Even if your birds are always in an enclosed area, training them to go into the coop at night will be helpful predation prevention. (See "Protecting Chickens from Predators.")