How to Care for Day Old Chicks

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How to Care for Day Old Chicks - The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Check out my articles How to Raise Turkeys and Raising Meat Chickens.

Caring for Day Old Chicks

If you are hatching eggs in an incubator or ordering day old chicks through the mail, the following instructions will help you care for those little puff balls. Been there, done that? This post will help refresh your memory. Although this is geared toward chicks, the instructions are basically the same for day old turkeys, ducks, and geese.

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How to Care for Day Old Chicks


Basic Care for Day Old Chicks:

  • Keep brooder temps at 95 F for the first week, decrease by 5 degrees each week.
  • Make sure there is room for chicks to get out of the heat.
  • Sugar water will give them a boost of energy after a long trip.
  • Keep food and shallow water containers clean and filled.
  • Make sure there are no drafts or sunny spots to cause temp changes in brooder area.
  • Make sure rodents, pets, or well meaning children can’t hurt chicks.

How to Care for Day Old Chicks - The Self Sufficient HomeAcre


Get Ready For Day Old Chicks

Before your chicks hatch or arrive at the post office, be sure to have their brooder area set up and tested for a couple of days. You don’t want to find out that your only heat lamp isn’t working when you get home with your babies. Water should be at room temperature so it won’t chill the chicks.


The new peeps are nice and warm in their Redneck Brooder Box.


Keep Them Warm

If you are using a heat lamp, turn it on two or three days in advance so you can adjust the height to provide the proper temperature. I have used a heat lamp and an Eco Glow brooder, and both worked well. I’ve also created my own my Redneck Brooder System. It is safer than a heat lamp (less chance of causing a fire) and uses less energy. My homemade brooder is similar to the Brinsea EcoGlow Brooder for Chicks or Ducklings which mimics the warmth of a mother hen.

If my chicks are going straight to the barn when the temps are low, I use seedling heat mats and a heat lamp. The heat lamp warms up their room and the brooder gives them a warm comfy place to nap. Make sure there are no drafts in their brooding area. If you only have a few peeps coming, consider keeping them in the house for a week or so to keep a close eye on them.


The heat lamp in my brooder room keeps the youngsters warm. Be sure to follow all safety instructions to prevent a fire!


For the first week of their lives, chicks should be kept in a brooding area that is 95 degrees Fahrenheit, with space to get out of the heat if they get too warm. Each week you will need to reduce the temperature of the brooder 5 degrees F until the youngsters are feathered out. If you notice the chicks piling on top of each other under the heat lamp, they are too cold. Lower the lamp, use a warmer bulb (an incandescent bulb may not be enough), or add another heat lamp to the brooder.

If the chicks are as far from the heat lamp as possible and they are panting, the temperature is too warm for them. Raise the heat lamp or switch to a lower watt bulb. Be sure the peeps have room to move around and find the best temperature for themselves. I always keep a digital thermometer under the heat lamp and I check it several times a day. Be careful not to adjust the heat lamp and then get busy with something else. It doesn’t take long for extreme temperatures to kill baby poultry.


Turkey poults learning to eat.

Turkey poults and an Eco Glow brooder.


Food and Water

Make sure your chicks have clean drinking water in a container that they can’t fall in and drown. Dip their beaks in the water when you first unpack them from the shipping box to teach them how to drink. Normally the mother hen would teach them this, but you’ll need to fill in. For the first few days, it’s a good idea to give them water with a little sugar in it. Three tablespoons of sugar to one quart of water is a good mix. This will give them a boost of energy and help revive them after their trip from the hatchery. Don’t use honey in place of the sugar, as it can have a type of botulism that could kill baby animals.

Provide chick starter crumbles for your little peeps and watch to see if they eat. If your chicks were vaccinated for coccidiosis, you should give them non-medicated feed. If they aren’t showing any interest in their food, try clipping up some tiny pieces of lettuce on top of the crumbles. The contrast will draw their attention and they should be eating in no time. For other types of baby poultry, check to see if starter crumbles contain enough protein.


Don’t use newspapers or anything that is slippery to line the bottom of your brooder. I use paper towels for the first few days if my chicks are in a brooder box in the house. This makes it easy to swap the paper towels several times a day as they get dirty. The old paper towels are composted. Once the chicks are moved to the barn, I use wood shavings for their bedding. They are easily raked away and replenished as the chicks soil them. When the peeps are a couple of weeks old I usually switch to hay or straw for their bedding and I’ve never had any problems. When they are really small they tend to trip over the straw.

Use paper towels or old dish towels to line the brooder box.

What To Do If Your Chicks Are Sick

Sometimes when day old chicks arrive they’ve had a rough trip. If they seem to be having trouble, you can mix up a special ‘soup’ for them. Put an additional tablespoon of sugar in the quart of water and add some of this to their feed to make a soup. This will soften the food and make it easier for them to digest. For an in depth article, read How to Care for a Sick Chick.

If you notice signs of pasty butt (droppings sticking to vent), be sure to gently clean the feces off with a warm, damp cloth. Don’t rub too hard and make sure you aren’t irritating or removing any skin. Give them a small spoon full of plain yogurt with probiotics to jump start the good bacteria in their digestive systems. Electrolytes for chickens can also be added to their water to give them some extra nutrients. Use this in place of the sugar, if desired.


Sometimes there is nothing you can do for sick chicks.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do for sick chicks.


Sometimes there is nothing you can do to save the little ones who arrive sick. Occasionally you will have one or two dead chicks in your shipment. Be sure you know the hatchery’s replacement and refund policy before you order and let them know immediately if you receive dead or sick chicks. The longer your chicks spend in shipping, the more likely you will have some losses. Consider paying extra for express shipping if it is available.


Pay Attention!

Life is busy and we often get distracted with all of the chores necessary on our homestead. However, making the investment in a batch of baby poultry isn’t just about the financial cost. You also need to invest your time and attention. Check on the chicks often. Make sure the temperature in the brooder doesn’t drop to dangerous levels if the weather turns or a bulb burns out. Keep a screen over the brooder box to prevent escape and hypothermia. Don’t let the water run out and keep food in their dish at all times. Little chicks create a big mess and you will need to clean their brooder out on a regular basis. Be prepared to pay close attention to your peeps while they are young and vulnerable.

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40 comments on “How to Care for Day Old Chicks

  1. Christine Mantwill

    We have a new coop coming in 3 weeks and then baby chicks soon to follow. Thanks for the great advise on setting up the area for the babies. We planned on raising them in the enclosed portion of our coop – although I’d like to keep them in the house for a week before moving them outside.

    I have a question about the yogurt, do you recommend giving it to all of the babies proactively or only if they have poop issues?

    Appreciate your website and your reply!! Thanks!

    1. Lisa Lynn

      Hi Christine,
      So glad to be of help! It won’t hurt them if they all get the plain yogurt…and it may help their digestive systems. I often give all of the babies some yogurt as a treat with some of their food sprinkled on top.
      Best wishes with the new flock!

    1. Lisa Lynn

      Hi Patty,

      One of the best ‘treats’ for this age is mashed up boiled eggs. Hard boil an egg, cool and remove the shell, then mash up really well. Feed like this or add a bit of plain yogurt for probiotics. The other really healthy treat for chickens of any age is plain yogurt! They can also eat finely chopped greens, such as spinach and kale when they are little.

      As they get older, they will enjoy meal worms, cooked pumpkin or squash, lettuce and spinach, and free ranging for bugs.

      Just be careful not to overdo the treats! They need a balanced diet to supply them with all of the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

      I hope this helps!

    1. Lisa Lynn

      Hi Amowe,

      I did a search and found these websites with information.

      Basically, the websites say that you can use Tetracycline for turkeys, but the dosage is dependent on the weight of the bird, and the disease you are treating.

      I can not advise you on this matter, I can only share the information that I have found. If it were me, I would try using natural antibiotics such as oregano, before trying Tetracycline.

      I hope you are able to treat your baby turkey! I hope this helps…Lisa

  2. Jaimie

    This is the first time for us to have little chicks in our family . We have 9 little babies they are now 2 days old . I’ve read all your information and it’s great but one question, the hen that was laying on the eggs , should she be with the chicks or back out in the pen with the others ?

    1. Lisa Lynn

      Hi Jaimie,
      As long as the mother hen is taking good care of her chicks, I would leave her with them. She will keep them warm and teach them how to eat and drink. If she starts pecking at them or being mean, then put her with the rest of the flock and add a safe source of heat to the chicks’ enclosure. Some mamma hens are good at setting on a nest, but stink at motherhood…it just kind of depends on their personality.

      Best wishes with the new brood!

  3. Erica

    Ive found your page very helpful but have a few questions, Im currently living in Vanuatu on a remote Island managing a small dive resort, we have chickens on the island and today believe that one of the village dogs may have killed a hen this morning with day old chicks, we found the chicks on their own a few times and decided to bring them back to our house on the island to care for them. So far weve done everything you have suggested on your page and they are huddled and asleep now in their box. We dont have access to chicken feed as we only get supplies on a boat a few times a week and i wouldnt know where to begin to find it. Are there any other alternatives? What is the time frame we should be keeping them until before we can move them outside? They are currently in our spare room as im worried about rats and coconut crabs.
    Help needed please! 🙂

    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Erica,
      Thank you for adopting the little chickies! I hope they are doing well. This is a tough question, because I always give my chicks the chick starter feed that has the nutrients that baby chicks need to develop properly. But here is what I would suggest…If you have access to eggs, feed them a mashed boiled egg once a day, and give them some cornmeal or finely ground grains…whatever you have available. Make sure that they always have clean water, and take them outside for a supervised foraging session each day. Find an area that has open sand or dirt so they can dust bathe and peck at the grit they need for digesting their food. If they can be allowed more and more time outside they will begin to catch insects and find more of their own food. If you have crab shells, fish leftovers, or other seafood, try crushing all of that up and letting them eat as much as the want.

      I know that chickens survived for eons without humans feeding them, but some of them most certainly died of malnutrition. If you can give these little ones the things I’ve suggested, they should do pretty well. Thanks for writing, and BEST WISHES!

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  7. Janolyn Keller

    I have never had the luxury of having a heat lamp. I have been off the grid and use batteries for lights. We kept our chicks in the house close to the wood stove. I put a regular 12 volt light bulb in the box or tank that I had the babies in and raised and lowered it for the needs of the chicks. I also put several thick towels over the box to help hold the heat in. If it was really cold, I would have put in hot water bottles and covered them with wood chips and changed it often. I was ready to do that, but I never had to.

    The most I ever raised at one time was 24. When I had that many, I had a large stock tank in my living room. I don’t recall losing any, but as many years as I raised chicks, I am sure that I did. I am going to be looking into having chickens that raise their own. Don’t know if my “mommy” tenancies will let me keep out of their business, but I will try this year.

    1. Lily

      We have 3 phoenix hens plus many more standard hens. All three Phoenix went broody as soon as they started laying. They are sitting now and made me very aware of their dislike of my “mommy tendancies.” 🙂

      1. Lisa Lynn Post author

        Lol! I guess I’m not a very good mother hen…when the chicks are in the house I check on them more often, but one they are out in the barn I mostly check on the temps, feed and water maybe 3 or 4 times a day. I’d love to have a broody hen to raise a few clutches each year. So far I haven’t had much luck with that.

        I guess I never thought of my heat lamp as a luxury, but if we build off grid, I guess it will be! A broody hen would be even nicer in that case.

        Janolyn, you might want to look up Henderson’s Chicken Breed Chart online. It lists which breeds go broody more often. Best wishes!

  8. heather harris

    oh, that pasty butt!! we had a few chicks perish from it before we knew what we were doing…this will be the first year hatching our own, but when we get them from the feed store, or via mail, we don’t feed them for the first 6 hours to help avoid that 🙂

    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Heather,
      Do you withhold feed so that the sugar water has a chance to work it’s way through? Or another reason? I’m curious now!

  9. bekah

    Great info! We got our chicks 6 days ago now(from a local farm), and we are loving them! I read a LOT to make sure we were prepared for our chicks, and one thing that no one ever mentioned is that when they are about a day old they kind of sleep like they are dead. I mean…heads flopped over, legs stretched out, its hilarious – but at first it was scary. I really thought they were dying so I googled pics of chicks sleeping and yep…normal.

    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Bekah,
      Thanks 🙂 Enjoy those little ones! Yes, it’s pretty cute to see them sleeping. Wait until they are older and they take dust baths…when they get in a sunny, dusty spot, the often lay on their sides like they are dead!

  10. Lily

    One of the tricks I learned when hatching is to put a feather duster and/or a rolled sock in the brooder when they first hatch. They will snuggle up in the feathers under the light. They seem more relaxed whenever I put the feather duster in the box. Once they are running about a day or two later, I pull it out. Plus the duster is pretty easy to clean and reuse for next batch of chicks.

    1. Leah

      Wow! Thanks for this, Lily! I’ve been wanting a feather duster for a while now (I live on a country, dirt road) but now I see that I need TWO … and this gives me reason to remember to get them! Obviously, chicks have a much higher priority to dusting!

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  12. Leah

    I currently have 42 eggs in an incubator with hatch due in about 12 days (and just received my Brinsea EcoGlow 50 a week ago). I suspect most are fertile though probably not all because I have 13 hens and only 1 rooster – so we’ll see. Two of my hens are over 3 years old and only 1 still laying occasionally but my young rooster doesn’t seem to know that! They’re both scheduled for the freezer next time we have a good weather day for butchering. The other 11 are 7-month old Orpingtons that I bought last year from a hatchery. The rooster is a blue, feather-footed Maran … so, I’m calling the chicks currently growing in the incubator “Maringtons”. I also have 5 (2 pullets) Iowa Blue Chickens that are almost 4 months old. Two of the males will soon be moving to my sister-in-law’s yard and, once those girls are laying full-size eggs, I plan to incubate ALL of them as I hope to eventually have a large flock that will be true free-rangers with the only supplemental feeding coming from my heirloom gardening! They’re a dual purpose chicken that is much more alert to predators and the hens are great brooders and mothers so I look forward to them hatching and raising their own chicks!

    Thanks so much for this article. I did learn some things from it as I’m fairly new to raising chicks. I always enjoy your posts!

    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Leah,
      Ooooo, those sound like fun chickens to raise! Now my interest is piqued! The Maringtons sound like fun too. 🙂 I hope you are able to raise your chickens from the garden and free ranging. There is a cool video that you might want to watch…look up Geoff Lawton, permaculture and raising chickens on compost. It’s been in the back of my mind ever since I watched it. 🙂

      Thanks so much for stopping by! I’m glad I can provide some useful info 🙂

      1. Leah

        Thanks! I’ve now got Geoff Lawton’s video ready to play! I’m anxious to hear his advice because, as I’ve mentioned before, my compost heap IS inside my chicken pen. One of the things my son enjoys doing most is picking up produce from the loading dock of the small local grocer where we live. Rather than throw it out, they put it on the loading dock to be picked up by anyone who wants to use it to feed their pigs, goats or other critters. We pick through it, throwing anything the chickens will eat into that compost pile and the rest goes to a friend who has pigs.

        After I watch the video you recommended, I’m going to study on the nutritional needs of newly hatched chicks and see if I can find instructions on making rather than buying chick starter feed. I’d like to start and keep my new Marington’s as non-GMO as possible!!! I make yogurt and bone broth for my chickens and dogs already, often mixing them together, but the ignored most of the non-GMO feed that I bought. So, we’ll try it.

        Thanks again!

        1. Lisa Lynn Post author

          Enjoy the video…I get a kick out of his series! I used to have a grocery store that did that, but the owner got ticked off and told them not to save it for me anymore. 🙁 Best wishes with your adventure! Let me know how it goes!

  13. Katie

    Nasty pasty butt! What a term! The yogurt is a great idea – I had not heard of that before. We would like to get new chickens this year but I’m not quite sure if I want to deal with baby chicks this year and then integrating them into the new flock. I also don’t really like supporting a baby chicken factory that cranks them out with most of the male chicks being tossed on a conveyor belt like trash. I hope to find a local farmer to buy some pullets from.

    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Katie,
      Yes…pasty butt is a very descriptive and rather gross term! Not a fun thing to deal with. 🙁

      I can understand your desire to find pullets and I hope you find some! If you do decide to order chicks you might want to look up Sand Hill Preservation Center. The problem with buying pullets, from any source, is that they may have come from one of those hatcheries. I really hope that most hatcheries are more humane than the ones that sell layers to the egg industry.

      Let me know how your search goes!


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