How to Raise Healthy Baby Chicks

Raising Healthy Chicks on My Homestead

How to Raise Healthy Chicks

Raising healthy chicks is a priority for most homesteaders and backyard chicken keepers. When we decide to incubate eggs or order from a hatchery we are making a commitment to provide the best care. Those baby chicks depend on us for warmth, food, clean water, and a healthy environment.

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Chicks at about 2 weeks

Raising Healthy Chicks is on My Mind This Week…

My new chicks arrived from the hatchery this week! So, naturally, keeping them healthy and happy is on my mind. Perhaps you also have baby chicks in a brooder right now. In this post, I will share the steps I take to raise healthy chicks on my homestead.

Raising Healthy Chicks - Baby chicks getting a drink of water
Baby chicks under a heat lamp, getting a drink of water.

Healthy Chicks Need Warmth

Whether you hatch your own chicks or order them from a hatchery, they need a warm brooder for the first few weeks of their life. Make sure you have the brooder ready before they arrive. This allows you to measure the temperature and adjust it if necessary.

How much heat do they need? Here are the recommended temperatures:

  • Week 1 ~ 95 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Week 2 ~ 90 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Week 3 ~ 85 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Week 4 ~ 80 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Week 5 ~ 75 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Week 6 ~ 70 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Week 7 ~ 65 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Week 8 ~ 60 degrees Fahrenheit

These are general guidelines. Your chicks will let you know that they are cold by huddling under the heat source. Use a higher watt bulb, move heat source closer to them (be careful!), or add another source of heat.

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If they are too warm, they’ll be as far from the heat as possible and may pant to cool down. Use a lower watt bulb or move it away from the chicks. It is best to give them room to move around and find their comfort zone.

Usually, by the time they are 6 weeks old, they should be pretty well feathered out. However, they won’t do very well in a cold barn without some supplemental heat.

Tips for setting up your heat lamp and average cost to operate per day.

Secure Your Heat Lamps!

In this video, I show you how I hang heat lamps securely in my brooder room. I also discuss the use of a seedling germination mat for keeping chicks warm and some different types of bedding. You’ll also find out the breeds I am raising this year in the video.

How to Handle Chicks Safely

One of my ‘Peep Peeves’…seeing people handle chicks improperly. There are a number of things to remember when you pick up baby chicks and I discuss them in this video. Here is a list:

  • Wash hands before and after handling chicks
  • Do not kiss or cuddle chicks, they may have bacteria that can make you sick!
  • Handle chicks very gently, their bones are fragile!
How to handle your chicks safely for their own good, and yours too!

Probiotics and Electrolytes in their Drinking Water

I use probiotics and electrolytes in their drinking water to get them off to a healthy start and provide the extra nutrients they need. When they first arrive, give your chicks plain water at room temperature and make sure they each get a good drink by dipping the tip of their beak in the water. After a day with plain water or water with only probiotics, add electrolytes for extra nutrition.

Poultry feed isn’t always fresh, and it loses nutritional value once the grains are ground into mash or crumbles. Because of this, chick starter feed may not have as many nutrients as chicks need for their healthy development.

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Using electrolytes helps to replace those nutrients and give them a better start in life. Probiotics help to prevent pasty butt and other digestive issues that can cause the improper digestion of their food. So I like to add these ingredients to their water for 2 to 6 days after hatch or delivery. (Follow manufacturer instructions for mixing these supplements.)

Here’s a video showing how I mix a half-gallon of fortified drinking water for my chicks…

Teaching Them to Drink

It might seem as though chicks would figure out how to drink on their own and usually, they do. However, they may not find water and begin drinking on their own.

The best practice is to remove each chick from the shipping box and dip the tip of their beak into the water. Shipping can be very stressful on chicks. Watch them to make sure they are eating, drinking, and pooping!

When you incubate and hatch chicks at home they usually find the food and water on their own. But it is still a good idea to dip their beak into the water after they start moving around.

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Teaching new chicks to drink as I remove them from the shipping box.

Feeding Healthy Chicks

Provide your new chicks with the proper nutrition so their little bodies grow up healthy and strong. For the best nutritional content, purchase feed that is fresh (no more than a month or two old…look for a date on the package). Watch out for rancid or moldy feed because it can sicken or kill chickens.

If chicks don’t start pecking at their feed on their own, sprinkle it with some very finely chopped kale, lettuce, or dandelion greens. The contrast of those tiny bits of green on the crumbles should attract their attention and encourage pecking.

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Types of Feed

There are two different types of feed commonly available for chicks…chick starter feed and meat producer feed. Both of these are comprised of fine crumbles that are easy for chicks to eat.

Here is the difference between the two…

Chick Starter Feed

This special feed is formulated with 18 to 20% protein to help fuel quick growth. Chick starter feed is designed to fulfill all of a young chicken’s nutritional needs from hatch until point of lay. Do not switch young chickens to layer feed until they are ready to start egg production. The added calcium may cause health issues.

Meat Producer Feed

Formulated with a 20 to 22% protein content, meat producer feed fuels the accelerated growth of Cornish x Rock chicks for their entire lives. These hybrids are raised for about 8 weeks as meat production chickens and need that extra protein. Meat producer feed is more expensive due to the higher protein content.

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The Nitty Gritty of Raising Healthy Chicks

Chicks need a source of grit to help digest their feed properly. Provide special chick grit made of finely ground stones. I like to use chick grit with added probiotics from week 1 until they are able to go outside and find grit in the pasture. Without grit they are not able to get the full nutritional benefit of their feed. Paying a little for the grit with probiotics may help reduce their feed bill in the long run.

Giving chick grit with probiotics.

I hope you enjoy watching these videos!

Read Some of My In-depth Articles on Caring for Chicks Here:

Setting Up Your Brooder Box for Day Old Chicks, Ducklings, and Turkey Poults

How to Care for Day Old Chicks

My Redneck Brooder Box –Using seedling heat mats to warm chicks kept in the house.

How to Care for a Sick Chick – Some of the common problems faced by day old chicks and how to care for them.

You may also be interested in reading the article 10 Best Broody Hen Breeds for a Self Reliant Chicken Flock on my website The New Homesteader’s Almanac.

Do you have questions about raising healthy chicks? Leave a comment!

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Raising Healthy Chicks on My Homestead!

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