Last updated on January 24th, 2023 at 01:22 pm
Spring is the time of year when you are greeted by the Cheep! Cheep! of those fuzzy irresistible baby chicks at the farm store. You can’t help but go look in those noisy bins.
10 years ago, just after we moved to our farm I couldn’t resist and ended up leaving our local store with an assortment of these chicks. My husband and I knew nothing about raising baby chicks and had no idea what they would require. That spring we ended up with chicks living in a basement bathtub (they made it look so easy at the store in those galvanized tubs).
That first year we learned a lot about raising baby chicks, kind of on the fly and luckily everything turned out ok. Since that first adventure, we have raised many different varieties of chickens and chicks. I would not recommend the impulse buy approach if you can help it, start by learning what it takes to raise baby chicks right.
What Baby Chicks Should You Buy
When you are deciding on what baby chicks you should add to our homestead, you will probably see a few odd words that relate to buying chickens. If you are completely new to the world of chicken keeping you may not know what they mean (I didn’t and had to google them).
These Chicken Terms Can Include:
- Broilers – A meat chicken processed at the age of 7-12 weeks
- Cockerel – A male chicken less than a year old
- Pullet – A female chicken less than a year old
- Layers – Mature female chickens that are kept for egg production. Also known as laying hens.
- Straight Run – A term used to describe chicks for sale where the gender is unknown.
Why are You Raising Baby Chicks?
The first thing you need to decide is what purpose your chickens will have on your homestead. Are you buying baby chicks to produce your own meat or are you buying chicks that will one day provide you with eggs? There are some laying hen varieties that are dual-purpose for both meat and eggs, but meat-specific breeds usually mature quickly and don’t lay eggs. Knowing ahead of time what your plan is for your baby chicks can help you determine what breeds to start looking at.
What Breed is Best for Your Homestead?
There are many different chicken breeds available today and each has its very own characteristics. When you are choosing what breed is right for your homestead there are a few things that you should take into consideration.
- What Breed is Best for Your Purpose?
Knowing your chicken’s purpose on the homestead will help you determine which breeds to look at. There are meat-specific breeds, high egg-production breeds, and dual-purpose breeds to consider.
If you are looking to add layers to your homestead you will want to consider the number of eggs each breed lays per year. If meat production is what you are interested in then you will want to look at breeds that have a higher growth rate. Dual purpose means you will want a breed that lays eggs and can produce a good amount of meat (dual-purpose chickens may not lay as many eggs and have a slower growth rate).
- What Size Chicken Breed?
There are a lot of chicken breeds out there and they come in all different shapes and sizes. When you are deciding what breed of baby chick to raise, you may want to consider the size and amount of space they will need as adults. For example, a bantam will definitely not require the same coop space as a jersey giant.
Note: Determining the size and space requirement will also help you figure out how many chicks to buy.
- What Chicken Breeds Do Well in Your Climate?
Most chicken breeds will do well in any climate, but there are some that may be better suited for cold or hot climates. Michigan winters can get cold so we look for breeds that are cold-hardy and less likely to get frostbite.
- What Breed’s Temperament is Right for You?
A chicken’s temperament doesn’t affect its growth rate or egg production, but it can help you decide if a specific breed is right for your homestead. A more docile breed will more likely be easier to handle, than a more flighty breed. For example, you may want chickens that are more docile like the Buff Orpington if you have kids.
Where to Buy Your Baby Chicks?
1. Large Farm Stores
As mentioned earlier you can always pick from the assortment at your large farm supply stores during chick days. You can usually find the more common breeds there but the chicks are usually sold as straight-run. If they don’t have the breed or gender you are looking for in the store you can order your chicks and have them shipped there. We have a Tractor Supply near us, that has chick days.
2. Local Feed Mills
Local Feed Mills don’t usually have chicks on site like the large farm stores, but they can order them for you. Our local mill works with a large hatchery in our state so that the chicks are shipped to the mill rather than the post office. This is also a great way to support a local business in the community.
It is now common to order chicks online from hatcheries from all over and have them delivered to your local post office. This has always worked for us, but we order a few extras in case there are casualties during delivery.
Hatcheries We Have Used:
Another online option is to look at craigslist or Facebook marketplace. If you decide to use these I would recommend searching for chicks in your area and doing a local pickup (Do not pay for chicks you have not seen in person).
4. Local Farms
Sometimes local farmers will have a broody hen that hatches eggs leaving them with extra chicks running around. These chicks are often a “barnyard mix”, so if you aren’t looking for a specific breed then this is always a good local option.
Supplies for Raising Baby Chicks
There is more to raising baby chicks than bringing them home and watching them grow. They will require a few extra supplies to keep them comfortable and thriving when they arrive at your home.
Must-Have Supplies for Raising Baby Chicks:
The main thing that you will need for raising baby chicks is a brooder. This is a temperature-controlled container that your baby chicks will live in for the first few weeks of their life. A brooder can be made from totes, boxes, kiddie pools, or other creative repurposed material.
You will need bedding to place on the bottom of your brooder, common materials include straw, wood shavings (not cedar they are toxic), and shredded newspaper. We use fine wood shavings because they are easier to clean up and absorb better than straw.
Self-feeding chick feeders come in all sizes at the local farm store, or you can build your own from different materials.
- Water Dish
I do recommend a chick waterer from the, this will make sure your chicks have water at all times and is closed off so there are no accidental drownings.
- Heat Source
The most common form of heating the brooder is a heat lamp, especially if you have a large number of chicks. Another option for heating your brooder is a heating plate; this is a plate with legs that the chicks go under.
Setting Up Your Brooder
Once you have all of your supplies for raising your baby chicks, setting up the brooder shouldn’t take much time. You will want to lay about an inch or so of bedding in the bottom of your brooder then clear a spot for your feed dish and water.
Fill your feeder and waterer and place them in the spots you have cleared for them. Raising the feeder and waterer up with a block of wood will also help prevent shavings from getting in the tray.
The last thing you are going to do is add your heat source to your brooder. You can set up your heating plate or secure your heat lamp but it may have to be adjusted later when you add your baby chicks to the brooder.
Heating Your Brooder
Chicks can’t regulate their own body heat for the first little while that you have them. When they are hatched naturally a hen is there as a constant heat source. The heat source that you have provided for your brooder is going to be the hen substitute.
Your heat source should be placed on the opposite side of the brooder from the water and hanging low enough to heat the floor level of your brooder to 95 degrees. After the first week, you can raise your heat source to decrease the temperature by 5 degrees each week.
You will continue to move the heat lamp until your chicks have feathered or until the brooder temperature equals the outside temperature. Decreasing the heat a little at a time will help your chicks get used to temperatures outside the brooder.
Regulating the heat in your brooder doesn’t have to be done exactly, the easiest way to tell if it needs adjusting is by watching your chicks’ actions. If your chicks clumped together under the heat source and not moving then your brooder is probably too cold. If your chicks are trying to avoid the heat source it may be too warm.
If the temperature in your brooder is right for your chicks they will be moving around freely eating, drinking, and napping stress-free.
What to Feed Baby Chicks
Chicks will need to eat chick starter for the first 8 weeks, you can choose to feed them medicated or non-medicated chick starter.
Medicated chick starter is an option that has Amprolium added to it, this is a medication that prevents intestinal coccidiosis in chicks. This medicated feed may prevent the parasite in chicks but it also prevents the ability to build a natural immunity to it as well.
Non- Medicated starter provides the essentials for your chicks to grow without the addition of medication. We have chosen to feed our chicks non-medicated starter over the years and have had no problems.
When Can Baby Chicks Leave the Brooder
As the chicks grow you will see their cute baby fuzz begin to change in feathers. At about 6 weeks they will begin to appear and your chicks usually start escaping from the brooder. This is the point when they are ready for a larger pen and can go outside. If your chicks are going to be an addition to the existing flock, now would be the time to start the introduction process.
You will want to start introducing your chicks to their new surroundings slowly to make it less stressful for everyone. To introduce your new chicks to older hens you can use a cage or barrier of some sort to prevent too much physical behavior. Remember once your chicks are in the coop full time a new pecking order will need to be established.
Are You Ready to Raise Baby Chicks?
Before you go out and choose chicks from the farm store or online take into consideration what chicks would be right for your homestead. Gather all of the necessary supplies and get your brooder set up before bringing them home. Being prepared with the right information is much easier than impulse buying and learning as you go.