Natural Chicken Keeping: How to Raise Chicks

Natural Chicken Keeping: How to Raise Chicks

New to Chicks? We can help!

First, allow me to direct your attention to the “Article Index” tab near the top of your screen. This is where you can find all sorts of answers to the most common chicken questions as your chicks grow. (There are some dead links in there, but I’m working to get them weeded out.)

So – now let’s talk CHICKS!

What you need for the first 6 – 8 weeks:

  • BROODER
  • HEAT SOURCE
  • BEDDING
  • FEEDER
  • WATERER
  • CHICK FEED

BROODER:

The brooder is where your chicks will live until they are big enough to move to an outdoor coop. I like to use plastic tubs for my chicks, but if you Google images for “chick brooder,” you will see all sorts of ideas that range from simple to fancy.

If you’re looking for a quick DIY brooder that is lightweight, easy to make, easy to wash, provides a safe environment for your new babies AND can be used to transport adult chickens in the future, I will show you what I use. This is a Sterilite, 200 Qt./189 L Stacker Box that I got at Walmart for about $22. USD.

I cut sections out of the plastic top and used zip ties (cable ties) to attach hardware cloth. You can also use cage wire. Both are available at your local farm store or on Amazon.com. The nice thing about this design is that you can place a heat lamp directly on top of the wire. Do NOT place a heat lamp on the plastic parts as it will melt the plastic and your brooder will end up looking like Jabba the Hutt, or worse – start a fire.


Since I hatch batches of chicks at home, I cut a piece of peg board to use as a divider so I can house chicks of different ages in the same brooder. Simply drill some holes in the sides of the brooder and use zip ties to secure the divider in place. Be sure to leave about 2″ of space from the top of the brooder if you use a divider like this because… your heat lamp can be placed over the divider and provide heat for BOTH sides at once. Cool, huh? (Or warm. Whatever.) And again, should you need to transport adult birds someday, the divider will be very useful. You can even use more than one divider to create a box to carry 3 – 4 adult birds. (We take birds to poultry shows in these.)

HEAT SOURCE:

Most farm stores sell heat lamps. They are good, but I prefer Ceramic Heat Lamps that emit heat but not light. There are also a number of good chick warming plates that chicks can get under – much like a mother hen – to stay warm. Chicks will need a source of heat for the first 6 weeks or so. Just be sure that the heat source you choose is safe and not a fire hazard. If temperatures are still cold at night, plan on keeping your brooder in your house or in a heated shed. A heat lamp will not be enough if ambient temperatures are lower than about 55 degrees.

BEDDING:

The most commonly used bedding for chicks is a 1″ layer of Pine Shavings. It’s absorbent, smells fresh and eventually makes for good compost that can be used in your garden. Many folks also have good luck using pelleted bedding. Paper towels can be used, but tend to become messy very quickly. 

Please AVOID using cedar chips/shavings as the strong aroma can irritate the lungs of poultry. Sand is also not recommended for a brooder as it is very heavy and difficult to clean.

FEEDER:

A good chick feeder will be designed in such a way as to keep the feed clean and help prevent waste. Chicks can be messy little things as they excitedly scratch and dig through their feed in a way that is purely instinctual. Once your chicks are old enough to move into a coop outside, this scratching and pecking will help them find bugs and grubs in the dirt. In the brooder this scratching and digging can empty an open feed bowl in a matter of minutes. Your local farm store will likely carry some good choices, or you can always order one on Amazon.com, Chewy.com or other online stores.


WATERERS:

Safety is also important with waterers. While it might seem easier just to put a bowl of water in the brooder, remember that unlike ducklings, young chicks can easily drown in an open bowl. Most chick waterers on the market are gravity-fed setups and work quite well, though you will have to clean the trough part out daily. Again, chicks love to scratch about in the brooder and will kick plenty of bedding into their water.
I prefer to use a small animal water bottle. These bottles keep the water clean no matter how busy your chicks get moving their bedding about. I simply use a spade drill bit to make the right size hole in the side of my brooder for the water bottle spout and drill 2 smaller holes above for a zip tie to hold the bottle in place. (I’m ALL about zip ties! LOL) Don’t mind all the extra zip ties in the picture. I have some extras to hold the bottle when I move it to a higher hole as the chicks grow.

CHICK FEED:
And of course you will need feed for your new little friends. Unless you are raising meat birds in an outdoor coop with a dirt floor, I highly recommend staying away from medicated chick feed. To learn more about why medicated feed may not be the best thing for your chicks, please see our article, 

Natural from the Start – Medicated Chick Feed?

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:

Lastly, think about what you need to do to keep your new chicks safe. If you have a dog, cat or young children, make sure your brooder can’t be easily opened and that it is in a place where it can’t be tipped over. Many people have lost chicks to a rambunctious terrier, feline on the prowl or curious toddler.

Remember that chicks are sensitive to aerosol sprays, and that Teflon-coated cookware can create fumes deadly to birds. 

While it is OK to give your chicks scrambled eggs, little pieces of bread or finely-diced veggies, remember that chocolate and avocados can be toxic to them.

And if you don’t already have your outdoor coop set up, you have about 6 weeks to get that done from the time you bring home day-old chicks! Chicks grow fast and so do their poops. There is a limit to how long you will want them in your house.
Check out our article, How Much Coop and Run Space Do I Need? for information on setting up your coop.

And let us be the first to welcome you to your new addiction!
Happy Chickening!

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