How to raise chicks (for beginners)

You've decided to raise chickens and like lots of chicken keepers you want to start with chicks instead of already grown hens and roosters. It's more fun after all! Learning how to raise chicks comes with a little bit of a learning curve though. Baby chicks need special food, a waterer they won't drown in, a heat source and a special home till they are big enough to move out to the chicken coop. Don't's actually easier than it sounds.

Raising chicks for beginners

There are many reasons why you might decide to raise chicks. Many people want to raise hens for eggs or want their children to learn where food comes from. Also kids can learn a lot from the responsibility of caring for chickens without having a pet inside the house. 

Starting with chicks is a cute way to do this, though they usually do end up in the house till they get bigger.

How to raise chicks

Raising chicks is fairly simple. They need a home, food, water, bedding (whose primary purpose is to absorb poop) and a heat source. They'll stay in this for about 8 weeks at which point they can move in with the older chickens in the chicken coop. Here is what you'll need to get ready for chicks....

Chicks live in something called a brooder. It can be as simple as a box or as complex as a custom made pen. Many people use dog cages or plastic bins, it just needs to be big enough for the chicks, their food and water and a heat source. Setting up a brooder isn't difficult. I'll give you the quick notes on it and you can head up to that link right above if you need more info.

Setting up a chick brooder

First you need a container. A big box will do or you can use a plastic Tupperware type container, small dog crates, or guinea pig cages. Anything the chicks can't get out of. Large dog crates might need to be lined with cardboard at first until the chicks are too big to fit through the bars. See picture below.


You have many different choices in brooder heat sources. Cheapest to buy is a heat lamp. Safest is a Brinsea Ecoglow, but it is a little more expensive than a heat lamp. However, if you are planning on brooding chicks several times or every year....then the Ecoglow will actually save you money in the long run as it costs a lot less per day to run then a heat lamp

If you decide to use a heat lamp, you'll want to get a red heat bulb to discourage pecking. You'll also want to secure it. Never EVER trust just the clamp on a heat lamp!!!! We zip tie them to a hook in the wall. Safety first! 

A heat lamp touching a cardboard box or falling into bedding can catch fire! When using a heat bulb, we prefer the ceramic heat bulbs. Whatever you choose you'll want it to be 95°F at bedding level for the first week. 

We buy pine shavings by the bag. Make sure it's pine, NOT cedar. Do not use flat newspaper in the brooder as the chick's feet will not be able to grip on it and it can cause their legs to splay out underneath them. This can cause spraddle leg making it impossible for them to walk. 

We prefer the pine shavings than the other types of bedding. They run about $5 a bag and 1 bag will last you over a month for an average sized chick brooder.

Chicks in a  brooder on pine bedding

What do baby chicks eat? 

You'll want to buy tip proof containers that are not very deep. At least for the first few days. Many people put marbles in the water container so if the chick falls in, it won't actually fall in the water. I bought the special chick sized ones for the first few weeks. 

I also buy dollar store cat food bowls that work just fine for chicks. Over the years we've used everything from jar lids to microwave containers though. As long as their clean and shallow they should do the job.

You'll need to get chick starter for their feed. They will eat that exclusively for the first 8 weeks. They shouldn't have layer feed (what the adults eat) yet because the extra calcium content is bad for their kidneys! There are several different brands and formulations of chick feed to choose from. The most important thing to look at is whether the chick starter is medicated or non medicated. 

Medicated feed contains an antibiotic (Amprolium) to help prevent coccidiosis. This is a pretty serious disease that is often fatal in chicks. The easiest way to prevent coccidiosis in chicks is to use medicated feed. However, if you choose not to buy medicated feed and your chicks do contract this disease, coccidiosis can be treated. The sooner you catch it the more successful the treatment is.

You'll want to provide as much feed and clean water as the chicks want, and you will probably have to change the water a lot! Chicks have the amazing talent of pooping into their water quite often. I would like to say they will grow out of that but unfortunately this is a lifetime thing with chickens. Not that they intend to poop in the water, but they always manage to.

Chick feed is nutritionally complete, but if you want to occasionally give them treats, you can. Their diet should be no more than 10% treats though! Here's a list of treats that are good for baby chicks.

How long do chicks need a heat lamp?

You are going to start out with your brooder heat at 95°F degrees at bedding level for the first week. You'll want to check this using a thermometer by placing it on the bedding. If you've learned to hatch chicks you'll notice this is about 5° below incubator temperature. You're going to follow this pattern of reducing heat by 5° for the next 8 weeks.

Chick temperature chart

Chick temperature chart

When chicks hatch they only have a thin layer of down covering their bodies. This is not enough to keep them warm so normally they would hide under their mama hen for warmth. In a brooder we replicate the warmth with a heat source. 

As a chicks feathers grow in they are more protected from the cold and will need less heat. To lower the temperature you'll need to lift the heat source up just a little bit each week. 

Use a thermometer to check, and make sure the chicks have enough room to get away from the heat if they get too warm. If you don't have a thermometer (and I really recommend you get one especially if this is your first time raising chicks) you can judge brooder heat by the chicks behavior. The chicks should be moving about the brooder freely. 

If you find them huddled together under the heat lamp, then it is too far away and they are cold. If you find the chicks spending most of their time at the edges of the brooder then they are too warm. Adjust the height of the heat source so they are comfortable.

Caring for chicks

As the weeks tick by you'll obviously need to clean the chicks waterers and feeders often and change their bedding regularly. Other than that just enjoy watching your new chicks grow. Try to handle them daily, as this will help them to grow more friendly towards you. This is especially important when trying to raise a friendly rooster.

While interacting with and observing your chicks, keep an eye out for illnesses. There are 6 main illnesses that chicks get and they all have obvious symptoms. Spend time each day observing their general health and you should be able to tell if they're having a problem. 

Since chicks are so small and fragile you'll want to treat illnesses the second you catch them! Frequent observation is the best way to do this.

I know many chicks look alike but no matter what you do, never use zip ties to identify chicks. It can turn out badly. There are other flexible options for leg bands that you can purchase for chicks from amazon or a farm supply store. 

Whether you decide to hatch or buy your chicks, I know you will love having them! In fact, you'll probably end up like the rest of us and want to raise chicks every year!


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  1. I just wanted to say THANK YOU! With all of your time and knowledge you put into your site, I was able to convince my husband I was ready and up for being a hen mama. My kids are going to be thrilled this spring. Praying our chickens are happy, healthy and long living :) Now off to build our coop to keep the girls happy!

    1. Oh yeay! Congrats on your new flock...that is so exciting!