How to look after Baby Chicks – Beginner’s Guide

Almost three years ago now we brought home our very first batch of baby chicks.  I had to learn fast on how to care for these little guys…err….I mean, girls.  My first question before we got them was, “what do I need for baby chicks?”  If you want to know how to take care of a baby chick at home, today’s post is a complete guide on how to do that.

raise baby chicks

They were the most adorable little fluff balls I’ve ever seen.  And it was definitely a highlight of our first year on the homestead.  Not to mention a great project to integrate into our homeschooling.

Basically, anytime I can use homeschooling as an excuse to take on a homestead project, I will.

“I think we need baby chicks….you know, for homeschooling.”

“I think we need some baby lambs….for homeschooling.”

“I think we need to raise our own pig…you know, all in the name of home education.”

Yep, we really like to educate over here. 🙂  However, when we brought home that first batch of baby chicks I was pretty clueless about how to take care of baby chicks.  But – the good news is that I am a researcher, and a planner.  I rarely walk into something without spending hours upon hours reading about it, asking friends who have been there done that, and watching youtube videos.  When we added a puppy to our family, for example, I spent months and months reading absolutely everything I could about dogs.

Of course, there really is nothing like hands on experience.  You can spend all that time reading and researching and still be met with a situation where you have no idea what to do when it comes to animals.

Thankfully our first experience of raising baby chicks was pretty uneventful.  We have now raised 5 batches of baby chicks – both laying hens and chickens we’ve raised for meat.

Though every situation will vary, and we are by no means experts, I will share with you what we learned over the years of how to raise baby chicks in a healthy environment.


Ordering and picking a breed

We first ordered our chickens from a local feed store.  The breed we chose the first time was the red sexlink.  Really the only reasoning for our choice was that we had close friends who has had a lot of success with that breed.  But you will want to pick a breed that thrives well in your climate.  If you live in a colder climate (like us) you will want to pick a breed that is less prone to frostbite.  Chickens with smaller combs tend to have less chance of frostbite.

Our last batch of chicks we raised were Ameraucanas.  These chicken lay blue eggs which is kind of fun. 🙂  Check out these various egg breeds that are the best at egg production.

You also need to decide how old you want your laying hens to be.  You have a few options.  You can get:

  • Day-old chicks –  chicks that are fresh from the egg.
  • Started Chicks – Chicks that are around 5-8 weeks old.
  • Ready-to-lay Chickens – Chickens that are 18-20 weeks old and will start laying any time.
  • Mature Chickens – Chickens older than a year old that someone might be getting rid of.

Day-old chicks are going to be your cheapest option, but if you don’t want to deal with baby chicks an older option might be better for you.  Mature chickens wouldn’t be my first choice as they won’t lay as long because chickens slow down on egg production the older they get.

You also need to decide if you want laying hens or broilers.  We wanted chickens for the eggs, so we bought layers.  Down the road I would like to attempt to raise broilers, but that is another blog for another day!


If you’re looking to buy baby chicks, there are a few different options available to you. Here are some common places where you can purchase baby chicks:

Local Farm Supply Stores: Many farm supply stores, such as Tractor Supply Co. and Rural King, offer baby chicks for sale during the spring and early summer. They typically have a variety of breeds to choose from and provide the necessary supplies and information for raising chicks.

Hatcheries: Hatcheries specialize in breeding and selling baby chicks. They have a wide selection of breeds available and can often ship chicks to your location. Some popular hatcheries in the United States include Murray McMurray Hatchery, Cackle Hatchery, and Meyer Hatchery.

Local Farmers or Breeders: You can also try reaching out to local farmers or breeders in your area who may have baby chicks available for sale. This option allows you to support local businesses and potentially find unique or rare breeds that are not commonly available in larger hatcheries.

Online Retailers: Several online retailers, such as My Pet Chicken and Stromberg’s Chickens, offer the convenience of ordering baby chicks online and having them delivered to your doorstep. However, keep in mind that shipping live animals can be stressful for the chicks, so it’s important to choose a reputable retailer with proper packaging and shipping practices.

Preparing for their arrival

You will need a brooder box fo their first few weeks of life, which is a safe place for them to grow while they are really small and fragile.  I have heard people using a variety of things – plastic tote containers, cardboard boxes, kiddie pools, even bathtubs. 

We built one.  This is where we made some mistakes.  We wanted to see into the box to watch the little chicks.  We thought we were really smart by building a lip on the bottom of the box to keep the woodchips in.  Well, we completely underestimated how messy those birds are!

Do yourself a favor and build your brooder box completely closed in.  You will thank yourself when you don’t have to clean up woodchips that are flying out of the box 7657 times a day.

Mesh sides =mess. 🙂  But hey, you can’t homestead without making a bunch of mistakes as you learn!  Our first batch we brooded inside the house so the mesh sides were a real problem.  However, we now brood them out in the barn so the mesh sides are no longer an issue.

We didn’t completely mess up though.  My husband built a roof on it which in my opinion is the way to go.  The purpose for the roof was to keep our cat out at the time (No, kitty, the chicks are not a snack for you) but as the chicks got bigger and could fly out the roof would keep them in.

I have heard round brooder boxes are a good option to avoid chicks suffocating by piling on top of eachother.  We did not have a problem with chicks piling on each other because we  monitored their heating situation closely, and I think that is really only a problem if you have a very large amount of chicks.  The most we’ve ever had at one time is 21.

That first year we kept the brooder box in our mudroom for close to 4 weeks.  A lot of people brood them inside the house, but probably just as many people brood them out in a barn.  Decide what works for you.  As they get bigger they get messier and need to be cleaned quite often as they start to smell faster.

What do I need for baby chicks? Items you need for the brooder box

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You will want to have a few items ready in your brooder box for their arrival:

We attached our heat lamp, which is a red light, to the inside of our box.  I am serious about safety when it comes to fire hazards.  Don’t rely on the heat lamp clamp to hold it into place.  We had it chained to the side, as well as some bendable wire to attach it. 

Basically, we didn’t rely on one system.  That way, if one system failed, you had something else holding it up as well.  Too many fires have been started in barns and houses because of heat lamps.  Don’t take any chances.

We attached a thermometer at chick level by the heat lamp.  This helped us monitor and regulate the heat.

We used wood shavings for the bottom of the box.  We used pine as there is some discussion out there as to whether cedar shavings are safe for chickens or not. 

There seems to be some debate out there that cedar can cause respiratory illnesses in chickens.  Some people use cedar still, but it seems that for really small chicks it is best to avoid cedar.

For baby chicks you will want a smaller sized waterer and feeder than what you will use for when your chickens grow.  You can buy smaller ones at the feed store. 

Because I knew we were using them for such a short time, I decided to make my own.  Because – frugal. 🙂  I found THIS waterer and feeder on Pinterest, and made my own with yogurt containers and peanut butter containers. 

You will want to make sure to either buy or make a smaller waterer because baby chicks can drown in waterers that are too big for them.

raising baby chicks

How warm do baby chicks need to be?

When we brought our chicks home, they were only one day old.  I wasn’t an expert on how to look after baby chicks at that point, but I was well aware That they were very fragile still.  Having enough heat for them was very important. 

You will want to start the temperature at 95 degrees.  Each week you will take the temperature down by 5 degrees, usually by raising your heat lamp.  Make sure the whole brooder box is NOT at that temperature. 

Your chicks need to be able to get away from the heat lamp if they are too hot.

For us, the biggest way to make sure we had the temperature right for the chicks, aside from the thermometer, was watching how they acted. 

They should be running around freely in the box.  If they are all huddled together tightly under the lamp then they are too cold.  If they are staying as far away as possible from the lamp, they are too hot.

Food and Water

The first food they will need is “chick starter”.  We just asked the employees at the feed store to recommend to us what to get.  If in doubt, just ask at the feed store.   The baby chicks will eat this feed until about 6 weeks when you need to feed them grower feed instead. 

Chickens, big and small, should have access to food and water at all times when they are awake.  Make sure to clean their water out multiple times a day.  As they grew I would put the waterer and feeder on wood blocks to raise it from the ground.  It helped keep it a little (and I do mean just a little) cleaner.

What to do with a sick baby chick

Baby chicks can get what is called “pasty butt.”  (I keep thinking that name has to be a slang, and there is a more proper name for it, but it would not seem so. ) Pasty butt can kill your baby chick, but is easily treated if caught early enough. 

Basically, pasty butt is when their “vent” gets clogged with hardened chick poop.  This blocks them from being able to eliminate waste.

When it comes to how to look after baby chicks, watching for pasty butt is one of the most crucial things to watch out for.  However, I will say that in all our batches of chicks we’ve never had an issue.

raising baby chicks

When you bring your baby chicks home, gently pick them up between your thumb and fingers and tip them over to see if their vent is clogged.  If you see a matted lump on the backside, you need to run their backside under lukewarm water.

You may have to gently wipe the hardened poop off with a wet paper towel as well. They will most likely chirp, but remember, you are doing this for it’s own good.  Be gentle and don’t pull on the feathers.

Once you’ve cleaned the area, you will want to dry the feathers with a hair dryer on low setting so as not to burn the chick.  My chicks seemed to love when I blow-dried them – they would fall asleep in my hand! 

You don’t want to put the chick back into the brooder box with skin showing because the other chicks will peck at it if they can see skin peering through wet feathers.  Make sure your chick is completely dry.

For the first couple weeks you will want to check for pasty butt every day.  You can give them a little bit of apple cider vinegar in their water to help keep their digestive systems running well which will help prevent health issues like pasty butt.  

You don’t need much, just a few drops in their water everyday will go long a way to helping you keep healthy chicks.

For more in-depth information regarding pasty butt, check out this article over at Raising Happy Chickens.

Young Children and Baby chicks

When it comes to young children and baby chicks, there’s a few things you’ll want to remember.  While it’s wonderful to involve children in the care and interaction with these adorable creatures, there are a few important guidelines to follow.

First and foremost, never leave young children unsupervised with baby chicks, as accidents can happen in an instant. Teach children to handle the chicks gently and avoid squeezing or dropping them.

Additionally, ensure that the chicks’ brooder or coop is securely closed to prevent curious children from accidentally letting them out or accessing areas that may pose hazards. 

When to move chicks outside

Chicks need supplemental heating until they are around 6 weeks old, or are fully feathered out.  We moved our chicks to the coop at 4 weeks old but set up the heating lamp in the coop for two more weeks after that. 

I remember the first night we had them in there I was like a new mother, checking on them multiple times and being so worried about them!  But they were fine.

The best part is when your chickens finally start laying eggs (around 6 months or so depending on the breed). Sometimes we get a huge egg like this and I just think, poor chicken.  Ouch!

how to look after baby chicks


Chickens are one of the easiest animals to raise on the homestead.  They are the perfect animal to start out with, and they really don’t require too much time. 

When you bring your baby chicks home you may feel a little nervous as they are so small, but they are actually quite easy to care for.  Out of our 5 batches of chickens, for a total of 68 chickens we’ve only ever lost one baby chick during the chick stage. So, if we can do it, you can do it!

While your first batch is always the most nerve-wracking, if you continue to raise baby chicks it won’t feel nearly as scary with each new batch you raise.  And it’s such an enjoyable experience, especially when those farm fresh eggs start showing up.


Once your adorable baby chicks have grown into adult chickens, it’s important to provide them with proper care to ensure their well-being and maximize the benefits they bring to your backyard or homestead.

One crucial aspect of caring for adult chickens is providing them with comfortable and functional nest boxes. These boxes serve as cozy spots for hens to lay their eggs. Make sure the nest boxes are clean, well-bedded with straw or shavings, and easily accessible for the hens.

Regularly collect the eggs to maintain cleanliness and discourage brooding. Another essential consideration is their diet. Opting for organic feed is a great choice to provide your chickens with high-quality nutrition while minimizing exposure to pesticides and synthetic additives.

Additionally, supplementing their diet with oyster shells ensures a good source of calcium, which is vital for eggshell production and will give you healthy chickens.

These simple steps will contribute to the overall health and productivity of your feathered friends.

 In this ultimate guide, we’ve covered everything you need to know to ensure the well-being and happiness of your fluffy little companions. From setting up a cozy brooder to providing a balanced diet, warmth, and socialization, you’re equipped with the knowledge to be a caring and responsible chicken parent.

Remember, patience and love are key as you watch these tiny creatures grow into beautiful and productive adult chickens. Cherish every moment, learn from each experience, and enjoy the incredible bond that develops between you and your feathered friends.

So, go ahead, embrace the joy of raising baby chicks, and create memories that will last a lifetime!

For more articles about raising chickens, check out the ones below:

And if you are looking for a good book to have on hand about raising chickens, consider The Beginner’s Guide to Raising Happy Chickens, written by expert chicken keeper, Anne Kou. 

Happy chickening! 🙂


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