This complete guide to baby chicks will help you decide if you’re ready to raise some of your own! As someone speaking from experience, we inherited chickens when we bought our fixer-upper farmhouse four years ago. Although I grew up on a grain farm with chickens, I found myself completely out of practice when it came to caring for them. I had to re-learn a lot along the way, and want to share my knowledge with you!
The good news is that chickens really don’t take a lot of time out of your day to care for. Sure, if you go on vacation, you’ll need someone to feed them and ‘put them to bed’, as we call it. However, taking care of chickens is nothing like beekeeping, which I will post about in the future on this blog! With chickens, all you really have to do is feed them, make sure they have clean water, gather their eggs, and make sure their coop is kept clean. But before you dive into baby chick ownership, this complete guide to baby chicks will tell you what you need to know before you take the plunge.
Where to Buy Baby Chicks
You can buy baby chicks online and the post office will call you when they’re ready to pick up. True story! There are some pros to ordering baby chicks online. For one, when you buy chicks online, you get the advantage of choosing from a very wide assortment of breeds. That’s great if you want pretty blue and green eggs. You can get those if you purchase Easter Egger chickens. Yes, that is a real chicken breed! When you purchase chicks online, you can also pick from vaccinated or unvaccinated chicks. However, baby chicks purchased online tend to be a bit pricier. Delivery can also be delayed unless you’re buying all of your chicks as just one breed.
Murray McMurray is a great choice if you decide to buy your chicks online. They also have a huge assortment of feeders, brooders, and other chicken-keeping accessories. That’s great if you like to one-stop-shop or don’t have a local farm store. If you do decide to buy chicks online, many sources will recommend you buy a few more than planned in case one dies en route.
Your Local Farm Store
If you live in an area with a farm store, such as Tractor Supply, the chances are good that you’ll be able to buy your chicks in a store setting. This is my personal preference since stores still sell several breeds and the staff tends to be very knowledgeable. Another pro is that farm stores are likely to have chicks at different age stages that they want to sell at a discount. Spring is definitely a time when farm stores receive a continuous supply of chicks so they need to sell “old inventory” too. For example, I bought my chicks at a week old for just $1 each. Teeny baby chicks were $4 a chick.
Another reason to purchase at a local farm store is to see the chicks up close. They’re just fun to watch and you can pick up on the chicks’ personalities. You can also buy the heavier items you’ll need to keep chickens at a farm store. You’ll need chick crumbles, a heat lamp, and pine shavings, but you won’t have to pay extra money for shipping, which you sometimes have to do when ordering online. A con of farm stores is most won’t be able to tell you if the chicks were vaccinated or not.
A Local Hatchery
If you’re lucky enough to have a hatchery in your area. this is another route to take. You’re also likely to have knowledgeable people to talk to, and they’ll certainly know if the chicks were vaccinated.
Where Your Baby Chicks Will Live
Baby chicks need to stay warm; at least 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, although they’ll need a coop to live in eventually, it’s not a good option for baby chicks. They like to huddle around a heat source. We found that empty storage totes worked well for us. We lined one with pine shavings and hung a white light over it in our youngest daughter’s closet. It may sound super strange but it worked perfectly!
Other options that may work for your situation could be a garage, breezeway, or basement as long as it isn’t cold and drafty. Of course, if you live in a warm climate, you may not need to worry about heat, and you may be able to keep them in a coop. Regardless, you should start by keeping them in close quarters.
Chicks grow quickly, so you need to accommodate their needs as they start maturing. After just a week of hanging out in our daughter’s closet, our chicks’ feathers started growing in and I could tell they were getting cramped. So Matt cut off the ends of two storage totes to make their living space twice as long.
We also had to cover the converted totes with netting to keep them from flapping their way out. Can you tell there’s a bit of drama in play with baby chicks? Although chickens can’t fly like a bird, they can still jump and propel themselves higher than you may think, so plan accordingly.
Transferring Chicks to a Coop
Once chicks are 4-6 weeks old, they’ll be ready to be transferred to a coop with a few caveats.
- They should reside in the closed coop section only until they get used to being outdoors in cooler temperatures.
- If the weather is still under 60 degrees consistently, you’ll want to install a heat light in the coop. I am normally against this, but when the weather can fluctuate, they need some consistency until they’re fully feathered.
- You need to make sure the coop has been prepared. Lay down a thick layer of pine shavings to absorb the odor and wetness from their chicken waste, and make sure you have a feeder and water that can be accessed in the coop.
- Once they’re used to the coop, you can give them access to a run, which is essentially just a wired in area of their coop where they can get some fresh air and sunshine. Some people like to let their chickens “free range.” If it weren’t for our dog and open farmland all around us, we would likely let ours free range. However, with predators abouding in our area, we’ve decided to keep ours coop bound. They still get plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and veggie scraps, though!
What Do You Feed Baby Chicks?
Baby chicks will eat feed that is in small crumbles. You can find crumble in bags of various sizes online and at your local farm store. You’ll see medicated and unmedicated types. We feed our chicks unmedicated crumble as our personal preference. You can purchase a feeder online or at a farm store. However, I just put my chick feed in a collapsible water dish we bought for our dog, Archie. He doesn’t seem to mind!
Baby chicks will also need electrolytes, and probiotics are also recommended. Local farm stores and online sources have packets that you can purchase.
How to Make an Electolyte and Probiotic Chick Drink
To start, grab a clean, empty gallon milk container. Empty half of a packet of electrolytes and half a packet of probiotics into the container. Fill the container with water, put the cap on, and give it a good shake. Then dispense the water into a chick water feeder, twist the base on and flip it over to dispense the water.
Gradually start diluting your ratio of electrolytes and probiotics to water. By the time your chicks are ready to be placed in a coop, you should be able to give them just water. And by then, you can also start introducing them to grit, which helps them digest their food easier. Oyster shells can also be given to them after about 6 weeks, which will help them lay eggs in the future that are nice and strong. Once your chicks are adults, you can feed them pellets, but they’ll also eat lettuce, tomatoes, and watermelon. Those kind of extras will give you incredible eggs!
Let’s Talk About Those Eggs
Many people who want to raise baby chicks are doing it for the eggs. And that’s no big surprise! The eggs you buy at the supermarket are often laid by factory chickens that don’t get a chance to eat quality feed and are bred to just pump out eggs. The yolks tend to be paler in color and they’re certainly not as high in good stuff like Omega-3s as their farm-raised counterparts. However, eating really good eggs is expensive at a grocery store. You’ll pay two to three times as much money for a dozen eggs that are free-range or organic at a grocery store.
If you want to gather and eat pretty eggs, do some research on the breeds and the color of eggs they lay. We wanted chickens of varied breeds that were docile and great egg layers. Our Olive Eggers will lay green colored eggs but our other breeds, which are Brahma, Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red, and Blue Laced Wyandottes, will all lay eggs in various shades of brown. Regardless of the color, they’ll all be delicious, and so much healthier than regular, store-purchased eggs! Interesting fact: an unwashed egg will be good to store on a countertop for weeks! Chickens lay eggs with a protective coating that keeps them fresh. However, as soon as you wash them, you remove that coating and then you HAVE to refrigerate them.
When Will Baby Chicks Start Laying Eggs?
Chicks will not start laying eggs until they are several months old. That’s a big reason to buy them in the early spring. They need time to adapt to a coop and outside elements as they grow and mature. By the time early fall rolls around, you’ll start being able to gather eggs. I recommend that you save egg cartons from eggs you buy at the store until they start laying. That way you’ll have a good supply for egg storage. The first few eggs your chickens will lay will be small and likely not very sturdy. But once they regularly start laying, be prepared to be gathering lots of eggs regularly!
Do Chickens Smell?
No, they don’t. However, if you never refresh their bedding, they sure will!
It’s a fact that chickens eat, pee, and poop. It’s important that you make sure their living space is clean so they don’t develop pasty butt, which is essentially chicken poop getting stuck on their butt. If you keep their living space clean, this really shouldn’t be an issue. Matt and I practice deep bedding with our chickens. This means that you keep layering fresh pine shavings in their coop (or storage tote when they’re chicks). Then, every few weeks to a month, you shovel out or discard the old stuff, ideally into a compost bin. Your coop is now ready to start that deep bedding process over again. Chickens lay the best fertilizer for your garden, so don’t let it go to waste!
Does Keeping Chickens Cost a Lot?
Yes, and no. There’s an economy of scale when it comes to chickens. For example, 12 chickens will give you twice as many eggs as six but the time you spend feeding and watering them will be about the same. You have to decide if the extra food and pine shavings you have to buy to keep them fed and clean are worth it. Although we have to have “chicken sitters” occasionally, we love our chickens here at Sunny Side Up. The fresh eggs are totally worth it, and our chickens are friendly and clean, not scary and dirty!
Baby chicks are cute but they will still need your attention and care as they mature into less cute chickens. In just a few weeks, Rose, Poppy, Aster, Violet, Lily, Dahlia, Daisy, and Marigold will be moving outside to get used to their coop. Yes, they have names, and yes, I can tell them apart! I can’t wait to feed them some weeds, oregano, and cherry tomatoes this summer. We may not have that Pinterest-pretty coop just yet, but it’s functional and safe, and that’s what every chicken needs.
Know someone who’s considering chickens? Please feel free to share this complete guide to baby chicks! We love our chickens and I’d love to answer their questions, and yours, when it comes to baby chick care!