Raising chicks for beginners – What to expect the first 6 weeks.
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March just flew by, and our chicks have grown so much. I can’t even believe it! They’ve gone from fluffy, chirping little cuties, to, well, chickens! If you’ve been considering raising backyard chickens, I can’t recommend it enough. They’re the easiest farm animal, so it’s a great place to start when you’re transitioning into homesteading or a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Plus, who doesn’t love fresh eggs?
Raising Chicks For Beginners – What You’ll Need
Here’s a quick rundown. These are all available through Amazon Prime!
- Brooder Lamp
- 250 Watt Red Heat Lamp Bulb
- Chick Starter Feed (we used medicated)
- Optional: Chick Grit
- Optional: Vitamins and Electrolytes
For more details on these products, and why you need them, you can read my full post Raising Baby Chicks For Beginners – Week One.
Before your chicks arrive, I recommend joining some Facebook groups for chicken owners. You’ll learn a lot just by scrolling through and seeing people ask questions. One of my blue silkies got wry neck at about a month old, and the members of these Facebook groups were extremely helpful in guiding me through her recovery. My husband and I almost put her down because it looked like she was in so much pain. I’m thankful for the support from those groups, because now my girl is running around out back with the rest of the chickens, like nothing ever happened.
The First 6 Weeks of Raising Chicks – What To Expect
Here’s a nifty chart I made to help you remember what temperature your chicks need to be kept at, week by week. Feel free to save it or screenshot it for reference.
While you want to make sure your chicks don’t get too cold, it’s not as stressful and difficult as it sounds. Chicks are easy to read. If they’re huddled up together under the lamp, they’re too cold. If they’re trying to stay as far away from the heat as they can, they’re too warm. You’ll be able to tell when your chicks are completely content, because they’ll be active and spread out.
What Temperature Do One Week Old Chicks Need To Be Kept At?: 90-95° F
When you bring your chicks home, as tempting as it will be to cuddle them, they need time to adjust. Set them up in a brooder in a quiet, warm, draft-free area. Of course they’ll need food and water, but you might also need some electrolytes, especially if your chicks were mailed to you.
When you’re putting your chicks in the brooder for the very first time, make sure you dip their beaks in water to show them where/how to drink. Some people say to do this for each baby chick, while others say you only need to do it for one, and the others will follow. I personally did it for about half of the chicks, then waited to see them all take a turn.
Your chicks will already have individual personalities. It’s really neat to watch! Let your chicks settle for a couple of days, but don’t be afraid to handle them. They need to get comfortable with you. I started feeding mine tiny amounts of boiled egg yolk at three days old. They went crazy over it, and it’s really good for them, as weird as it sounds. If you do this, make sure you give them some chick grit.
What Temperature Do Two Week Old Chicks Need To Be Kept At?: 85-90° F
Your chicks are still fluffy little babies, but they already have some big girl feathers. (Mine started growing feathers by 3 days old!) They chirp, run around, and come to you when you stick your hand in the brooder. Unless, of course, they’re skittish. My beautiful Easter Egger can’t stand me, even now!
You should really start trying to bond with them now. If you take them out to hold them, don’t do it for too long, and make sure they’re warm. This is a fun age. They’ll fall asleep on you and explore a little bit, but for the most part they’ll be too scared to explore very far.
What Temperature Do Three Week Old Chicks Need To Be Kept At?: 80-85° F
By this point, my bigger chicks were “flying” around, and were able to out of their brooder. To be honest, I didn’t mind. There was only one chick that was brave enough to do it. The others would simply perch at the top of the brooder and look around before going back to safety. Depending on your circumstances, you might want to cover the top of the brooder by this point.
Your chicks will seem to double in size some days. You’ll go do some chores, come back to look at them, and they have a ton of new feathers out of nowhere. I’m not even exaggerating! It’s insane.
What Temperature Do Four Week Old Chicks Need To Be Kept At?: 75-80° F
Your chicks will almost look like chickens by this point! They have a ton of feathers, their feet are huge, and they’re extremely active. It was around this time that I started letting the girls run around in our backyard during the day, since it was finally warming up outside. It’s a good time to start, and it gets them used to the routine of “going home” in the evening. You can only do this if it stays between 75 and 80 degrees outside.
By four weeks old, you might get fed up with the number of times you clean their water out every day. They’re messier than ever now. A tip I learned from a chicken Facebook group is to set their waterer up on a brick so the shavings aren’t constantly getting in it. I didn’t have a brick, so I turned a shallow Tupperware upside down and set their waterer on it. It works perfectly!
What Temperature Do Five Week Old Chicks Need To Be Kept At?: 70-75° F
Your little chicks don’t seem so little anymore! You might even start hearing some “clucks” coming from the brooder this week. They love cuddling, but by this point they need some space. Again, if it’s warm enough outside, I highly recommend letting them have some time to run around free.
The chicks are stinky and messy, and if you still have them inside, it’s high time to move their brooder to a safe place outside. A shed or a garage would be perfect.
What Temperature Do Six Week Old Chicks Need To Be Kept At?: Wean from heat lamp and transition to the coop (above 65° F).
Hopefully, if it’s warm enough outside, you can transition your chicks to the coop this week. Your little babies are graduating! I’m in the process of doing this right now, so I’ll link an article here when it’s done. Your chicks probably won’t be laying any eggs for about four to five more months, but they aren’t really babies anymore, either. Say goodbye to the brooder! Until the chicken math begins, you should be able to put that heat lamp away.
A few notes:
- Your chicks will be on starter feed until they’re 8-weeks-old.
- You can feed your chicks little treats and a few table scraps, but keep it to a minimum, and always add chick grit to their diet, so they can digest the food. There are a few foods to avoid, so always check Google if you’re unsure.
- If one of your chicks gets wry neck or any other illness, separate them so they don’t get picked on.
- There are several routes you can take when it comes to treating wry neck, but you definitely want to make sure they’re getting vitamin e and selenium. Some packages of vitamins and electrolytes don’t have selenium, so always check. You can also try feeding them a little tuna, sunflower seeds, and spinach. If they’re not able to eat, add water to a bowl of starter feed and help them out.
- Order gloves and watch out for pasty butt.
- Once you start, you’ll never want to go back to a chickenless life. If you can look past the dust and cleaning poop out of water every day, raising chicks is as fun as it is rewarding.
My beautiful friend Carissa from Creative Green Living, (who I lovingly refer to as “my chicken friend”) advised me to give my chicks a splash of apple cider vinegar in their water when one of my silkies seemed a little under the weather. She perked right back up!
If you’re wondering how to safely integrate new chicks into an existing flock, Carissa has a great article that walks you through the process, which you can read HERE.
Enjoy some pictures of my photobombing rooster, Bruce. He likes to ham it up for the camera.
If this is your first time raising chicks, congratulations! You just signed up for a lifetime of fun and delicious eggs. I’d love to hear from you. Let me know which breeds you bought in the comments. Let’s talk chickens!
Until next time, folks!