How many of your local supply stores have had chicks for sale the past few weeks? Maybe you saw the tiny little fluff balls and decided, “Why not?” Now you are stuck with a dozen tiny chicks, and need to learn how to care for them – and quick!
Chicks require a warm and dry area with some sort of bedding (wood shavings work great) that is changed often to prevent illness. Chicks need a brooder guard (a tall piece of cardboard that keeps the chicks contained and protected from drafts) with a heat source and enough space to move around. Water should be available at all times, and you may want to add supplements for extra nutrition and energy into the water. Depending on the apparatus you choose to water, keep water levels low so chicks don’t drown if they fall in.
Once chicks are old enough (about 8 weeks old) they can start eating chicken feed. Feed will go from chick starter to growing ration to maintenance and laying rations as they grow. Chickens will get most of their food from pecking worms and bugs out of the ground, but will need feed as a nutritional supplement.
Around 6 weeks old, chicks are big enough to be put in a coop (outside if nice weather). Each bird should have about 2 square feet to themselves. Make sure to follow city rules for building a coop if you are starting from scratch. There should also be high fencing to protect the chickens from predators (and escaping). If you let chickens roam during the day, put them back in the coop at night for protection.
On average, at 18-20 weeks, hens will be old enough to lay eggs. Depending on the breed, chickens can lay as early as 16-17 weeks (Leghorn chickens) or as late as 25-26 weeks. Check the coop one to two times a day to see if any eggs have been laid. Be sure to dispose of any broken eggs, as hens will peck at anything that looks like food. They may start eating their own eggs.
Lastly, remember that poultry can have Salmonella on themselves and in their droppings and in or on the areas surrounding them. Please always wash hands before and after handling your new, feathery friends.
Foley, Denise. “Everything You Need to Know About Raising Backyard Chickens.” Rodale’s Organic Life
“How to Raise Chickens.” Tractor Supply Company
“Raising Chickens 101: Bring up Baby Chicks.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac