- 1 How to Start Raising Chicks for Beginners
- 1.1 Where do I buy chicks?
- 1.2 How much does it cost to buy a chick?
- 1.3 How many chicks should I get?
- 1.4 Should I get pullets, cockerels or unsexed?
- 1.5 How kind of feed should I get?
- 1.6 What do you do when baby chicks arrive?
- 1.7 How do I build a brooder?
- 1.8 What is the best bedding for baby chicks?
- 1.9 How often should you change baby chicks bedding?
- 1.10 How long do baby chicks need a heat lamp and how hot does it have to be?
- 1.11 Why do baby chicks huddle together?
- 1.12 Will baby chickens die without a heat lamp?
- 1.13 How big does the brooder have to be?
- 1.14 Where do I put the brooder?
- 1.15 At what age can chicks go outside?
If you’re reading this, it probably means you’re going to be raising chicks shortly on your homestead! If this is your first time raising chicks I am going to go through it all so you can be confident form the day you pick them up to the day you put them out onto pasture.
The first time we got chicks it lead us to become farmers! Haha. Everyone says its the gateway farm animal and it’s true… soon you will find yourself interested in ducks, turkeys, sheep, goats, pigs or cows. Raising chicks is such a fun experience that almost trains you to take care of livestock! If you’re wondering what chick breeds to get for the homestead, read this post.
OK, let’s get into it!
How to Start Raising Chicks for Beginners
Where do I buy chicks?
There are a couple places to get baby chicks. The most common place people get chicks are from hatcheries. A simple online search will tell you what hatcheries are in your area. If they are close you can pick them up, if not, your local co-op, hardware or TSC store will act as a pickup point.
It’s always a fun day going to the store to pick them up, as soon as you walk in the door you hear the chirping coming out of all the boxes. It’s a good idea to find a spot that is relatively close to where you live so that the chicks aren’t in travel for days.
Another place to look is on your local Kijiji or Craigs List. Lots of people hatch their own to sell. You might be able to find someone super close. I’ve also noticed a lot of people sell eggs that are ready to be hatched. If you’re feeling adventurous you can hatch your own, but that might be a whole other battle as it requires close attention and incubators.
How much does it cost to buy a chick?
Costs vary between provinces and states. A chick starts anywhere between $1.65 to $5 and higher. This price will change depending on what quantity you get, what breeds you get and if you get pullets, cockerels or unsexed chicks. For example, if you get pullets and a small quantity the higher the price will be; whereas if you are getting a large quantity and unsexed it would be cheaper. Do some research and check out all the different hatcheries in your area.
How many chicks should I get?
This depends on what you want your chickens for! If you are looking to get chickens for eggs, a good starter flock would be 5-10 chickens. This will also depend on the size of your family, I like to think at least 2 eggs per person each day is a good start.
If you are looking to get chickens for meat, then I would recommend getting at least 52 birds, that’s one for each week of the year! If you want two per week, then double that!
Should I get pullets, cockerels or unsexed?
Most of the time it’s hard to tell what sex the chick is when they are just born so it is common that people who are raising chicks for meat birds get them unsexed. If you are getting chicks for meat it shouldn’t matter most of the time because meat bird breeds generally grow at the same rate.
On the other hand, if you are getting chicks for eggs, be sure to only get pullets. It would also benefit to get 1 or 2 roosters that can fertilize the eggs if you would want to potentially hatch your own eggs. But just so you know hens will still lay eggs without a rooster.
How kind of feed should I get?
I would recommend getting a high-quality organic starter feed. Starter feed is just the right mix of vitamins, minerals and protein designed specifically for chicks. Once they are about 3-4 weeks old, you can switch to a grower feed which will help them grow out properly.
A lot of people start their chicks on medicated feed, which has medicine in the feed to ward off coccidiosis. Chicks are very susceptible to coccidiosis, but ultimately it is your personal choice. We have never used medicated feed and our chicks have never been sick, but other people’s have, so up to you!
What do you do when baby chicks arrive?
My advice when raising chicks is to have everything set up and ready to go. Have your brooder built, feed and water in, heat lamp warming, and fresh shavings down. The chicks can only survive 24 hours without food and water after being born, so they will be hungry and thirsty. We like to dip our chicks beaks in the water and food when we are placing them into the brooder so they know where to go (they like to try to eat the pine shavings lol). Keep an eye on them regularly and be sure that they are comfortable (see below).
How do I build a brooder?
A brooder is a pretty important thing when it comes to raising chicks. Essentially its an enclosure with a wire roof (something that keeps them in so they can’t fly out but also something that allows airflow) and a heat lamp, that the chicks stay in until they are old enough to go outside. The heat mimics that of mom. If you are looking to build a brooder click here for my super easy tutorial (it even comes with a checklist of everything you need to get!).
But just for the basics, brooders can be made out of a bunch of different things! I like Rubbermaid bins because they are cheap, sturdy, and easy to clean. A brooder must have these fundamental elements:
- pine shavings
- feeder – you can use this base and find a match top
- heat lamp (placed approx. 5” above the shavings)
- perch – made of a branch!
What is the best bedding for baby chicks?
The best kind of bedding is pine shavings. Chickens and cedar don’t mix so make sure they are pine or spruce shavings. They are best because they absorb moisture and scent! And they are soft enough that the chick can walk easily and not break their fragile legs. We tried hay one year (just because we had it quickly on hand), but it was too rough for the little chicks and certainly didn’t absorb any moisture and scent.
The thing with chicks and full-grown chickens too is their poop is soft and watering sometimes (most of the time) so using the hay only created a whole layer of poop that never got absorbed.
How often should you change baby chicks bedding?
When using pine shavings, I recommend using the deep bedding system. This means that you are never cleaning out the brooder, and only adding a fresh layer of shavings every couple of days to keep it fresh for them. This creates really awesome organic matter that can be used for the compost pile!
If you are raising chicks in multiple batches, it is recommended to clean and sanitize the brooder, feeders, waterers before putting new chicks in again.
How long do baby chicks need a heat lamp and how hot does it have to be?
Chicks only need a heat lamp for 2-3 weeks. A lot of people have these super-detailed temperature charts and don’t start weaning their birds off until 5-6 weeks. We simply set up the heat lamp for the first 2-3 weeks and then wean then little by little during the day but turning off the heat lamps.
Start by putting the heat lamp about 5-8″ above the pine shavings insuring the small chicks get the heat.
Why do baby chicks huddle together?
A quick trick to tell if your chicks are too hot or too cold is to tell how far they are from each other and the heat lamp! If they are cuddled up, trying to walk on top of each other under the heat lamp then they are cold. If they are crowding too much it’s a good idea to add another heat lamp. Keeping the heat lamps about a foot apart will make a good area around the heat lamps with residual heat.
On the other hand, if they are spread out and not under the heat lamp then they are hot! Try raising the heat lamp a little more. It’s a good idea to have the heat lamp on something like a chain so you can easily move up and down, closer or further to the chicks.
Will baby chickens die without a heat lamp?
Yes, they need heat for at least 2 weeks of their life! You are mimicking mama hen and she would be by them warming them constantly.
How big does the brooder have to be?
When raising chicks, I recommend at least 1 square foot per bird. It may seem like a lot when they are so tiny, but eventually, they will grow and they sure do like to whip around!
Where do I put the brooder?
If you have 5-10 chickens and are on a small scale level you can put the brooder in your mudroom, bathroom or even dining room if it’s just a rubber made bin! It’s also nice to keep it in a climate-controlled spot if you have that available. It’s not a big deal if they are in the garage (because truth be told they can get a little loud) because by the time you are raising chicks its not crazy cold out.
At what age can chicks go outside?
Depending on the weather, we like to bring our chicks outside around 2-3 weeks of age. Be sure there is no frost, snow, and it is warm outside! In 2-3 weeks they should be weaned off the heat lamp and be comfortable so putting them outside in a mobile chicken tractor should be successful!
We love raising chicks in mobile tractors with electric netting. We actually designed our own mobile chicken tractor that is perfect for the homesteader! It can fit 12 birds and 2 nesting boxes, can be moved by 1 person and is easy to collect eggs. You can check out the plans here.
I’d love to know if you have any other questions about raising chicks in the comments below! Let me know and thanks for reading.