How To Care for Baby Chicks

how to care for baby chicks

Learning how to care for baby chicks in your backyard is a great way to increase your self-reliance and provide for your family. In a survival situation, chickens are a great choice for livestock because they don’t take much space and they are pretty easy to take care of. There are tons of benefits to raising chickens.

  • Eggs- Eggs are versatile, high in protein and fat, and delicious. They are also a major cooking ingredient in lots of different kinds of recipes. Each hen in your flock will lay 4 to 7 eggs per week.
  • Eggshells are high in calcium. You can actually grind them up and take them like a calcium supplement. Or, you can add them to compost when growing crops. Eggshells also act as a natural pest control when you put them at the base of plants like tomatoes and broccoli.
  • Poop- Chicken poop is a really great fertilizer! But don’t add it directly to the soil because it’s too strong. You’ll want to compost it a while with some straw or grass and mix it into soil after the harvest.
  • Garden work- Raising a couple of chickens can help make gardening easier. They eat bugs and weeds. After you harvest your vegetables, you can let your chickens in and they will dig up the garden beds and eat the weeds and pests.

Chickens are easier to take care of than a dog or a cat and they pay us back in so many ways. Here is everything you need to know about how to care for baby chicks.

What Breed Do You Want?

Even though learning how to care for baby chicks is pretty much the same thing no matter what breed you go with, it’s still a big decision. Some breeds are better at laying eggs, other at raising chicks, and others at being a delicious dinner.

Think about what you’ll be using these chickens for the most. How do you plan to use them? How many would you like to keep at a time? What is the climate like where you live?

If you plan to buy the chicks locally, you will be limited to what breeds are easy to find in your area. If you are willing to order the chicks and have them shipped to you, it will be a little easier to get the breeds you are looking for.

Some stores will have a minimum number of chicks that you have to buy. Some towns and cities have limits to the number of chickens you are allowed to keep. Take a few minutes to look over the rules so you don’t end up disappointed down the road.

A few good breeds for survivalists are:

  • Brown Leghorn- Good at finding their own foods and laying eggs. The downside is they like to fly and they can be noisy.
  • Egyptian Fayoumi- A breed that’s good at laying eggs and is resistant to disease. These only do well in warmer climates.
  • Turken- Good in any climate, adapts to their surrounds, good at raising chicks. This breed takes a little longer to mature.
  • Dominique- Does very well in cold weather, good at raising chicks, and matures very quickly. Not a good choice for warmer climates.
  • Buckeye- Another breed that does well in the cold and is fairly good at laying eggs. These are adaptable breeds but take a while to mature.
  • Ameraucana- Adaptable breed that’s good at laying eggs and can survive pretty harsh cold climates.

How to care for baby chicks

You’ll need to build a coop for your chickens eventually, but very young chicks need a safer place than outdoors. One part of how to care for baby chicks is keeping them safe and warm. They will need to be in an area where there can’t be any cold wind. They also need a heating source, such as a 250 watt heat lamp. They will also require bedding and food and water.

This video from Tin Hat Ranch is a great quick primer about how to care for baby chicks. It gives you a good look at the different things you’ll need to raise chicken from a day or two old. They use a brooder inside a dog cage, which makes it easy to keep them protected and hang the feeders and heat lamp.

Indoors Until 4 Weeks

Baby chicks need to be kept inside until they are about four weeks of age. The biggest reason for indoors is that they can’t get too cold, but they are also an easy target for a predator. Baby chicks are very messy, so you won’t want to keep them in your living areas. A shed, garage, or workplace is a good place to keep them.

Baby chicks are surprisingly good at flying, so you’ll need to put a drape or some chicken wire over the top of their enclosure.

Heat Lamp Tips

An infrared heat lamp is important for how to care for baby chicks. They need to be kept at a constant temperature of about 95 to 100 F for the first two weeks. Then until they are a month old, the temperature should come down about five degrees a week.

One option is to hang the heat lamp so it shines down on the chicks in an area below. Watch what your chicks do with the lights. If they huddle up underneath it, they are probably cold and you should move the light closer to them. If they hang out on the edges, they are probably too warm and you should move the light back further.

Once they are about a month old, you can transfer them outside to a safe coop.

Bedding Tips

Learning how to care for baby chicks means learning not to use newspaper in their cage. Newspaper has very little absorbency. The chicken’s waste doesn’t soak in any where and kind of sits on the floor. It’s harder to clean up and much less comfortable for your baby chicks.

Cedar shavings are also a bad choice for baby chicks because the oils in cedar can be irritating to the baby chick. These oils make your chicks more prone to respiratory conditions down the road.

Instead, you should use a hemp bedding about an inch thick in the bottom of their living area. It’s absorbent doesn’t irritate your chickens at all.

Food, Water and Grit

Baby chicks need access to food and water at all times. Sometimes when people are learning how to take care of baby chicks they get nervous about whether the chicks will eat too much. Chicks are good at deciding for themselves how much to eat and they will not overeat. Make sure your baby chicks have food and water available all the time.

Chicks will walk on (and pee and poop on) anything on the floor of their cage. You don’t want to put a dish on water or food for them to get into. First of all, they will dump it over. Second of all, they will track waste into it. Third of all, baby chicks can get stuck in containers like these and drown or suffocate. Get a hanging feeder and water container instead.

When they get older, your chicks will be able to supplement their diets with worms, bugs, and other plants. They will still need chicken feed to give them their basic nutritional needs.

Chickens also need grit. Grit is made of small rocks and pebbles and chickens store them in their crop. The grit helps grind on food because chickens don’t have teeth. Sprinkle a little bit of sand or canary or parakeet gravel into their food.

How to Care for Baby Chicks: Build a Coop


The internet is full of plans for building your chicken coop. This video from This Old House is a great tutorial for everything you need to know. They give you a step by step of the whole process with information on what kinds of materials and techniques to use. One thing I like about this video is that it shows the work they do in the shop and then the work they do onsite. Part of the coop can be build in your shop but there’s a certain amount of work you need to do to set up the chicken’s actual habitat.

After your chicks are about one month old, they can be moved outdoors to a coop. There are tons of options for how to build chicken coops yourself. You can look at lots of different plans online, but every coop will need six basic parts.

Parts of a Chicken Coop

●    Enclosed Run

Chickens need an enclosed run where they can move around and flap their wings without having to watch out for predators. The enclosed run might be part of the overall design or it might extend out from the rest of the coop. The important thing is to make sure there’s no way for a predator to get into it.

●    Nesting Box

The nesting box is where you chickens will lay eggs. It’s about one cubic foot and you line it with straw or sawdust. You need one box for every three to four laying hens. If you are worried that your chickens won’t lay eggs in the right spot, you can put a fake “prop” egg inside the nesting box until the hens figure it out.

how to care for baby chicks

Image from Leslie Seaton via Wikimedia Commons

●    Roosts

Chickens naturally sleep on tree branches, so a roost is a high perch that mimics that natural urge. It’s a high board or pole (or a series of them) where chickens can sleep. You should plan on about 10 inches of roost for each chicken.

●    Ventilation

Ventilation is important because first of all, chickens stink. Their manure is strong and you don’t want to let the fumes build up. Second of all, ventilation will keep your chicken coop cooler and make it more comfortable for both the chickens and you.

●    Accessory Box

An accessory box is the name given to the space where you will store tools, hay, food, and other supplies you will need when learning how to care for baby chicks. Depending on the design of your chicken coop, this could be the size of a shed, the size of a closet, or just a cubby tucked away somewhere. The important part is being able to keep your chickens out of your accessories.

●    Access Doors

You will need to be able to get inside your chicken coop to clean it, collect eggs, and check on your chickens. It’s a good idea to make sure you have a way to access every part of your chicken coop. For example, you should be able to enter your chicken’s enclosed run and you could do that from either outside the pen or through the chicken coop.

how to care for baby chicks

Image from furtwangl via Wikimedia Commons

Learn the Skills You’ll Need to Survive

The best thing about learning how to care for baby chicks is that you’re learning skills that you might actually need to survive in the future. Many survivalists say that they will get all the meat they need from hunting and don’t need to learn to keep livestock. That might be true, but you can’t ignore the easy source of protein eggs provide.

Raising chickens for meat, eggs, or both is cheap, easy, and rewarding. You’ve never had chicken that tastes so good as the one you raised yourself. You know what’s in your meat and what the animal was given, so you don’t have to worry about hormones or chemicals.

Build a chicken coop this weekend and take a huge step towards off the grid independence today.

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