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We’re quickly approaching my favorite time of the year on the farm: baby chick season! When March rolls around, your local farm supply store will be teaming with adorable baby chickens, and because the price of eggs has skyrocketed, I think a lot of people will be getting chicks for the first time this year.
If you’re a first-time chicken owner, it can be a bit intimidating to bring home chicks for the first time, but taking care of them is easier than you think. In addition to a brooder, there are just seven supplies for baby chicks that are absolutely essential—yup, that’s all! Everything else is just an added bonus for your babies, at least until they’re 8 weeks old.
Let’s Talk About Brooders
When raising baby chicks, you’re going to need a “brooder” or “brooding box,” which is simply a safe space for them to live for the first 8 weeks of their lives. (After this point, your birds will generally be fully feathered and can be moved to an outdoor coop.) There are some chick brooders that you can buy online, but you can also just use items from around your house. Depending on how many birds you have, you can easily make a brooder from a:
- Plastic tote bin
- Stock tank
- Dog kennel
- Pet play pen
- Hard plastic kiddie pool
- Cardboard box
Whatever you use needs to be spacious (and tall) enough to accommodate your birds for a few weeks, and I typically recommend a container that can be covered, as chicks turn into escape artists once they start flying. Here’s a photo of our stock tank brooder setup:
Once you have your brooder box set up, here are the other must-have items you need before bringing home baby chickens:
1. A Feeder
One thing you’ll learn quickly about chicks is that they’re messy. You can feed them out of a regular bowl, but they love to dig in their food, which will make a mess of your brooder. That’s why I like to put food in a container like the Red Rite Flip-Top Feeder, which has holes that are big enough for chicks to put their heads into but not for them to dig in.
I have a larger version like this one, as we usually get 12+ chicks at a time, but if you just have a few babies, there are smaller versions of these feeders, too.
2. Chick Starter Feed
Of course, you’re going to need food for your babies, and personally, I like Purina Start & Grow. The crumbles are formulated specifically for baby chicks, and it ensures they’re getting appropriate nutrition to support healthy growth.
Even if you don’t use this particular brand, it’s important to give your chicks a starter feed until they’re at least 8 weeks old—but most people feed starter until their hens start laying. Baby chicks shouldn’t be eating layer feed, which contains more calcium than they need during their first few months.
3. A Waterer
Your baby chicks need to have access to fresh water at all times, and there are a variety of different waterers that you can use. We generally opt for a larger version, such as the RentACoop Chicken Waterer, which holds 1.5 liters, or even the Little Giant Waterer, which holds 1 gallon. This way, you generally will only need to refill it once every day or two.
Pro tip: If your chicks are kicking bedding into their waterer, try propping it up on a brick.
When you first bring your chicks home, it’s a good idea to use Sav-a-Chick Electrolytes in their water for a few days—each packet is designed to be mixed into a gallon of water. The electrolyte and vitamin supplement mixture helps the babies to stay hydrated, and I’ve found it can help them bounce back if they were stressed during transport.
I also keep electrolytes on hand throughout the year to give birds who are sick—they’re on my list of essential supplies for first-time chicken owners.
5. A Heat Lamp or Heat Plate
Your little babies are going to need a heating source to keep them warm for their first few weeks of life—usually, they would be toasty underneath their mom! There are two main options for this: a heating lamp or a heating plate.
Heating lamps, such as this Rite Farm Red Bulb, are the more budget-friendly option. The bulb simply screws into a brooder lamp, and you hang it over your brooder. The red light is toasty warm, and you can raise or lower the lamp to adjust the temperature. However, you’ll want to be super careful when using a heat lamp, as they’re hot to the touch and can start a fire if they fall into your brooder bedding.
Heating plates like the RentACoop Heating Plate are safer to use, as they don’t get as hot, but they do have their limitations. Chicks are able to huddle under the warm plate, just like they would with a mother hen, and you can raise the plate up as they get bigger. However, be sure to read the instructions carefully, as many heating plates only work when the ambient temperature is 50 degrees or higher.
6. A Thermometer
Speaking of heat, I highly recommend getting a little thermometer, such as this ThermoPro Digital Thermometer, to keep in your brooder. Chicks have specific warmth requirements for the first few weeks—this chart from Purina shows the recommended brooder temperature by week—and a thermometer will help you make sure your chicks aren’t too warm or cold.
7. Pine Shavings
No matter what you’re using as a brooder, it’s important to put some type of bedding in the bottom to prevent your chicks from slipping around. Most people simply use pine flakes like the Manna Pro Fresh Flakes, which are all-natural and great at absorbing moisture.
Pro Tip: Avoid using cedar flakes in your brooder—the fumes are toxic to chickens.
Wait, Don’t I Need…
- Grit? If you’re solely feeding your chicks Start & Grow (which is technically all they need), you do not need to give them grit. However, if you offer your chicks other food or treats, it’s important to give them Chick Grit to help them digest it.
- Treats? Starter feed and water are all your chicks truly need, but many people like giving treats to their babies. Fruits, vegetables, and mealworms are all good treats for chicks that are a few weeks old, but be sure to offer grit, as well, and feed treats sparingly.
- Toys? It may seem like your chicks would get bored in their brooder, but I promise you, they’re just fine. They don’t need toys and probably won’t use them.
- A Roosting Bar? Most chickens don’t start roosting until they’re full grown, so you don’t need a roosting bar in their brooder. Just be sure they have one once you move them to their permanent coop.
Are you planning on raising chickens this year? Let me know in the comments!