While adult chickens can sometimes be found for sale, the best way to build your home flock
is to buy them as chicks and raise them yourself. Hatchery chicks are certified disease-free
so you don't have to worry about introducing disease into an existing flock, and laying breeds
are sexed. Chick sexing is about 90-95% accurate, so there's still a small chance of getting a
rooster, but most likely you'll end up with a flock of laying hens.
Chicks arrive at the store just one day old.
Their most important need is to be kept warm,
so once we take them out of the brooder, you'll
want to get them home as soon as possible.
Chicks like to have company to huddle together,
so we recommend getting at least two at a time.
A cardboard box with walls high enough that
chicks can't hop out makes a good first home.
Place it somewhere relatively warm and free of
drafts. Line the bottom with newspaper for easy
cleanup. Straw or other bedding materials
aren't necessary at this stage, and will only
make more mess to clean up.
Chicks must be kept warm - around 95
degrees for the first week of their lives. A
heat lamp or high wattage light bulb hung
over the box provides enough warmth. You
don't need a thermometer or thermostat; just
watch the chicks. If they huddle together
tightly under the lamp, they're too cold.
Lower the lamp so it's closer to them. If they
spread out to the corners of the box, away
from the lamp, they're too warm, so raise the
lamp. Always make sure the lamp doesn't
come into contact with the sides of the box
or any other flammable materials.
Besides heat, you'll need to provide water
and feed. Chicks should have access to
fresh, clean water at all times. A quart or
gallon size poultry water fountain is perfect
for small numbers of chicks. Open bowls of
water are less than ideal, as chicks may fall
in and become soaked and chilled. Chicks
are messy creatures and will foul their
water supply, so the waterer will need to be
Chicks should also have constant access
to a good starter feed. Chick starter is
higher in protein than adult poultry feed
and medicated with amprolium, an
antibiotic that helps to prevent diseases
such as coccidiosis, which will kill young
chicks. Chicks can also be started on
non-medicated feed if you prefer.
develop. Adolescent chicks may look downright ragged, with uneven feathers and even bare spots, but
this is normal as feathers replace their fluffy down. Once all their feathers are in, they'll look robust and
As they gain more body mass, their need for heat decreases, and you can lower the temperature about 5
degrees per week. They may outgrow their box a few times before they're ready to be outdoors
permanently. Upgrade to a bigger box or separate the chicks into smaller groups in separate boxes as
necessary to avoid overcrowding. When they're about six weeks old or so, they should be ready for life in
an outdoor coop and pen.
Don't expect any eggs yet, though. Pullets usually start laying around five or six months of age. Until they
do, they don't need the added calcium in adult layer feeds. Feed an all-purpose poultry feed until they lay
their first eggs.
- Large cardboard
box or plastic tub
|Rhode Island red and barred rock chicks