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Care of Chicks
Keep chicks warm during ride home. Be as quiet as possible and don’t handle the birds as they are under stress during the move.
If you have not already done so, it’s time to prepare the “brooder" This is usually a very large cardboard box or tote with no lid - at least 18" wide x 18" high x 36" long, we prefer 2'x2'x4'. Start by lining the bottom with paper towels or pine shavings (NEVER cedar) then place your filled food & water containers. Hang or clip a 250 watt-rated brooding lamp and red brooding bulb to make warmer and cooler zones within the brooder and adjust distance to stabilize the temperature at 90 to 95 degrees in the warm area (start at 24” above litter). Keep the birds in a safe and warm place while setting up and again avoid handling while working quickly to set-up. Add a screen cover if there are other pets or small children around that need to be kept out.
Gently place the birds in the brooder. Observe if they huddle under the light or move away from it and adjust height until they are using most of the brooder.
Observe their general health and watch for “pasting-up.” If you observe this excess poop blocking a chick’s vent, soak the mass then remove it gently using a warm, wet paper towel. Do not overdo the cleaning: a little poop can be normal. There's more info on sick chicks on page 2.
Feed only chick feed or treat with plain scrambled egg.
Week 1 – 8:
- Replace litter once a week or sooner if there is an odor.
- Handle your birds often to socialize them, but always be gentle and use quiet voices. Wash hands before and after handling chicks.
- At 4 weeks or so, the chicks can handle new foods like lettuce or bread. You may want to give them chick grit at this time. Continue to feed chick food only, not adult feed.
- If you have not already done so, be sure to screen the top of your brooder before the birds fly away!
- If you have a large enough brooder and have created distinct warm and cool zones, you may not need to adjust the height of your light. Otherwise, you will need to move light about 2” higher each week to reduce temperature 5 degrees/week
After Week 8:
Move the birds outside to a secure coop and run when they have feathers and the weather has warmed (at 6-8 weeks). You may use the brooder light to warm the coop at night if needed.
Continue feeding the chick feed at least until the flock is 3 months old, and then switch to "developer feed”. They should be eating only layer feed by the time they are 5 months old and getting ready to lay their first eggs.
Sick Chicks & Chickens
Sometimes, despite our best efforts to buy healthy chicks and provide the best possible care of them at the store, there are always a few chicks that fail to thrive. If one of your chicks is listless or otherwise not looking right, the first thing to do is review the instructions above and make adjustments as needed. Next, give the chick some water by dabbing water onto the side of her beak with your finger (do NOT squirt water down her beak). From there, you will simply focus on making her comfortable (protect from being trampled while keeping her warm) and encouraging her to feed and drink. She will usually improve or decline within a day or two.
At any age, observe your birds for blood in the poop or excessive and/or persistently loose poops. Treatment for both is Sulmet in their drinking water. Call the store for more information.
Care of Adult Chickens
The first priority when raising chickens is to provide for them a secure coop(cozy sleeping and nesting area) and a run (larger, fenced outdoor area). We will go into more detail about coop & run design in a future section on this site, but there are a few basic things to consider.
First, your chickens must be protected from predators. In an urban setting these include racoons, possum, hawks/falcons, and dogs. Cats are not usually a problem after the chick stage. The run should adjoin or encompass the coop and both should be securable while allowing you to access them. The fenced run area should be built with strong fencing material extending 6” below the surface, under the entire area of the run, or flaring out at the sides 1’ (we suggest welded wire instead of chicken wire). The coop must be predator-proof, but also should provide protection from the weather.
Note: When moving your older chicks outside (after 6-8 weeks), make sure to put them on the sleeping roost and shut the doors to the coop each night. This is important because most young chickens will not know how to go into the coop on their own and may stay outside in the run at night where they are vulnerable.
There are many designs for coops, but most share a few features. Chickens like to sleep on a perch so coops usually include a 1” or larger dowel for this purpose. A design that allows for easy cleaning (see below) is always a good idea. A nesting box, either inside the coop or attached to an exterior wall, provides a place for the hens to lay their eggs. The chickens will need to access the coop through a door or opening. 12” x 12” is about right. Lastly, consider ventilation. The coop should be roofed and have weather-tight walls, but should also include ventilation near the roof. Be sure to cover the vent with welded wire.
The coop must have litter, both on the floor and in the nest boxes. We suggest using either pine shavings or rice hulls. Never use straw inside the coop because of its tendency to mildew, mat-together, and introduce mites to the system (straw is OK outside). New litter should be sprinkled over the old litter weekly and the whole thing cleaned-out every 1-2 months.
Of course, the birds must eat. Please see our feeds page for information about our feeds.
Adult chickens need larger feeders and waterers than the chicks. We suggest buying these as soon as they are moved outside (6-8 weeks old). Place the waterer (often called a fountain) on a layer of bricks stacked two high. Hang the feeder 6” off the ground if possible, otherwise put it on bricks as well. The feeder and the waterer should be outside of the coop to prevent cross-contamination with the soiled litter. Place them in a dry area of the run or under a raised coop.
Let your birds out of the run daily or whenever possible to get exercise and to forage. If this is not possible, provide enrichment activities for them to prevent boredom. These can include such things as adding a bale of straw to the run for them to rip apart. Bringing them fruit or greens to eat is a very good idea, but avoid giving them long blades of grass (unless it’s anchored by roots and growing) as this can cause digestive problems.
Maintaining health is important. Keep birds well watered and provide shade and a moist patch of soil when it’s hot. Chickens are usually cold-hardy, but you should provide heat in the coop if temperatures drop much below 20 degrees. You can use your old chick heating lamp for this, but be sure to secure it carefully to prevent it from falling and potentially starting a fire. Clip wings to prevent flying clipping only the non-living parts of the flight feathers at the end of the wing. This, as well as dusting for mites (if needed) and other maintenance, is best done at night when the sleepy birds are most docile.