A Basic Guide to Raising Chickens

A basic guide to raising chickens. Raising chicks is easier than you might think — especially if you let a mother hen do the work for you. Includes tips on housing, feed and management of baby poultry, including chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese and guinea fowl.

| December 2008/January 2009

This basic guide to raising chickens helps you start baby chicks off right by following this expert advice. Whether you order chicks through the mail or let a hen hatch eggs, you can raise chicks naturally, without antibiotics or vaccines.

A Basic Guide to Raising Chickens

Raising baby poultry is easy and a great deal of fun. Many people start with chickens, but you might also consider ducks, guineas, turkeys or geese. You can order chicks from a hatchery, buy them at a local farm store, or allow a hen to hatch eggs and raise the chicks for you. Raising purchased chicks is easy, but remember that they rely on you for their every need.

The Chicks are in the Mail

Just before hatching, a chick absorbs and stores the last of the egg yolk it’s been feeding on throughout incubation. This last bit of yolk can sustain the chick for several days before its first drink or meal, providing a window of opportunity for shipping chicks from a hatchery to your front door.

When your chicks arrive, open the box in the presence of the postal clerk or carrier. Shipments from a reputable hatchery are insured, and the hatchery will likely replace losses if there are a large number of fatalities. That sounds scary, but I’ve rarely had problems. It is not unusual, however, to have a couple of losses (either in transit or within the first day or two) of weaker chicks that just didn’t have a good start. Even in the best of circumstances, transit through the postal system is stressful for chicks. Provide them with warmth, water and feed immediately.

Setting up a Chick Brooder

A brooder is a warm, draft-free environment to replace a mother hen’s body heat. You can buy a commercial brooder, but it is cheap and easy to assemble one from materials on hand (a large cardboard box will work for a few chicks).

The brooder must have a heat source. Any lamp with 100- to 250-watt bulbs will work for about a dozen chicks. Or you can buy a special brooder heat lamp or use small electric heating elements. For temperature control, lamps can be raised or lowered. The closer the lamp is to the floor, the warmer the air at the chicks’ level. Secure the lamp or heater so it’s not too close to combustible surfaces (litter, cardboard or wood sides) — usually 18 inches or so, as recommended by the manufacturer.

Leslie Suitor
12/5/2011 9:04:19 PM

To prevent pasty butt on our chicks we add a dollop of molasses to their water each day as we change it. This keeps them regular. We also are very careful to run their little rears under warm water to soften up the poo before trying to remove it as their skin is very fragile and can actually tear. Try to just get the poo wet and not the chick as they get chilled otherwise. Be patient.

Karen Schoening
2/17/2010 4:21:14 PM

Hens can be used as foster mothers (brooders!) for ordered chicks too. I've had the best success with silkies and cochins, but have also used Ameraucanas and even a barred rock. Right now I have 2 silkie hens happily sharing 9 purchased chicks in a cage inside. They are inside because even though it's been warmer than normal we could still get extreme cold weather and snow here, and in the meantime there's a lot of water and mud where chicks can get trampled by the bigger birds. Plus I'm expecting another 15 chicks next week and I'm hoping to add them to the current family for a couple weeks before they go outside. One of these hens fostered 40 chicks at once for me last year -- they weren't all the same age but at night she tried to get all of them underneath her feathers. Chicks raised by a mom can usually go outside faster. They learn to scratch around for food and become self-sufficient earlier. I have had very few losses -- even the cats stay away from the pen when there's a mom inside. And the chicks seem happier to me, spending more time singing than peeping. The only downside is that when they grow up the new chickens tend to be less people friendly than chicks raised by me. Karen in MT

Ann M
12/24/2009 10:11:03 AM

Chickens are fun. If you are considering chickens check out the heritage breeds at It costs the same to feed different breeds so why not have something that is a little less common and help preserve a heritage gene pool at the same time. We have Buckeyes, a good dual breed if you are looking for meat and eggs, and Welsummers which lay a really dark brown egg. Both breeds are beautiful and the Buckeyes seem to be more cold tolerant and lay during the winter too. Ann in eastern Ohio

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: September 14-16, 2018
Seven Springs, PA

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard