The ABCs of Caring for Baby Chicks

Reader Contribution by Anna Twitto
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Although it’s the dead of winter, I know that many chicken enthusiasts like myself are already planning how they will start or expand their flock come spring. Maybe, like us, you are browsing sales ads and hatchery catalogs, in delicious hesitation about the perfect breed to start raising when the days get longer and warmer.

We are big proponents of breeding and raising chicks the natural way, with broody hens, but sometimes running the incubator or ordering a batch of baby chicks can have definite advantages – such as, for example, the ability to monitor valuable eggs extra carefully, and to give your flock a head start in the spring. If you are not averse to the idea of keeping chicks indoors for a few weeks, your February babies may well be ready for the outdoors as early as March or April, depending on your local weather – at about the time when your hens are just thinking of getting back to laying. 

Start With the Basics

If you have hatched some chicks in the incubator or brought some home from a breeder, it is your responsibility to provide all their needs – a safe, warm, clean environment with food and fresh water always available.

We do things very simply around here. For our brooder, we use a large cardboard box lined with newspaper or wood shavings, which are changed often. A heating lamp is suspended from a board placed across the top. We provide food in one tray and water in another – a heavy ashtray works very well for this purpose, as it’s stable enough not to be overturned and flat enough so that chicks won’t drown or get wet through if they stand in their water, which they like to do. If you use a deeper dish, fill it with marbles or rocks.

Make sure the chicks are not crowded. If some chicks are weak and get trodden upon, they can be squashed to death. Remove them to a separate brooder until they recover.

In almost every source I’ve checked, commercial chick starter is recommended for baby chicks, but I confess we have never used it. I expect I’d get a lot of rotten tomatoes hauled my way by experts if I suggested this officially, but remember, I’m sharing our personal experience here.

We offer our chicks a diet of regular chicken mash, or layers’ mash – whatever we have on hand – supplemented with mashed hard-boiled egg and, from very early on, treats in the form of fruit and veggie scraps. I also take the chicks outside, under supervision, and let them peck and scratch in the yard for a while each day (weather permitting, of course). We have raised many generations of healthy chicks this way.

I wish you the best of luck with your chicken nursery, and am sure you are going to have fun with your flock.

Part of this post was an excerpt from Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna’s books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna’s Mother Earth News posts here.

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