Raising baby chicks: daunting, but exciting

Wisconsin State Farmer
Keep  your chicks healthy by having the right supplies on hand.

New chicks and receiving your very first brood of baby chicks is definitely an exciting experience; however it can also be a bit daunting.

Baby chicks are definitely a handful; they are quite fragile and need a lot of care and attention. It is extremely important to have everything in place before your baby chicks arrive.

Here is a list of the basics you will need to raise healthy and happy chicks.

Time commitment

The first thing you need to plan on providing for your baby chicks is a lot of your time and attention. Don’t plan on going on vacation or even being gone a full day when caring for chicks. Their feeding, watering, health and environment need to be attended to several times each day.

The brooder

A brooder is a baby chick house. It can be made out of a variety of objects such as a cardboard box or even a baby pool. Make sure your brooder has proper ventilation and provides at least 2 square feet per chick.

Keep it out of drafts and make sure it doesn’t get damp or wet. Brooders should also either have netting on the top or have walls which are at least 2 feet tall. It’s surprising how well baby chicks can fly!

Heat source

For the first week of their lives baby chicks need to be kept in a 95 degree environment. Every subsequent week they should have their heating turned down 5 degrees until they are ready to go to the outside coop.

Most baby chick raisers use a 250-watt infrared heat lamp as their heating source. Red heat lights are preferred to white lights. The white lights are too bright and make it difficult for the chicks to sleep.

Do not use just a standard light bulb, because they do not produce enough heat. Be sure to place your heat lamp about a foot above the brooder floor so that the chicks can walk in and out of the direct heat.


Baby chicks need absorbent bedding that is changed frequently. About 1 inch of pine shavings is suggested. Do not use newspaper or cedar chips!

Newspapers are too slippery, causing the chicks to develop a leg deformity called “splayed leg.” Cedar chips contain aromatic oils which will irritate your chicks’ lungs.

Clean the bedding daily.

Watering, feeding 

You might be tempted to use any little bowl to feed and water your baby chicks, but this is not recommended. Chicks can easily become injured or killed by feeders that are not made especially for them.

First, scatter the feed on the brooder floor so chicks can find it. Then start using a chick feeder. Feeding your chicks is actually quite easy as there is specially made baby chick food that will fulfill all of their dietary needs. Be sure to follow the directions on the bag.

For the first 10 weeks, each chick will eat about one pound of food per week. You can always work with your veterinarian to come up with a complete nutrition plan.

Clean, fresh water should always be available. Help your chicks by dipping the chicks’ beaks into water and let them drink for 4 - 5 hours before introducing feed. Elevating the waterer a couple inches off the brooder floor will help it stay clean, and keep bedding out of it.

When done right, raising baby chicks is a rewarding experience that culminates in having wonderful pet chickens that are happy, healthy and have bonded to you and vice versa.