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Caring for New Chicks

If you are one of those folks that raises chicks continually as we do, the one thing that’s always the same is that there’s always something different. In that case the one thing you can always do is try to have as much ready as possible when they arrive.

When receiving chicks in the mail, always get the tracking number and keep up with where they are and be ready to pick them up at the post office. It is a good idea to call the post office with the instruction to call you as soon as they arrive and to hold them for you to pick up at the post office. This way you can pick them up a lot sooner and try to comfort them on the way to your home.

French Black Copper Maran chick photographed by Imogene Frazier

I always feel better starting them off somewhere in my home. Baby chicks don’t take much room, and they’re very vulnerable as day-old chicks. At this stage they only have fuzz on their body, and they’re very susceptible to become cold. Chicks that are cold for long periods of time can die from hypothermia. It’s a good idea to have the brooder box nice and warm ahead of time for their arrival. If you order your chicks by mail, the one thing you want to do for sure is to be ready when they get there.

Brooder partitions work well with day old chicks

A brooder box can be simple, and if you don’t plan to use it again it can be disposable. Simple partitions of cardboard set up on the floor in a circle is all it takes to make a brooder. Cover the floor with a sheet of cardboard and then layer with bedding and you have a brooder. A large storage container works well too for a couple of weeks depending on how many chicks you have. Try to provide ½ square foot per chick at the start.

Normally chicks will not start drinking or eating until their body has warmed. At floor level the temperature needs to be 100-degrees F directly under the heat source, but for the first few hours only. Then lower the temperature to 98-degrees F for the rest of the first day and then to 97-degrees the second day. Then take the temperature to 95-degrees for a week. The next week take temperature down to 90 degrees, which would be best monitored by a thermometer inside the brooder. There after take the temperature down 5 degrees every week until reaching 70 to 75 degrees. Bantam chicks should stay slightly warmer than large fowl chicks and need to be protected from all drafts.

Sometimes chicks arrive late through the mail, be prepared for a loss or weak chicks. It's always devastating to open boxes shipped in the mail to find tiny lifeless bodies or weak day-old chicks. I’m a pudding when it comes to dealing with dead baby chicks, and I would rather not experience that kind of thing, (ever!). But when you add new pure-breeds to your flocks sometimes getting chicks through the mail is the only option. It’s not a bad idea to have some sugar in their water to energize some of the weaker chicks. It can’t hurt to have Nutri-drench on hand. Nutri-drench is a nutrient-rich supplement made with molasses formulated to deliver energy and essential nutrients rapidly into their systems.


Large pine shaving as bedding is recommended for young chicks. Be careful not to use small pine shaving, as chicks tend to eat the small shavings and it will

Chicks on pine shaving in a cardboard box brooder

eventually either kill them or cause a health issue. Be aware that cedar and cypress shavings are both highly toxic to poultry. After you have laid about an inch-deep of the large pine shavings on the floor of the brooder, place a couple of sheets of paper towel over the shaving. Then scatter Chick Starter over the paper towel. This will help motivate the chicks to eat. Allow the chicks to eat Chick Starter from off the paper towel the first few days. It’s easy to roll up the soiled paper towel and dispose of it daily, replacing with clean paper towel and starter feed. Once chicks begin to show a healthy interest for feed, it's time to use trays and stop with the paper towels. I highly recommend disposable chick feed trays.

After you have collected your chicks from the post office and are placing them into the brooder dip their beaks into the warm drinking water mixed with supplement. To do this use your fingers and hold the chick’s head and do a quick dip of the chick’s beak into the water and then let go of the chick. Do this gently and watch to see if they have taken the liquid into their beak, sometimes they will tilt back their head and sometimes they will smack their beak. Be careful not to immerse their beak down to the nostrils.

We have found that if the water containers are set on top of a small platform it

will keep the shaving out of the water, and most importantly, chicks are less likely to fall into the water and drown. You can either purchase a stand or make one. We use 2 pieces of 2X4 cut 5” long with a small plank or plywood cut 5” X 5” then screwed on top the 2X4’s. Don't get it too high. Around 2 1/2" high works great for most chicks if you have shaving placed around it. Of course, you can find many other platforms that can be purchased if you can’t build one. Another way to prevent drowning is by placing marbles in the rim.

Once you have all your chicks inside the 100-degree brooder and have dipped their beaks in the water mix, sprinkle the Chick Starter feed over the paper towel, so they can see and hear the sound of falling feed. The movement of the feed will sometimes catch their attention and they will begin to peck at it. If one or two begins to peck the feed the others will copy them. Most baby chick loss is caused by the chick not starting to eat or drink mostly because they are too cold to move.

The first day they will need a lot of rest. Refrain from handling or playing with the birds the first 24 hours. The best thing to do after having them situated is to give them time to recover and adjust. It is very important to get them eating and drinking. If they don't appear to be eating or drinking, sprinkle fresh Chick Starter over clean paper towel, and gently touch the beak of any chick into the drinking mix to be sure they know where it’s located. Then if they don’t appear to be eating, peck your finger in the feed to attract their attention. Repeat this at least tw