Chickens are a great first step towards producing your own food and increasing your family’s food security. Even better, they are perfectly kid sized and tend not to intimidate small children.
Our quick start guide will cover everything you need to bring home your first chicks. Want more hands on instruction? Check out our events page to see when our next Chickens with Candy class is scheduled.
First off, where to source chicks. AKA How To Pick Up Chicks (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). If you are lucky enough to have a neighbor incubating eggs to hatch chicks, this will be your best option since the chicks will be better adjusted to your climate and will not require shipping.
Since most of us aren’t lucky enough to get chicks from a neighbor, your most common places to get chicks are through a mail order hatchery or your local farm store.
Yes, you can order chicks from a hatchery and have them shipped to your through the postal system. Crazy. I know.
Ordering through the mail will give you the best selection of breeds and more flexibility when they arrive. Usually hatcheries have a minimum order of 25 chicks so that they can keep each other warm during shipping.
While shipping chicks with the postal system is generally safe for chicks, there is a chance they will be mishandled, and some chicks die. We have had a well-meaning postal worker set the box in front of an air conditioning vent to keep them cool in the summer heat. Cringe. Chicks need 95-100 degrees the first few weeks of life.
Buying chicks from your local farm store is also common. The farm store tends to have a more limited breed selection and may or may not be able to special order for you. The benefit to purchasing through the farm store is the chicks have already been shipped and the store absorbs the death loss.
If you are lucky you can sometimes get chicks with half their feathers grown in. Not only are they much hardier at this point, but often the store is looking to get rid of them at a good price.
Normally, a newly hatched chick seeks warmth and refuge under Mother Hen’s feathers. Without her to provide warmth, you will need to provide a warm and draft free environment for the chicks until they have enough feathers to keep warm.
One solution is to use an old leaky water trough for the chicks. Another option is to use a circle of cardboard in the coop. Roughly 18” high and big enough in diameter for feed, water, and the chicks to have plenty of room to spread out.
Bed with shavings and provide a heat lamp with a red bulb. PLEASE BE CAREFUL. Securely fasten lamp so it cannot fall. If a hot heat lamp falls onto bedding it can easily catch fire.
95-100 degrees for the first two weeks. Reduce 5 degrees every week until a month old.
If chicks are huddled for warmth under light, the chicks are too cold. Lower heat lamp.
If chicks are as far away as possible from the light, they are too warm. Raise heat lamp.
Chicks should be evenly spread out.
Most farm stores and grain elevators sell chick starter. The big decision is if you want the feed medicated or unmedicated.
Medicated chick feed contains drugs to help combat coccidiosis. While it is up to you, medicated feed is not often required, and chicks do just fine on unmedicated. If you are raising your chicks organically or naturally, use unmedicated feed.
For the first few days sprinkle a handful of feed on a piece of newspaper so it is easier for the chicks to find. After that keep feeders full, within easy reach and clean of bedding.
Plenty of clean, fresh water accessible to tiny chicks. Use a commercial waterer since chicks can easily fall into a bowl of water.
Before you go get your chicks (or the day they are due in the mail) have your coop set up and the heat lamp warming things up.
When you get your chicks home, gently take them in your hand and dip their beak in their water (you pretty much hold them upside down) to make sure they get a drink, especially if they came through the mail.
Make sure they have food, water, warmth and leave them to settle in for a bit. Check on them later to make sure they are warm enough.
There you have it. Your quick start guide to get you up and running with your first chicks. Your little balls of fluff will soon grow into a flock of layers (eggs) or broilers (for meat) and provide your family with increased food security.
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