8 Tips to Prepare for Baby Chickens

Be Sure You’re Ready to Order, House and Care for Your New Baby Chicks

by Rachel Hurd Anger
PHOTO: WONG SZE FEI/stock.adobe.com

Baby chickens are a rite of passage in spring, but the preparation starts long before that. Here are some tips to help you start planning and keep your growing flock healthy and happy.

1. Order Early From Hatcheries Near You

Most of us want specific breeds for particular reasons, whether it’s for ornamental reasons, egg-laying capabilities or meat of a certain flavor. To ensure you get the chicken breeds you want, order as early as possible. As chicken keeping continues to grow in popularity, breed favorites disappear from availability quickly.

For the sake of the little birds that will be shipped to your post office, seek out a hatchery in your region of the country. U.S. Postal Service shipping of live animals is always an expedited service, as is reflected by the shipping price that’s higher than the cost of the spring chicks. However, the longer the day-old chicks remain in transport, the more stress they will endure. Weak chicks that might struggle to survive under the best of conditions aren’t likely to survive a stressful trip. The shorter the trip, the more likely your chicks are to be thriving upon arrival. Sourcing chicks locally is also an option.

2. Construct the Brooder Before Hatch Day

Whether you build your own brooder or purchase a brooder kit, a brooder is essentially a nursery for baby chickens, and it must be ready the moment chicks arrive.

  • Be sure the brooder protects your chicks from other animals in the house, garage, shed or barn, and be sure that chicks cannot escape.
  • Warm an area of the brooder with a heat lamp or a safer, ambient heat source made for chicks. Cooler areas should also be available in case chicks feel too warm.
  • Provide soft, warm bedding, like straw or poplar shavings. Avoid slippery material, like newspaper, to prevent splayed leg.
  • Keep chick feed and water clean and plentiful at all times.

3. Educate Young Children

Kids tend to squeeze chicks. Practice holding baby chickens with your kids—a hard-boiled egg, a nectarine, or something else small and chick-sized will do the trick. Chicks should be held firmly but gently. Kids should also know that the chick should escape their hands than it is to prevent their escape with a squeeze.

4. Open the Box of Baby Chickens Alone

Chirping boxes are irresistible, especially for kids, but when your baby chickens arrive, insist on opening the box alone. In the rare event that a weak chick didn’t survive the trip, you need to know first so you can break the news gently to young children.

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5. Move Baby Chickens to the Brooder Immediately

It’s tempting to play with baby chickens when they arrive, but they need to be moved to their brooder immediately once they’re in your care. Be mindful of how long the chicks have been in transport. From the time they hatch, they need food and water within the first 72 hours of life. While transport through the mail is safe, shipping can be stressful for some chicks. Getting them to food and water, and assessing any health concerns has to be the first priority.

6. Monitor Baby Chicks for Pasty Butt

When chicks’ droppings dry to the outside of the vent, it creates a plug. We call this pasty butt, and it’s deadly if the plug isn’t removed. Check for pasty butt when you move each chick from the shipping box to the brooder. If you find a pasty butt, hold the chick firmly, and soak its bottom in warm water. The poop will dissolve quickly, and it will dissolve right off. Do not rub the area as the skin a fragile and you can hurt the baby chick by ripping its skin. Instead, pat her dry and then place her under the brooder’s heat source so she doesn’t get cold. Chicks that get pasty butt are prone to develop it again, so be sure to check it often. Continue checking the entire flock for at least the first week of life.

7. Have the Coop Ready

Chicks grow astoundingly fast. Soon, they’ll outgrow their brooder and will need to move to the coop. If you’re building a coop, complete it before your chicks arrive, even if it will be several weeks before they move in, to avoid setbacks or predator vulnerabilities caused by rushing the job. If you’re ordering a coop, make sure it arrives before your chicks do, not on the same day.

8. Understand That Chickens Are a Commitment

If your chickens will be egg-laying pets, and if you care for them well, some can live up to 10 years or more. Bringing home backyard chickens isn’t very different than bringing home a new puppy or kitten, except that chickens are harder to re-home. Visit a farm and learn how to care for chickens, or get nitty-gritty chicken-keeping tips from other chicken keepers before you place your hatchery order.

This story about preparing for baby chickens was written for Hobby Farms magazine online. Click here to subscribe.

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