How to care for baby chicks:
Murdoch’s Animal Health Specialist, Carol Ledbetter, has helped thousands of customers at our Longmont store with their new baby chicks. Because chicks are starting to show up at Murdoch’s stores, we asked her to tell you how to care for baby chicks, from prep through the first two weeks. They are delicate little creatures that need to be well cared for, especially during the first few weeks.
To provide the best environment for chicks prepare several days ahead.
Proper Enclosure: We recommend a stock tank or small kiddie pool. It must be large enough for their food and water, plus provide ample space for each chick, so the enclosure size depends on how many you have.
Each chick needs about 1 square foot or more. Some folks use clean plastic dog crates with the roof separated. Other folks opt to use a cardboard box; Murdoch’s cautions against cardboard because it poses fire hazards. Cardboard boxes are an unnecessary risk to take, plus they need to be replaced frequently when water spills.
Bedding: Layer your enclosure with a minimum of 1 inch of bedding on the floor. Pine shavings are preferred. Do not use newspaper shreds or cedar shavings (cedar causes respiratory problems).
Pine shavings serve two purposes: First, they absorb waste and water spills. Second, they provide proper footing. When chicks walk on slippery surfaces (like newspaper and cardboard) they can develop spraddle/sprayed leg, impacting their ability to walk. You’ll need to change bedding every 2-3 days.
For warmth you will need to hang a heat lamp, starting at 18” to 24” from the ground. The temperature inside the enclosure needs to be between 85 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Use an outdoor thermometer that is designed to measure air temperatures to ensure proper temperatures.
Reduce the temperature by 5 degrees Farenheit every week by raising the heat lamp. We can’t tell you how high 5 degrees is; everyone’s home begins at a different air temperature.
Pay attention to your chicks! They will tell you if the temperature is comfortable. Here’s how you know: If the chicks always huddle under the light, it is too cold. If they are always to the edge, it’s too hot.
Always use red heat bulbs at first to help protect their delicate eyes and prevent picking.
Food and Water
Water: Provide fresh water daily. Always use a poultry waterer. It’s a safe, inexpensive tool to keep your chicks healthy. You may have to show your new chicks where to drink by dipping their beaks into the water dish.
Feed: You will feed chick starter for the first 18 to 20 weeks. Chick starter comes in both medicated and non-medicated forms. We pulled together a whole blog post about this.
If you purchased your chicks from a Murdoch’s store, your chicks were not vaccinated. For non-vaccinated chicks, FDA-approved medicated feed (it has amprolium in it) is recommended to prevent coccidiosis. Do not use medicated chick starter feed if your chicks come from a supplier who vaccinates.
Once you have these basics in place you are ready to welcome home chicks, and the first two weeks with your new baby chicks will go smoothly.
For the first couple weeks keep a close eye on how they act. They may become stressed and constipated. To reduce stress, handle chicks as little as possible for the first 2-3 weeks. After that you can start getting them used to you. If constipation occurs (also called pasting) use a warm wet cloth or cotton ball to clean the area.
Always, always provide clean bedding, water, and feed to your chicks. If you have specific questions about how to care for baby chicks, you can comment below or ask the folks at your local Murdoch’s.