Picture of a baby chick being held
Me holding one of our chicks in 2022

If someone were interested in raising healthy chicks from a hatchling or a young age, what should they do to raise the healthiest chickens and roosters that they can? Based on my and my family’s experience raising chickens and after doing extensive research, here are the best ways to take care of baby chicks so they will become healthy and develop into strong hens and roosters!

To care for chicks, you need a brooding box, water dispensers, feed dispensers, a warming light, wood shavings, at least one perching stick or dowel, and chick feed. In addition to supplies, it is crucial to give chicks loving human contact as well. They need to be domesticated, fed, and kept safe to develop!

What makes the above tools and supplies so important for the upbringing of baby chicks? What else needs to be done to make sure that these animals are kept safe and healthy? Let’s go over what to look for in case new baby chicks are bought and need to be cared for in the best ways possible!

Do Chicks Need Toys?

There’s a fair amount of debate over whether or not chicks need toys. Some say that chicks do need toys since it helps them live happier, longer lives!

Some sources report that chick toys have many benefits, such as…

  • helping the chicks develop a stronger immune system
  • making them less aggressive towards their siblings and fellow flock members
  • helping them produce higher-quality eggs in adulthood
  • helping them cope with stress better
  • making them better at navigating spaces
  • enabling them to handle new situations calmly

They argue that chicks may not need toys to survive, but having them helps the chicks develop tons of emotional and physical advantages!

As an engineer, I’m skeptical about several of these claims. In my experience, I’ve found that chickens are highly social so it’s far more important to have multiple chicks than it is to have toys. I’ve also learned that they love to perch, and after just a few weeks as they start to get feathers, chicks will start jumping and flapping and will be able to get to higher spaces. At that point, chicks will often prefer perching on a stick to standing on the ground.

That said, we’ve definitely bought some toys for our chickens. Toys can include anything that makes the brood space of the chicks more interesting or exciting, like a cheap xylophone for the chicks to peck at or a bridge for them to explore under and over. We have both in our chicken run along with a cheap little shiny bell they can peck at.

In fact, we got this exact set from Amazon and it’s been kind of fun. It was for our grown hens though, not chicks.

Toys for Stages of Development

Some experts have even compiled a useful guide on what type of toys should be provided for each developmental stage of chicks as they grow up! This guide reports that a brooder plate and a red light are a must, while comfort feathers and even a stuffed hen are good, comforting toys but are optional.

Again, I question the “mandatory” assertion as I’ve raised a lot of very healthy and seemingly happy chickens and I’ve never owned a brooder plate.

For the next stage after imprinting, which is exploration, they say that chicks will benefit from a dust bath container, a perch or bridge, marbles, balls, springs, dangly toys, and even laser pointers for more complicated and interactive toys.

After this, chicks will develop complex awareness, and will love a mirror as a toy to recognize themselves and flock mates in! Or maybe they’ll just peck at it since it’ll be shiny.

The final stage is spatial navigation, during which they say chicks will learn best from simple cardboard partitions and boxes, hideouts, tunnels, multiple-level perches, and more brooder space.

All of these toys can luckily be either repurposed out of pre-existing materials, bought for cheap, or can be found at thrift stores.

Length of Developmental Stages

Developmental Stage of ChicksWhen Chicks are In Each Stage
ImprintingDays 1-3
ExplorationDays 4-7
Complex AwarenessDay 8
Spatial NavigationDays 9-14
The developmental stages of chicks

You can try to introduce the corresponding toys during these times for the best developmental results.

Brooding Boxes and Brooder Plates

One of the first things that chick owners need is a brooding box. And, according to some people brooder plates. This is because a brooding box is a box or even bigger space or terrarium outfitted to provide space, warmth, and safe toys for the chick to grow in and use after hatching.

Most chicks are hatched from incubators, which they can often stay in for about 2 days after hatching, and then are moved to a brooder for more space to grow. However, some incubators are made to double as brooding boxes, while some brooding boxes need their unique sources of heat added for the chicks to use if they don’t come built-in.

Brooder plates are devices made, often perches or spaces that provide warmth and heat to the chicks in the brooding space. 

Brooding Box and Brooding Plate Prices

You can buy brooding boxes and brooding plates online, but you can also just build a brooding box from scratch.

We used boards from an old wooden sign my dad had lying around, cut them to size and screwed them together. We just left the top open. Then, we nailed a thin board across about 6-8 inches off the bottom that they could use as a perch and covered the top in chicken wire. We stapled the wire down on one side and used 3 screws as hooks on the other side so we could open and close the wire on the top.

Most brooding boxes online (link to Amazon) are between $40 to $120 depending on size and how many bells and whistles they have. Most brooding plates (link to Amazon) range from $60 to $120 on sites like Amazon. 

Water Dispensers

Water dispensers are yet another essential when chicks are being raised to be healthy. These are devices that safely deliver or offer water for chicks to drink. It’s really unsafe to simply place a deep bowl of water in a brooding box since chicks could fall in and become drenched and cold or even drown in their first days of life!

Most dispensers can be bought online for $8 to as much as $30. There is a wide range to choose from (link to Amazon). They generally all work about the same so you’ll just want to select the best one for your setup. For example, a hanging dispenser can be nice because you’ll be less likely to have the chicks perch on top and poop in their own water. But, most brooder boxes don’t really accommodate a hanging water dispenser.

Food Trays and Dispensers

Next on the list are food trays and dispensers! These can be very similar to water dispensers in price range, seeing as most food dispensers (link to Amazon) can be bought in a combo pack with a matching water dispenser, or purchased on their own for prices between $6 to $28.

Food trays can cost around $7 to $22 each and some are specially made with individual holes for each chick to have a feeding space to decrease the chance of them fighting over food. Since chick food is safer and easier to deliver than water, chick owners could also just set down a shallow or simple dish in the brooding box, or some other makeshift container, to hold the food for the chicks.

For feeding, we went with a food tray because we were brooding chicks for both ourselves and my parents, so we had up to 15 chicks at once. But for a few chicks, a matching food and water dispenser like the ones I linked above would be perfect. I have one of those feed dispensers too.

Warming Light

Many people will be surprised to learn that young chicks always need an extra source of heat as they are growing when they don’t have a mother hen to provide that warmth! Brooder boxes need to keep them adequately warm for four to six weeks usually, depending on the outside environment where you live.

Weekly Heating Schedule

During week 1, chicks need to be kept at 95 to 100 degrees, with a heat lamp about 18 inches distant from their bedding. For week 2, they should be kept in a space that is about 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and then for week 3, it can be decreased to 85 to 90 degrees. Come week 4, the temperature can be lowered to 80 to 85 degrees.

For week 5, lower it to between 75 to 80 degrees, or simply remove the heat source if regular temperatures are already in the 75 to 80-degree range. Finally, during week 6 the chicks should be kept at 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, or just remove their heat source if the environment is already this warm. From this point on, the chicks should be fully feathered and will no longer need an outside heat source!

Buying Heat Lamps and Bulbs

Heat lamps and bulbs can often be bought for anywhere between $10 to $25 online. Thankfully, heat lamps and heat bulbs can be bought pretty cheaply at pet or farm stores. Chick owners need to be careful when setting up these lamps and bulbs to make sure that they won’t be a fire hazard, and to make sure they don’t overheat the chicks. Make sure to purchase a loose or stick-on thermometer to monitor the heat of the brooding box! Thermometers can be bought at pet stores or online for prices between $6 to $18. 

Leave a Cool Spot in the Brooding Box

Just as chicks need sources of heat, they also need cool spaces in turn. The above heating lamp or source must be aimed or placed in one area of the brooding box, usually at one end. That’ll leave a cool area at the opposite end. This allows the chicks to be in control of what temperature they want to be in and can prevent overheating and chilling.

Chicks can be monitored for behavior to tell if they are too hot or too cold, and the brooding box, heating light, and cooling spot adjusted accordingly! If chicks are panting or drooping their wings low, they are likely feeling too hot. If the chicks are emitting alarmed, panicked cheeps or are huddling together, they are likely too cold.

Wood Shavings

Wood shavings and chick bedding can be purchased online or can be found at farm or pet stores to then be placed in brooding spaces. They can often be bought at prices (link to Amazon) starting at $10 to $100, depending on the size of the shaving or bedding bag. Using wood shavings, or bedding, or litter as some call it, is crucial for keeping chicks healthy and reasonably clean.

This is because the bedding helps absorb moisture, insulates the floor of brooding spaces from cold temperatures, and gives chicks a chance to dust. Chicks will bathe in dust to help keep their feathers clean and free them from lice, mites, and other tiny parasites.

Dust Bath Containers

Related to buying wood shavings and bedding, are dust bath containers. Sometimes chicks can simply use their dry bedding to take a dust bath by rolling or writhing around in the shavings.

It could be necessary to put a small container that has some dust for them to directly use in the brooding box. Containers of dust (link to Amazon) for this purpose can be purchased for $10 to $30 online and can be placed in any container low enough for the chicks to easily hop in and out of to use.

That said, I’ve never needed one, but I was good about replacing my chicks’ wood shavings pretty regularly and removing their waste.

Chick Food

Another key element of raising chicks is of course their food source. Lot’s of people have reported that a bag of Purina Start & Grow Starter/Grower Medicated Feed Crumbles (link to Amazon) is a great choice for feeding young chicks. It’s the feed I raise my chicks on and they’ve been very healthy.

Other chick owners have reported success with other types of food products for their baby chicks. You’ll also use different feeds for each stage of life your chickens are in.

People can even throw unusual types of food in for the chicks, such as vegetables, fruits, stale bread, or crackers from the table. These foods should only be used as treats however and should be taken out of the chick’s space when they become picked over or moldy. Freshly cut grass can be placed with the babies to eat as well, but make sure to only use grasses that have not been treated with pesticides or herbicides! 

Give the below video a watch to learn even more good sources of nutrients and protein for growing baby chicks as they turn into young chickens!

Gentle Human Contact and Handling

Finally, some love and tender touch go a long way for chicks, just as it will help almost any other kind of animal! Chicks need kind contact to be more docile and comfortable with human presence and handling.

Just make sure to wash your hands with soap before touching or holding them and wash them again with soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after you’re done handling them.

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