Things to do before bringing chicks home? Hmmm…dream, plan, obsess, look at baby chick pictures on Google and join all the chicken pages and Facebook groups you can find! haha, seriously though, tell me you haven’t!
I had obsessed (and in some ways still obsess) over raising my own chickens for eggs long before I was given the opportunity to actually do it. But let me tell you, as soon as I had the opportunity, I jumped on it! We were in our homestead only a few weeks when one of our local feed stores had their chick days. I tried to talk myself out of it, I really, really did, but….I had been wanting to raise my own chickens since our first daughter was born in 2002.
So, the whole family loaded up in our Tahoe and headed into town, 45 minutes away. I kept telling everyone we were just going to look. I’m not sure if I was trying to convince them or myself. That afternoon, 10 new baby chicks had made themselves at home on our homestead. It was an amazing experience and from that single experience, I learned so much about baby chickens. Like they are noisy and sometimes stinky. They are afraid of human hands until they learn we aren’t predators. They don’t really need that heat light ALL the time, like us humans think they do. And if you cuddle them enough, they will become super friendly.
Although I had done a ton of research on how to care for chickens, it really was just basic knowledge. Until you are raising these live little chatterboxes, one will never understand the joy they bring to their owners. The things to do before you bring chicks home won’t break your budget and are quite simple to do! I suggest doing these things before you bring home chicks for the first time so you’ll be better prepared for their arrival.
Things To Do Before Bringing Chicks Home
Hands down, this is the single most important thing you can do. Educating yourself about baby chicks, and chickens, in general, will save you a lot of frustration. Unless of course, you like playing the guessing game. There is a ton of information on the internet these days about every topic imaginable and chickens are no different. I have learned much of what I know from experts like Lisa Steele from Fresh Eggs Daily, Joel Salatin from Polyface Farm, and Justin Rhodes from Abundant Permaculture.
There is a lot of weird, quirky things that chickens do that are absolutely normal. Had I never learned what molting was, I would have been certain that my chickens had some skin disease and were dying on me. Dust baths? For sure would have panicked and thought my girls were having seizures.
Decide on which breed(s)
If you will only be raising chickens for eggs, then you are going to want to raise chickens that are eggcelent (see what I did there haha) for egg production. Oddly enough, not all chickens are created equal when it comes to the egg laying business. Australorps, Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, and in our experience Brahmas have been the best egg layers on our homestead. Our Brahma (Mabel) and Rhode Island Red (Rhonda) will quite frequently give us two eggs a day.
Our Easter Eggers aren’t terrible layers, they do give us about 2-3 eggs a week, which is sufficient for a smaller family. What I like about these girls is their eggs turn my basket into a beautiful rainbow of colors – with blues and greens. Although our Easter Egger Star has been flying out of the run and escaping to the neighbor’s to lay her eggs in their flower beds.
Pick local breeder or hatchery
This truly is personal preference. When we moved to our homestead we didn’t have connections, so our first flock came from a feed supply store. They were healthy girls and they are still giving us eggs today. We have also purchased day-old chicks from Cackle Hatchery and we have been truly blessed by them. They were all healthy upon arrival, and every one of them made it through the shipping process. They answered any and all questions we had. Since we moved to the new homestead, we are now closer and will be able to go pick up our chicks instead of having them shipped.
Build or purchase your brooder
Don’t make the mistake of stopping to pick up your brooder supplies until the day you are bringing home your chicks. Doing this will force you to keep those little noisemakers in the box you brought them home in for longer than necessary (ask me how I know). A brooder does not have to be expensive, in fact, many people use the plastic totes you can purchase at Wal-Mart and they poke a few holes in the top. Our very first brooder was 2 plastic pools, with screws loosely holding it together. We cut a hole on the bottom of the top pool and covered it with chicken wire. Our girls loved their little home and our dog loved to sit and watch them scurrying around playing. D is working on a newer, more permanent brooder that will allow us to raise more than just 10 chicks and a few turkeys.
Shop for supplies
Baby chicks don’t need much, but there are some things you’ll want to have on hand before you bring them home.
- We use a non-GMO organic chick starter and then around 10-12 weeks, we switch over to a non-GMO grower feed. It won’t be until your girls start laying that you will put them on layer feed if you choose not to free range (which we don’t anymore).
- They will also need a little box with a little dirt (preferably from the area you plan on placing their coop), herbs, and diatomaceous earth. Chickens, even baby chickens like to wiggle and wriggle around in the dirt and they will be quite happy if you provide this for them.
- A roost – we just use a small tree limb off of one of our trees on our property. D used his Dremel to cut holes in the ends of the brooder and we put it through the holes. Once they are big enough, they will hop up on it and sleep at night.
- Pine chips – Most feed stores carry wood chips and all Tractor Supplies do as well. You’ll need to place about 2-3 inches in the bottom of the brooder in order to catch any droppings and provide a safe spot for your chicks to walk, run, and jump around on. The last thing you want is your baby chicks slipping and sliding all over the place. Also, consider reading up on the deep liter method and using this in your brooder as well.
- Feeder and Waterers – We just use basic feeders and waterers. These have a round base with holes in it for feed and the other is like a little bowl on the bottom that you screw a mason jar into. They are only a couple bucks and last a long time. Or, if you’d like, you can always make your own. Depending on how many chicks you have will determine how many you will need. Trust me, they will crowd around, on top, and try to push each other out-of-the-way to eat and drink – so you do want to be sure you have enough room for all of the chicks to be able to eat and drink.
- Heat lamp with a red bulb – You’ll need this to keep your girls warm. Baby chicks are prone to getting cold and if too cold, they won’t move around and may not get up to eat or drink. They will try to conserve their energy. The best way to know if your chicks need the heat lamp is to watch them. We moved here in March of 2017 and that April was a cold, rainy month. I would turn on the heat lamp in the morning when it was time to refill their feed and water. After a little while, if they were scurrying around happy, I would leave it on, but if they were lying around, separate from one another — a sign they are too warm — then I knew it was time to turn it off.
- Cotton swabs, cotton balls, and a small plastic bowl (preferably one that can be thrown away) – Baby chicks sometimes will get what is called pasty butt. This often happens after they’ve experienced the stress of being shipping in the mail. Pasty butt happens when poop gets stuck around the vent of a chicks rump and restricts them from being able to go number two. You’ll need to remove this as soon as possible because it will cause your baby chick(s) to become impacted and die.
Why? Because little chicks and big chicks alike love them! Plus, they are super beneficial for many different things. Herbs will help boost your chickens immune system and help them fight off illness and disease. They will help keep parasites at a distance and solve many nutritional issues. Herbs are an excellent way to keep your chickens healthy, naturally!
Outside nursery area
I suggest setting up an outside nursery area for your baby chicks to start pecking around at the dirt and eating some grass. We like to place our’s next to our big girl coop, yet in an area where the big girls can’t access the little girls and the little girls can’t escape to the big girls. It is best to keep the little chicks separated from the big girls until they are large enough to defend themselves. Chickens do have a pecking order if a big hen like our Mabel (who is a pretty big Brahma) ever pecked a baby chick, it would most likely be fatal.