Chick Care – Backyard Poultry

reading time: 8 minutes

Written by Michelle Cook – At that time of the year again. The sun is shining, daffodils are in bloom, and there’s a distinctive peeping noise in every farm store across the country. It’s time for the chicks. If you’ve ever heard of those fluffy little yellow balls, you’re in for a treat. It’s a pleasure to have chicken. If you’re new to the chicken game, fear not. I will take you through the ins and outs of caring for your new chick.


The first step in caring for new chicks is to set up an incubator. Your little ball should be kept warm and dry for the first few months of her life. To set up your brooder, you will need a draft-proof bowl, a heat source, and some type of brooder bedding. The cap becomes useful after about two weeks. As the chicks grow, they’ll want to test their wings.


The most important thing about your container is that it is cloud-free. You can use a large cardboard box, a large handbag, or a homemade wooden box. Anything big and sturdy will work. You want to have enough space for the chicks and a food and water dish. It is also important to have enough space so that the chicks can move away from the heat source if they need to. Personally, I use a retired 100-gallon aquarium for my lap. After a hard freeze causes a crack in the bottom, it no longer holds water, but works great as an incubator for chicks.

Taking care of the chicks
inside an incubator. Photo by the author

The lid of your container should not be airtight. Your chicks need to breathe. A net, fireproof blanket or screen will work great. You just need something to discourage your little darlings from flying into the coop.

Taking care of the chicks
Photo by the author

heat source

There are two main heat sources available to your chicks; Heat lamp and heat plate. Both work well to keep chicks warm. The heat lamp is similar to a masonry lamp but uses a 250-watt red bulb to keep the chicks warm. Use the heat lamp clip to hold it to the side of the brooder and point the light down into the brooder.

A heating pad is a flat plate that sits on the bottom of the brooder and warms the floor of the brooder. There is a space under the plate for the chicks to nest in the same way they nest under a hen. The legs are adjustable so that you can raise the board as the chicks get bigger.

You’ll find pros and cons for each type of heater and the topic is hotly debated on chicken nuggets everywhere. The biggest lesson here is to keep an eye on which type of heat source you choose for electrical problems and overheating.


Another controversial topic in the chicken world is the bedding for your brooder. There are some specific prohibitions but the rest will depend on what materials are available to you at a reasonable cost. Cedar sawdust is one of the most common no-nos. Cedar may smell great, but cedar oil can be toxic to chickens. Wet, wet shavings are another no-no when it comes to bedding. Moisture can easily cause chicks to catch a cold and bacteria in the bedding can make a young chick sick.

Here is a great list of bedding options for your new chicks:

  • Pine shavings
  • Clean straw
  • straw
  • pine straw
  • sand
  • a banana

Any of these bedding would work great for your little one. Choose one that is readily available in your area and make sure the mattress is a few inches thick to keep your little ones comfortable.


Now that you’ve set up the incubator, let’s talk about basic care for your new chicks. The chicks will need food, water, gravel, and a clean brooder.

Taking care of the chicks

perch feed

Your local store will carry a wide variety of chick feed. Look for a feed specifically designed for chicks (not chickens). This feed will be smaller and easier for the chicks to digest. You will also notice that you can get medicated chick feed or without a medium. Medicated chicken feed prevents coccidiosis (a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract) in chicks. If you keep your brooder clean and dry, you may not need medicated feed but many people, myself included, prefer to feed your brooder as an insurance policy against disease. Once the chicks are old, they should be weaned on regular chicken feed without medication.

grit chick

Chickens need pellets starting at about two weeks of age. Grit is used in chicken gizzards to help grind food. (Gizzards, not just for broth!) Since chicks aren’t born with pellets in their sinks, you’ll need to provide some type of pellet to start with. Your local feed store will have pellets specifically designed for young chicks. They are called chickpeas. Cool, I know. Pick up some and mix it with their regular food according to the directions on the package.


Water seems like a simple thing, and often it is. Get a waterer designed for chicks, fill it up, and stick it in the brooder, right? barely. One word of caution when it comes to water. Believe it or not, even with small chicken waterers, chicks can drown themselves in their water. To prevent this, it is a good idea to place a watering can on a small block for the first few weeks. This will prevent the chicks from falling asleep with their beaks in the water basin and drowning.

Clean your incubator

If you’ve ever parked under a bird’s nest, you’ll know a lot of bird droppings. Chicken is no different. When the chicks are very young, you may only need to clean the brooder once a week, but as they get older, you will need to clean the brooder more frequently.

Taking care of the chicks

To thoroughly clean your brooder, you will need:

  • A small bowl to put the chicks in while cleaning
  • Something to hold dirty bedding (garbage bag, wash basin, bucket, etc.)
  • trowel and brush;
  • Warm water and a rag for really serious stains
  • New furnishings

Transfer the chicks to the small bowl and remove their food, water and heat source. Dump the dirty bedding in whatever you use for this purpose and then use the dust pan and brush to get any bits left at the bottom of the brooder. If there is still some stool stuck to the bottom, use warm water to clean it off. Make sure the area is completely dry before adding fresh bedding and returning the chicks to the brooder.

Sick chicks

It is inevitable that one or two of your new chicks will get sick. Some problems, such as a buttock pie, are relatively minor, while others, such as birth defects, are more serious.

Taking care of the chicks
A healthy chick is on the left, a sick chick is on the right. Pictures by the author.

failure to thrive

The most common problem with chicks is simply failure to thrive. Remember, most chicks are hatched, sex matched, shoved into a crate, and shipped halfway across the country within the first 24 hours of emerging from the shell. This is a lot to handle and some chicks don’t handle it well. If you notice that one chick is not eating or moving around as well as other chicks, you may have a chick that is not thriving in its new environment.

A chick like this will require special care and its own housing. Separate the chick from the rest so it won’t compete for food and water and add a vitamin supplement to the water. There are many on the market such as Nutria-Drench, Poultry Cell and Poultry Booster that can be mixed with water to give a slow perch a good nutritional support. These chicks often come after a few days of special care and can be returned to their flock once they are back to normal.

Butt pie

While the name “Beauty Pot” may not be the most technical name in the world, it’s pretty accurate. Paste butt is a condition in which chicken poop sticks to the perch’s butt, blocking the cloaca. Brush one instance of your stumbling ass and you’ll totally understand the term.

You will need a few cotton swabs and some warm water to clean a doughy butt chick. Dip the tip of the cotton swab into the warm water and press it against the tube to re-wet it. When the swab dries, repeat the process. When the stool becomes wet, it will begin to resemble toothpaste in consistency and you will be able to wipe the stool off the mantle. After the area is good and clean, you can add a little vegetable oil or olive oil to prevent a recurrence.

Breech checks should be done daily for the first week or two to keep the chicks healthy, happy, and pooping away.

injuries from other chicks

Chicks in the same brooder will determine the pecking order by … tapping each other, and the process can be a little tricky. There will also be some other behavior that would kick a child off the playground. Your chicks will peck each other, push each other, and may even run over each other. All that rough housing can cause injury to a healthy chick. If a chick is injured, the first step is to separate it from the other chicks. An injured chick (especially if it is bloodied) will become a target for other chicks. Chicks are attracted to blood and peck in that particular area.

Once the chick is separated, clean any cuts with warm soapy water. If the bird is lame, do your best to support the affected area. You can wrap your leg with a bit of a paper towel and some tape for support, or make a small nest with straw or clothing to prevent the chick from injuring itself further. Add a vitamin supplement to the water to help the chicks recover. Monitor the infection and consider whether you need to use antibiotics. It may be helpful to consult a veterinarian.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done for a seriously injured chick. Do your best to support her and pray for a good outcome.

birth defects

Sometimes, a bird with a birth defect passes all checks in the hatchery and in the nursery. This year was one of those years for me. I bought six chicks at the feed store and before we were halfway home I knew something was wrong with one of my Cooper Maran pups. When I got home, I found out that this poor little chick couldn’t swallow. Every time she tried to drink, she would vomit, and the water would come back out.

This kind of birth defect is easy for a store clerk overseeing a few hundred chicks to miss. If you find yourself in this situation, culling the chicken may be the best thing to do.

To learn more about diseases and defects of chicks, click here.

I hate to end on this sad note, so i want to tell you a little bit about candy chick. Watching those little chicks discover that you are the keeper of the good stuff is so much fun. You go from “ahhhhh scary giant” to “oooohhhh treatment giant” and that’s when you’ll start bonding with your chicks. Chicks can start eating snacks at about two weeks of age. I start with scrambled eggs and live earthworms. They love them both and every time I open the door they start peeping with excitement. After they have had the granules for a week or so, you can add apple and grape powder and dried mealworms to their treat routine.

Now that you know how to care for your new chicks, let me welcome you to the world of chickens. These birds can provide many delicious eggs and hours of entertainment. Soon you’ll be practicing chicken math and answering questions for the next wave of chicken lovers.

Michelle Cook She is a farmer, author, and National Press Association communications specialist. She raises chickens, goats, and vegetables on her small farm in Virginia’s beautiful Allegheny Mountains. If she’s not tending to her farm outside, you can find her curled up in a chair with her nose stuck in a good book.

Originally published on Community chicken They are checked regularly for accuracy.

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