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Feeding Chicks

Chicks grow from tiny fluffy balls to egg-laying hens in five months. It is amazing how their little bodies turn chicken feed into feathers, muscle, and energy. It is important that they’re fed the highest quality feed to meet their needs. While we feed our hens scraps from the kitchen and a handful of cracked corn each day to supplement their diet (and make them happy), we were careful to have the chicks stick to the recommended diet (with a few healthy exceptions).

Feed companies spend millions researching and preparing mixtures that provide optimum support for growing chicks. Most feed stores carry the proper mix for your young chicks. It is called “starter”. It should have sufficient protein, carbohydrates, and thirteen vitamins to support growth. Vitamins will help chicks build strong bones and healthy blood cells, and fats to provide energy and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Unless you wish to feed a vegetarian diet to your animals, don’t try to mix your own feed. Use a commercial chick starter for the first 6-8 weeks.

Commercial feed comes with medication to prevent the dreaded coccidiosis, an intestinal disease that interferes with nutrient absorption. You shouldn’t need a medicated starter if you raise your chicks before warm, humid weather allows coccidia to flourish. Your decision of whether or not you choose to use a medicated starter for chicks should be based on the size of your flock (a handful of chicks raised in a clean brooder are less likely to be infected) and the condition of the environment. If you have no adverse feelings about using medication in food and want to be on the safe side, I recommend you use the medicated starter. If you are raising poultry for meat, there are “natural” commercial feeds available.

Even chicks like treats. From about a week on, we gave our chicks some treats each day, to keep them active, and to relieve boredom. Yes, even little minds get bored. They were fed tiny portions of shredded apples, a cooked egg yolk, a pinch of oatmeal sprinkled in their litter, and a bug or two we brought in from outdoors. Do not supplement their diet to the extent that they ignore their food. This could bring on ill health.

At about six weeks you can slowly introduce a “grower” mixture into your chick feed. This feed will help them put on weight that hens need to begin laying and that fryers need to be……well, to be eaten.

Water is such an important part of a chick’s diet. I just can’t ignore it in my writing about feed. When chicks first arrive, they often have been without water for 1-3 days. Their little bodies have been living off the yolk sac that was absorbed into their bodies before hatching. When you bring your chicks home, give them a little water with an eyedropper or fingertip. A drop or two will revive them. Some people use a mixture of a few tablespoons of sugar in the water for the first few days to give the chicks energy and encourage hydration. Even chicks like sweets. Show them where the waterer is located in the brooder and dip each beak into it so they will know where to go when they are thirsty.

If you are worried about dehydration, commercial electrolytes (available in feed stores) can be added to the water the first week. Beware, this mixture can make chicks hyperactive so use it for a few days only, then fill waterers with fresh water.

For a handful of chicks, inexpensive feeders and waters with quart jars attached can be used until the chicks are ready for their permanent home outdoors. If you use cedar chips in the bottom of your brooder, you may want to raise the waterer up an inch or two (no further than shoulder height of your chicks) on a paver, as the chips tend to get in the waterer, preventing the chicks from access to drinking properly. We put little pebbles in the waterer to prevent the chicks from standing (and invariably pooping) in it. It is essential that they have fresh, clean water at all times to prevent diseases. This requires constant monitoring.

Scrub the feeders and waterer once a week with bleach. Keep the brooder clean and feed your chicks quality food. Healthy chicks are happy chicks. It seems like overnight these precious little birds turn into beautiful egg-layers.

13 Comments to “Feeding Chicks”

  1. Thank you so much for all this important information, we have a chookem sitting on 6 eggs, tomorrow night the 12th April will be 21 days, but “mama” has been so diligent that when I went down a little while ago I heard chirping and her wing was sticking out a bit. Sure enough she has already 4 chicks they are gorgeous. We don’t have a roo either and got some fertile eggs from a friend. I’m sure you are delighted with this news.lol.We are going toward winter here but the days are still beautiful, hope that it stays like this a little while longer so that the chickens can grow the feathers to keep them warm. Many greetings from “down under” Hennie and Wal.

  2. don’t know why the time is wrong, our time here is at the moment 11.40 am April 11, yours seems to be 5.37pm April 10.
    Again many thanks for your writings, we have learned a lot.
    Hennie

  3. I am delighted with your news. What could be more exciting. Right on time too!

  4. I think Australia is in a slightly different time zone, and season for that matter!

  5. Hi There,
    I’ve just been surfing the web and I’m so happy I found your site. I just got myself 12 baby chicks. They are my first and are a week old. Is it too early to feed them mealworms and crickets? I read that chicks love them, so I went to Petsmart and got some. The chicks ate them up like there was no tomorrow. But I’m thinking the chicks may be a bit too young. I can’t seem to find anything about feeding chicks this young, except for the crumble. They are on an organic crumble and I also make a mash out of it which they love. I put in a few drops of a probiotic in their water too. I live in Scottsdale and have a great coop waiting for them. When they go out there, I’ll still put their crate with the light in it, in case they still need the warmth. Will they go in there or will they want to roost up on a perch? Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Hi Linda. Sounds like you are having fun with those little ones. Meal worms are a good “treat” for chicks. In natural conditions, the mother would be introducing bugs and worms to her chicks from the beginning. Just don’t overdue the “treats” as they won’t be getting the nutrition they need from the balanced chick starter.
    We put small split logs in the brooder at about two weeks to introduce the chicks to roosting. They would hop off and on during the day, but mostly huddled at night. They didn’t really get into roosting until they were fully featherer and nearly full grown.
    It sounds like you are well-prepared for raising your hens. Best of luck.

  7. This is really cool and helpful. I’m hatching my own eggs!

  8. Hey I am 14 years old and I have 5 chicks myself, they are 10 weeks of age and I was wondering when will these begin to lay?

  9. Hunter,
    Congratulations on your new flock. You will have to wait until your pullets are about 5 months old before you can expect eggs. If you need advice on caring for your hens, I found “backyardchickens.com” to be very helpful. It gave me advice on keeping the chicks healthy. You have to register then you can post questions or you can just read what folks have to say. Good luck!

  10. 90 yrs. old, just got incubator and put in 30 eggs, 22 hatched, one Month old today. Raising Rhode Island Reds. really enjoying them.

  11. Congratulations Ralph! I love Rhode Island Reds. We had one named “Rosie”. She was one our best layers and loved to jump up in our laps to be petted. Wishing you the best of luck with your new flock!

  12. Hello. I am raising my first flock of 6 chicks. I brought them home from a local feed and farm store yesterday and would guess that they are probably 1-1.5 weeks old now. I would like to start introducing natural treats like small insects, chicken-safe chopped herbs and other things to them. When is the earliest I can do so? Thanks!

  13. Hi Allison. I have fond memories of my first six chicks so, am happy for you! Just do what their mama would do. Give them bits of greens, little seeds, and natural things they would be foraging for in the wild. Just avoid processed food. Not sure they will go for herbs. I have a “treat” blog on this site but don’t overdo it when they are young, they should be eating chick food that is fortified for growth. When they are full grown give them all your table scraps. They love it. They see me coming with a bowl and “cluck” for joy! Good luck and have fun, they so will be

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