Hen Up® Articles

Week 1: Meet Your New Chicks

Chicken Confidential FAQ

By: Hen Up®

Welcome to the first edition of Chicken Confidential, an ongoing series of posts that’s part FAQ, part how-to, part advice column and all about helping you have the best possible experience with your backyard flock.

We’re going to start at the top with perhaps the biggest question: I’m getting new chicks — now what do I do? Our posts will take you through the first 18 weeks of that process, when birds go from downy chicks to laying hens. There’s a lot to keep track of and do in that time, so let’s get started.

 You’ve got chicks! Or they’re on their way to you. Or maybe you’re just thinking about starting your own backyard flock. They’re all sorts of adorable, but they’re going to grow and change fast. Getting them off to a healthy start will make all the difference, and that begins with the basics:

 Warmth: You’ll need a heat lamp or radiant heater set up in your brooder the day before your chicks arrive (See this post for details on setting up your brooder). You want the temperature at chick level to be 95° F for the first week — more on that in our next post. Keep an eye on your chicks in the brooder for the first few hours to make sure the heat source isn’t too close or too far away. If the chicks gather in a cluster away from it, they’re too hot. If they huddle directly underneath it, they’re too cold. If they’re scattered around the brooder and cheeping softly, all’s well.

Water: Chances are your chicks won’t have a mother hen to teach them how to drink. So congratulations, you’re now a mother hen. All you need to do is dip each chick’s beak into the water you’ve set up in the brooder. They’ll catch on fast, but make sure that they’re all drinking on their own within the first few hours.

Food: For the first 18 weeks of life, chicks will have very different nutritional needs than laying hens. So you’ll need a complete feed formulated specifically for them, like Hen Up® Starter Grower Crumbles. Start with several feeders placed around the brooder, and make sure the chicks can reach them. Clean egg cartons are a great temporary feeder option. After a day or two when the chicks get the hang of the whole food thing, you can remove the temporary feeders and use a permanent one.

Light: Chicks need a lot of it. Specifically, 18-22 hours a day for the first week. After that, you can dial it back to 12 hours until they’re 10 weeks old, then adding 15 minutes of light a day until you get back to 16 hours of light. This helps prepare your chicks for egg laying. The amount of light you’ll need works out to one 40-watt bulb for every 100 square feet of space in your brooder.

One last thing: In addition to warmth, water, food and light, chicks enjoy a little TLC as well. Spend some time holding them gently and petting them every day. Cheep at them if you like. That attention and affection helps them develop a bond with you and a family-friendly personality that will come in handy when you go out to gather eggs in future. Of course, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling your chicks or chickens.