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Chick Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Baby Chick

Overview

Gallus gallus domesticus

Chicks are adorable, popular pets, and when the females grow up, they may even be able to supply their pet parents with farm-fresh eggs. Chicks vary in size, feather color, temperament, behavior and hardiness against disease, depending on their breed. Regardless of their breed, however, chicks have some basic requirements that must be met during their first six weeks of life to help ensure they grow into happy, healthy adult chickens.

Typical appearance & behavior

  • A chick’s appearance changes rapidly as they grow
    • Week 1: Body is covered in soft, fine down feathers; body weight is around 1.4 oz.
    • Weeks 2-4: Down feathers molt and baby feathers grow in; weight increases rapidly
    • Weeks 7-12: Baby plumage molts and is replaced by adult feathers; average weight is over 2 lbs.
  • Life stages:
    • 0-16 weeks: Hatching through mini-molt to become a pullet (female) or a cockerel (male)
    • 16-20 weeks: Adolescence, when pullets start to lay eggs after week 16 (later in some breeds)
    • 12 months: Pullet is now a hen who will soon undergo a first full molt
  • While laying ability varies by breed, most hens will lay eggs from approximately 16 weeks of age until they are about 2 to 3 years old, while others can lay eggs until age 6 or 7

Characteristics

Average Life Span Up to 7+ years with proper care
Diet Omnivore

Habitat

Habitat size

  • Chicks are too small to go right into a chicken coop and must be housed for the first 6 weeks of life in a draft-free, heated pen (brooder)
  • After 6 weeks, when they have feathered out and grown a bit, they can be transferred to a coop
  • Commercially available brooder kits with heaters are ideal, but other enclosures, including large plastic storage bins or kiddie pools, can be used when set up with appropriate heat and bedding

Building your habitat

Brooder specifics -

  • Must be escape-proof (with 2-foot-high walls) and protected from unsupervised children, other curious pets and wild predators
  • Ideally should not have corners that chicks can pack into and suffocate; to prevent this, use a round brooder, or block off corners with cardboard
  • Allow a minimum of .5 square feet of space per chick for the first few weeks; overcrowded chicks may peck each other
  • Can be kept in a location (basement, heated garage, spare room) that can be kept warm

Heating -

  • Brooder heaters include heat plates (hanging above or sitting on the brooder floor) or 250- watt infrared bulbs that hang approximately 18 inches above the top of the brooder.
  • Heat plates may be preferable to bulbs, as bulbs can start fires if not monitored n If heat bulbs are used, they must be red, not white, as white is too bright for sleeping; it also highlights any skin scratches or injuries, which can encourage chicks to pick on each other
  • If heat plates are used, a small 15-watt red light should be left on at night in the room to allow chicks to see the heater in the dark

Brooder temperature -

  • Temperature in the brooder should be monitored carefully with a thermometer
  • During their first week of life, chicks should be housed at 95°F
  • Every week after that, the heat plate or bulb should be raised up or adjusted to decrease brooder temperature by 5 degrees per week until chicks can easily transition to the coop temperature
  • If chicks are crowding together, they are too cold n If chicks are avoiding the heater, they are too hot
  • Comfortable chicks should be exploring all around the brooder

Bedding -

  • Absorbent bedding should cover the brooder floor and be at least 3 to 4 inches thick to prevent slipping and leg problems from developing
  • Commercially available paper litter, pine or aspen shavings are ideal bedding
  • Don’t use cedar shavings (which contain aromatic oils that are toxic to chicks' airways) or sand (that can cause gastrointestinal tract impaction if overeaten)
  • To prevent chicks from confusing bedding with feed, cover bedding with a couple of layers of newspaper to start, and sprinkle chick feed on it; remove a layer of newspaper daily for up to three days until chicks find the feeder (do not use newspaper beyond day one for heavy breeds, or they may slip and develop leg problems)

Toys –

  • Appropriate toys for chicks include dangling toys with mirrors meant for parakeets, platforms to stand on and ladders to climb

Cleaning your habitat

  • Brooder bedding should be kept clean and dry, as wet and soiled bedding promotes growth of disease-producing organisms and makes the floor slippery, potentially causing leg problems
  • Bedding should be replaced daily
  • The brooder should be spot-cleaned daily and thoroughly disinfected once a week
    • All surfaces should be cleaned to remove dried droppings and discarded food
    • Hot soapy water, commercially available coop cleaner or a 3% bleach solution can be used to clean brooder
  • Brooders should also be thoroughly cleaned between housing different groups of chicks
  • Be sure to thoroughly rinse all soap or other cleaners out of the brooder so no residue is left behind for birds to contact or inhale
  • After it is washed, brooder must be completely dry before bedding is replaced and birds are allowed back in

Feeding

What to feed your chick:

  • Commercially available starter feed (crumbles or mash) is formulated with different amounts of protein, fat and vitamins for growing chicks and should be offered free-choice; depending on the formulation, you will need to switch to grower feed, typically sometime after 4 to 8 weeks of age, and then to layer feed, after 16 weeks 
  • Clean, fresh water provided daily  
  • Commercially available, insoluble, fine particle grit made specifically for chicks (not coarse grit for adult chickens and not soluble oyster shell grit for layers) to aid in digestion; chick grit should be offered as soon as chicks start eating foods other than starter feed and should be offered only in small amounts (1 to 2 tablespoons mixed into 1 quart of starter feed) to prevent overconsumption and gastrointestinal tract obstruction 
  • Treats, including small amounts of finely shredded supplemental vegetables and fruit (such as corn, cucumber, tomatoes, leafy greens, squash, pumpkins, strawberries), mealworms or waxworms and chicken scratch (a mixture of grains), can be offered daily but should make up no more than 5% of their total daily diet 
  • Never feed chocolate, avocado, alcohol, caffeine or very salty foods, as these are toxic

Things to remember when feeding your chick:

  • Feeders and waterers should be cleaned and refreshed daily 
  • Starter feed (crumbles or mash) should always be available for grazing 
  • To prevent chicks from hopping into and defecating in a food bowl, food should be offered in feeders specifically designed for chicks that allow them to reach food without standing in it; feeders also elevate food a few inches off the floor to help prevent parasites from contaminating it 
  • Water should be offered in waterers specifically made for chicks that allow access to drink but are untippable and raised off the ground to prevent bedding, stool and parasites from getting in 
  • Water should not be offered in a bowl, as chicks can fall in and drown; bowls also are easy for chicks to tip over, kick bedding into and defecate in 
  • To familiarize chicks with the waterer, dip their beaks into the water on their first day home 

Care

  • Chicks should be checked several times a day to ensure brooder temperature is appropriate, all chicks are active and feeders/ waterers haven’t clogged with bedding 
  • After 4 weeks of age, chicks should have at least .75 square feet of brooder space per chick 
  • As chicks get larger, add more feeders so chicks have at least 2.5 to 3 inches of space per bird at the feeder 
  • More mature chicks may like to roost on chicken perches and should be provided; allow 4 inches of perch space per bird 
  • After 4 weeks, chicks can go out to range on clean, unfertilized grass on warm days if they are supervised and safe from predators 
  • Adult chickens keep their feathers clean by dust bathing (rolling around in sand or dirt); chicks may be offered a small, shallow container of clean sand, peat moss or diatomaceous earth to dust bathe in the brooder
  • Research has shown that chicks reared with toys have stronger immune systems, are less aggressive, cope better with stress and produce higher-quality eggs than those without, as toys provide mental stimulation as their brains are developing

Supplies 

  • Appropriately sized brooder 
  • Chick feeder 
  • Chick waterer 
  • Thermometer 
  • Brooder heater (plate or red bulb) 
  • Brooder bedding material (avoid cedar) 
  • Appropriately sized perches for roosting 
  • High-quality chick starter and chick grower crumbles/mash 
  • Chick grit 
  • Treats 
  • Wire brush, dish soap/vinegar/commercial cleaning solution for brooder cleaning 
  • Chick toys 
  • Dust bath container and dust for bathing 
  • Soap and water (or hand sanitizer if soap and water is unavailable) for use after handling chicks or objects contaminated with feces to help reduce the spread of germs such as salmonella bacteria commonly found in their droppings

Health 

Signs of a healthy chick

  • Active, alert and curious 
  • Eating and drinking throughout the day 
  • No discharge from the eyes or nose 
  • Smooth skin without wounds or scratches 
  • Clean, dry vent, free of droppings

Red flags (If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.)

  • Lethargy and inactivity 
  • Discharge from eyes, nose or mouth 
  • Lack of appetite 
  • “Pasting up” (accumulation of droppings over vent opening, blocking further dropping passage) 
  • Huddling up of chicks together under the heater to stay warm or avoiding heater to cool off 
  • Lameness, or splaying of one or both legs 
  • Breathing with increased effort or more rapidly

 

Common chick health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue “Pasting up” Symptoms or Causes Caking of dried droppings over the vent, blocking passage of further droppings Suggested Action Apply a warm, wet compress to vent to try to remove stool; if bright, alert and eating, seek veterinary care if issue doesn't resolve in one to two days; seek immediate veterinary care if not eating or lethargic
Health Issue Respiratory infections Symptoms or Causes Difficulty breathing, discharge from eyes/nose/mouth, decreased appetite Suggested Action Separate from rest of flock and seek veterinary care immediately
Health Issue No droppings or bloody, watery or poorly formed droppings or diarrhea Symptoms or Causes Watery or poorly formed stool, soiled vent Suggested Action Seek veterinary care, feed an appropriate diet, and have stool checked for parasites
Health Issue Skin wounds, sores or scratches Symptoms or Causes Occur when chicks peck at each other when they are too hot, crowded, stressed from bright light or have poor ventilation Suggested Action Eliminate crowded conditions, use red light only, ensure appropriate temperature, improve ventilation; seek veterinary care for wound treatment
Health Issue Lameness or leg/ toe deformities Symptoms or Causes Developmental problems of leg(s) or toes, seen as feet pointing in wrong direction, toes curled under or legs splaying out sideways Suggested Action Ensure non-slippery flooring/ adequate clean bedding; seek veterinary care

Additional care sheets

Notes and sources

Ask a Pet Care Center store employee about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

As chickens can carry infectious organisms, such as Salmonella bacteria, in their intestinal tract that can cause illness in people, always wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after handling your bird or any objects potentially contaminated with their droppings to help prevent spread of infection. Pregnant women, children under age 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should consult their physicians before purchasing or caring for chickens. Keep contact information for a local veterinarian who specializes in chickens on hand.

Go to cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/farm-animals/backyardpoultry.html for more information about chickens.

The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.