Baby Chicks Care Sheet

Maria Zayas, DVM
By Maria Zayas, DVM on Nov. 17, 2023
Baby chick

In This Article

Species Overview

Chick Species Overview

Raising baby chicks can be an exciting, rewarding experience for beginner chicken hobbyists. This care sheet is designed to outline basic care needs for the first six weeks of a chick’s life. 

Baby chicks vary in appearance, temperament, behavior, and hardiness against disease, depending on their breed and purpose. 

Baby Chick Characteristics 

Difficulty of Care 

Beginner+ to Intermediate 

Average Lifespan 

Up to 7+ years with proper care 



Baby Chick Supply Checklist

To keep a chick happy and healthy, pet parents should have these basic supplies on hand: 

  • Appropriately sized brooder  

  • Chick feeder  

  • Chick waterer  

  • Thermometer  

  • Brooder heater (plate or red bulb) or heat lamp 

  • Bedding 

  • Appropriately sized perches for roosting  

  • High-quality chick starter feed  

  • Litter and/or shavings 

  • 25-watt incandescent LED light bulb 

  • Chick grit  

  • Treats  

  • Toys 

  • Chick-safe dust bath container and dust for bathing 

Chick Habitat

Choosing the Right Enclosure 

For the first six weeks of life, chicks should be housed in a draft-free, heated pen called a brooder. Brooders must be well-ventilated and escape-proof, with walls at least 2 feet high. Newly hatched chicks need a minimum of ½ square feet of brooder space each for the first few weeks of life, while chicks older than four weeks should have at least ¾ square feet of brooder space. 

Ideally, pet parents should use a commercially available brooding kit to house their chicks. However, other enclosures, including large plastic storage bins, can be used if the habitat has suitable heat and ventilation.

Chicks can pack into tight corners and easily suffocate, so it’s best to use a brooder with a rounded or octagonal shape. Pet parents can also use cardboard to block off square corners and discourage huddling. 

After about six weeks, once the chicks have feathered out and grown, they can be transferred to a chicken coop for the rest of their life. For help with selecting the perfect chicken coop, see our care sheet on chickens.

Setting Up Your Habitat 

Brooders should be kept in a draft-free area that can be kept warm, such as a heated garage, basement, or spare room. Ensure the brooder is not accessible to unsupervised children or animals, like curious cats and dogs. 


Since newly hatched chicks cannot regulate their body temperature on their own, it’s important to keep a close eye on their brooder’s temperature until the chicks can be moved into a chicken coop.  

During the first week of life, chicks should be housed at temperatures from 93 to 95 F. Each week thereafter, pet parents should reduce the brooder’s temperature by 5 F per week until the brooder reaches room temperature, no lower than 65–70 F before six weeks of age. 

At comfortable temperatures, chicks should be able to roam and explore all around the brooder. If the chicks huddle together, it may be too cold. Similarly, if the chicks seem to be avoiding their brooder’s heat source, it may be too hot. Pet parents should use a thermometer to check the temperature of their chicks’ brooder several times a day to ensure it stays in the ideal range. 


Pet parents often use heat plates to warm their chicks’ brooder. As the chicks mature, the height of the heating plate needs to be adjusted to accommodate their growth. If heat plates are used, a 15-watt red light should be left on at night in the room where the brooder is kept so the chicks can see their surroundings and find the heat plate in the dark. 

Instead of a heating plate, pet parents can install a heat lamp above their chicks’ brooder with a target temperature of 90–100 F for the chicks’ first week of life. Heat lamps should be placed 20 inches above the brooder when the chicks are one week old, then moved 3 inches further from the brooder each week to decrease the enclosure’s temperature by 5 degrees until the brooder’s temperature is 65–70 F.  

A thermostat should be attached to heaters to keep the habitat’s temperature within a safe range and prevent the chicks from getting burned. Replace lights after six months of use.

Pet parents can also shine an artificial LED light on their chicks’ brooder to promote healthy egg production in adulthood. They should start with eight hours of light exposure each day and then increase the time by 30 minutes each week, until they reach 14–16 daily hours of light exposure.


Pet parents should cover the bottom of their chicks’ brooder with at least 3–4 inches of absorbent bedding. Commercially available paper litter, pine shavings, and aspen shavings are all suitable bedding materials. Cedar-based products should be avoided because they have aromatic oils that can irritate chicks’ sensitive respiratory systems and put them at greater risk for infection. 

To teach newly hatched chicks the difference between bedding and food, pet parents can cover the bedding in their chicks’ brooder with a few layers of newspaper and sprinkle chick feed on it. Then, they should remove one layer of newspaper daily for up to three days, until the chicks can find their feeder. Newspaper should not be used beyond day one for heavier breeds like Plymouth Rock or Wyandotte chicks, as they may slip or develop leg problems.  

Décor & Accessories 

Toys: Adding appropriately sized toys to a brooder can enrich chicks’ environment, provide mental stimulation, and encourage physical activity. 

Dangling toys with mirrors, ladders, and platforms designed for smaller birds (like parakeets) are all excellent choices for a flock of chicks. 

Studies show that chicks raised with toys may have stronger immune systems, lower aggression/stress levels, and higher-quality egg production compared to those reared without them. 

Feeder and waterer: Pet parents should offer fresh food and water in an appropriately sized feeder and waterer designed for chicks. 

Water bowls should not be used, as chicks can tip them over or fall into them and drown. Water bowls are also prone to contamination from soiled bedding, droppings, and parasites. 

Feeders and waterers should be elevated a few inches off the group to prevent droppings from contaminating them. These dishes should also be washed and rinsed thoroughly each day to prevent bacterial growth. 

As chicks mature and grow, more feeders should be added to their enclosure to discourage competition. Each chick should have at least 2.5–3 inches of space at their feeder. 

Roosting perch: Chicks can begin to perch and roost at three weeks old. Adding a roosting perch to a chicks’ brooder will help them sleep comfortably. Each chick should have about 4 inches of space on a perch, which should be low to the ground to prevent injury if the chicks fall off. 

If heated perches are used in cold weather, they should be checked regularly to ensure they don’t get too hot and burn chicks’ feet. 

Baby Chicken Cleaning and Maintenance

Pet parents should spot-clean their chicks’ brooder daily, removing any droppings, soiled material, and uneaten food. Fresh bedding should be placed in the brooder each day. At least once a month, brooders should be washed and disinfected with either a commercially available coop cleaner or 3% bleach solution. Brooders should also be cleaned thoroughly before housing the next group of chicks. 

To clean a chick brooder, take these steps

  1. Move the chicks to a pet-safe temporary enclosure. 

  1. Turn off electrical power for the coop. Remove any old bedding, accessories, food, and feathers. 

  1. Use a coop cleaner or 3% bleach solution to wash the habitat and any accessories. The bleach solution should stay on the habitat for at least 10 minutes to ensure the surfaces are properly disinfected. If using a commercial coop cleaner, follow the manufacturer's instructions. 

  1. Rinse the brooder and any accessories thoroughly with water, making sure to remove any trace amounts or residual smells left by the cleaning agent or bleach solution. 

  1. Allow the brooder and its contents to dry completely before placing new bedding and clean accessories back into the habitat. 

  1. Return the chicks to the clean habitat. 

Baby Chick Diet and Nutrition

Growing chicks should be fed a commercial starter feed designed for chicks, while fresh vegetables, fruits, and treats can be offered sparingly as treats. Chicks need to be fed daily and should always have access to fresh, clean water. 

A nutritious and well-balanced diet for a chick includes a commercially available starter feed (crumbles or mash). Starter feed is fortified with extra protein, fat, and vitamins to encourage healthy growth.  

Pet parents should select a feed based on their chicken’s life stage and the manufacturer's recommendations. As a rule of thumb, chicks will only need a starter feed for the first four to eight weeks of their life. The chick then needs to be transitioned to a grower feed formulated for adolescent chickens. 

Insoluble, fine-particle grit made specifically for chicks is a supplement designed to help chicks break down food and prevent gastrointestinal obstruction.  

Pet parents should offer their chicks small amounts of insoluble grit as soon as they begin eating foods other than starter feed. 

Chicks will need about 1–2 tablespoons of insoluble grit mixed into every quart of starter feed. 

Vegetables, fruits, and treats may be offered in limited quantities (no more than 5% of a chick’s daily diet). Chicks can safely enjoy a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, including:

  • Corn

  • Cucumber

  • Tomatoes

  • Leafy greens

  • Squash

  • Pumpkins

  • Strawberries

Fruits and vegetables should be sliced into tiny pieces before being offered to a chick. 

Mealworms, waxworms, and “scratch” (mixed grains like barley, wheat, oats, and seeds) can all be offered as occasional treats as well.

Fresh, clean water should be changed daily and offered in a waterer that’s specifically designed for chicks. Do not use a bowl to offer chicks water, as they can fall in and drown. Pet parents can familiarize chicks with their waterer by gently dipping their beaks into the water on their first day home. 

Do not allow chickens to ingest avocados, fruit seeds, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, or very salty foods, as they are all toxic and can cause serious illness or death. Pet parents should discard any uneaten fruits and vegetables after 10 hours, as they may spoil and cause infection if eaten. 

Chick Grooming and Care

Pet parents should check on their chicks several times a day to make sure that their brooder is at a suitable temperature, that their waterer and feeders aren’t clogged, and that all chicks are happy and active. 

After about four weeks of age, pet parents can let their chicks spend warm days outside on clean, unfertilized grass. Chicks must always be closely supervised and protected from predators while outside. 

Bathing: Chicks do not need to be bathed in the traditional sense. However, pet parents can encourage their chicks to take dust baths by adding a small, shallow container of clean sand, peat moss, or diatomaceous earth to their chicks’ brooder. 

Dust baths remove dirt and oil buildup and can kill small pests that might be trapped in a chick’s feathers.  

A dust bath should not be left in a chicken coop for more than 12 hours at a time. 

Baby Chick Veterinary Care

Annual Care

Chicks should be seen by a veterinarian once soon after hatching to assess their care and check for health issues. A transport carrier or cage should be used, and pictures of their cage, diet, and supplies at home can be shown to the veterinarian as part of the exam. Chicks can be seen separately or in a group. 

Signs of a Healthy Chick

  • Bright, social attitude with regular chirping

  • Clean, clear, bright eyes

  • Clean nostrils

  • Symmetrical, intact beak that closes appropriately

  • Intact, clean down or contour feathers (precursors to adult feathers)

  • Clean, smooth feet

  • Full and equal range of motion of wings

  • Consistent droppings

  • Clean and dry vent/cloaca

  • Strong appetite

  • Energetic and quick moving

When to Call a Vet

  • Eye discharge or swelling

  • Nasal discharge

  • Wheezing or sneezing

  • Rapid breathing

  • Beak fractures or inability to close beak properly

  • Favoring a foot or open sores or lumps

  • Limping, unwillingness to use a limb or wing, or holding a wing abnormally

  • Moist feathers around cloaca or any discharge from cloaca

  • Runny, liquid, or abnormally colored droppings

  • Loss of appetite

  • Vomiting or regurgitating

  • Not vocalizing

  • Head tilt

Common Illnesses in Baby Chickens

  • Diarrhea, bloody droppings, or obstructive stuck droppings (“pasting up”)

  • Rot gut

  • Respiratory disease

  • Aspergillosis

  • Marek’s disease

  • Avian encephalomyelitis

  • Trauma

  • Congenital malformations, especially related to the toes and feet

Chick FAQs

How long can you leave a chick alone?

To leave a chick alone, you must be able to provide adequate warmth to compensate for the lack of siblings for them to huddle with. As with any other animal, food, water, and a clean environment are also necessary. If you’re able to do this, then a chick can theoretically be left alone indefinitely, though they’ll do best if they’re integrated with other chicks within a few days.

How old should a chick be to go outdoors?

Timing for a chick going outdoors mostly has to do with them developing enough to maintain their own body temperature. That generally takes about four weeks.

Is it OK to raise a chick alone?

While it is technically possible to raise a chick alone, they are social animals that rely on other chickens to develop and live without stress. Living alone as a chick has been associated with shorter lifespans and chronic underlying stress, so when possible, it’s best to raise chicks together.

Featured Image: Liudmila Chernetska/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Maria Zayas, DVM


Maria Zayas, DVM


Dr. Zayas has practiced small animal and exotic medicine all over the United States and currently lives in Colorado with her 3 dogs, 1 cat,...

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