The ultimate guide to what baby chicks can eat

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Feeding chicks:

Feeding baby chickens is just as important, if not more, than handling them. Though baby chickens are born with the same instincts as their parents, they are too young to peck their way to a solid nutrition.

It is best if you make a trip to your local chicken feed store and pick up some chick starter feed and make sure you leave plenty of it out for your baby chicks to munch on throughout the day.

Below: Here is a video of my latest hatch, all dry and fluffy from the hatcher and ready for the brooder.

Here is some information to help get your poultry off to a good and healthy start. Following through on these simple steps will help you in reducing any problems you may experience.

A mother hen will pick up pieces of feed, seeds, worms, bugs, etc. for her chicks and drop them in front of the chick to show them what is food and you can use the same process to demonstate to your chicks what is food.

What should I feed my chicks?

Chicks should be fed a steady supply of quality chick crumb or chick mash. Buy the right quantity of feed for the number of chicks you are keeping so as it doesn't get old and stale.

Below: This is what chick crumb looks like. Mash has more of a flaky texture.

You can also give your chicks a little scrambled egg.

Buy chick crumb on Amazon.
Feed should be 95% of what they eat and treats no more than 5% otherwise you run the risk of upsetting the feed balance.

Should I feed Medicated chick feed?

In my opinion yes but you do not have to. The idea behind medicated chick feed is to keep Coccidiosis at bay until the bird has built up immunity.

Coccidiosis is an intestinal disease caused by one of six different species a microscopic parasitic protozoa which attaches to the intestinal lining of a chicken.

Some are harmless and others life threatening, each living in a specific area of the gut.

They damage the tissue causing bleeding, hence the bloody poop, and prevent birds from absorbing nutrients.

Chickens of all ages can become infected but most vulnerable are chicks under six months because they haven’t built immunity against it.

How often do you feed baby chicks?

Ideally you should have chick feed readily available on tap for the chicks to eat. Allowing chicks to get hungry could lead to them overeating dry chick crumb when you do feed and that could cause crop issues.

Below: Feed and water should be always on tap and fresh.

They also get noisy and start trying to fly out of the brooder if they get hungry so chicks are best fed all the time.

How much do you feed baby chickens a day?

Day old chicks will only eat a few grams a day initially but as they start to grow they begin to eat quite a lot. Food should always be available as growing chicks do not get fat.

Below: Growing chicks on proper feed do not get fat.

The amount of food a chick needs will go from 5 to 10 grams a day to 100 to 150 grams a day by the time they are fully grown.

How long do you feed chick starter for?

I feed chick starter crumb for at least 6 and normally 8 weeks before I begin to switch to a grower ration. It is also fine to let a hen brooding chicks to eat chick crumb or growers, the same as the chicks, It won't do her any harm at all.

Is apple cider vinegar good for baby chicks?

No. You do not need to give ACV or apple cider vinegar to chicks. Keep it for fully grown chickens and limit it's use to once a week at most.

What can you give to chicks in an emergency when you have no chick crumb?

There are a few things you can give to chicks if you have run out of chick ration or feed. Remember to cut it up finely though so they can eat it easily. These are not to be fed for long periods of time, they are just to tide you over until you can get to the animal feeds store to get proper feed.

  1. Scrambled egg. Cooked through with a knob of butter just like you would do for yourself.
  2. Chopped cooked green peas. Peas are a good combination of protein and carbohydrate.
  3. Insects, worms or wood louse (woodchucks).
  4. Chopped sunflower seed hearts. Must be husked and out of the shells.
  5. Canola seed. Or oil seed rape in some countries.
  6. Rolled oats put through a blender to chop them up small.
  7. If you are really desperate soak some scratch in water and chop in a blender and feed that.
  8. Cooked rice. This is really a last resort as it is mostly starch with no where near enough protein.

Never use laying feed as the calcium in it is not good for young chicks. Also avoid pulses and beans as these contain digestive inhibitors and are not good feed for young chicks.

Treats for chicks and young chickens:

What can baby chicks eat besides chick starter?

Apart from scrambled eggs and worm and insect treats I would not substitute anything for chick starter.

A quality feedstuffs bought from a reputable supplier will have all the nutrition that chicks need to grow. If you start messing around with the balance you could end up with all sorts of issues a bit further down the line.

Can Chicks eat greens and grass?

Yes, no problem. I go so far as sprout seeds and put them in for the chicks to feed on the greens. The same rule applies, never more than 5% of the diet and you will be fine. Avoid spinach and rhubarb leaves as they contains Oxalic acid which can cause digestive issues.

Below: Here some of the hens are showing the chicks how tasty the herb garden is (was).

Hens that raise chicks naturally will eat grass and greens and encourage their babies to do the same.

Cut a square of turf from the garden, or grow one, and bring it in for them, it will help keep them amused and help prepare them for outdoor life.

Can you overfeed chicks?

No. If you are feeding them a proper diet they will eat as much as they need to. Chicks fed a chick ration will not over feed as they grow so fast. Underfeeding is much more of a worry with growing chickens.

At what age can chicks get scraps?

I would say not before 12 weeks, they still have a lot of growing to do. Human food scraps are not that good for chickens and often contains way too much salt and sugar.

How to Care For Your Baby Chicks:

Generally, people who have trouble raising baby chicks are those people who try to cut corners in their feeding and management program. Here are a few basic considerations for raising most varieties of chicks.

Below: A brooder full of happy sleeping chicks.

Feed: Use a good starter mash or crumb. Have feeders filled before chicks arrive. Cover litter with paper and scatter feed around the house on papers. Figure one inch of feeder space for each chick. A 36 inch double sided feeder will handle 75 chicks.

Water: Have waters filled with plain tap water when chicks arrive. Figure one gallon water for each 50-60 chicks.

Heat: Temperature of 95-100 degrees initially. Reduce temperature 5 degrees per week until no further heat is needed. This depends on your local conditions as much as anything else.. A heat bulb, red preferred, hung 18” from the floor works well. It also provides light for chicks to prevent piling. I always use 2 heat sources and the power output of your heat source depends on how many chicks you are brooding.

Floor space: provide at least one-half square foot per bird. Use draft shield around chicks, making sure it is wide enough diameter to permit chicks to get from under heat lamps if they desire.

Brooder floor covering: Sand. I used to say use whatever you liked but sand is so fire proof, convenient and easy top use you would be mad to use anything else. Also It doesn't matter if the chicks eat it, which is not the case with sawdust.

On arrival of baby chicks, dip each bird’s beak in room temperature water several times for the first day or two. Place baby chicks in a brooder or under a heat lamp at 95 degrees F.

Use a good chick starter high in protein. 

Baby chicks are cute, cuddly and adorable and don't require much maintenance with the exception of providing them their daily balance of baby chicken feed and cleaning their chicken house every couple of days.

When raising baby chickens, you don't even need to build a chicken coop. Depending on the number of baby chicks that you own, a small fish aquarium would be sufficient to hold those little baby chirpers until they being to out grow their home. I can assure you that until the time comes for you to move them to a larger chicken coop, you and your family, especially small children, will be enlightened with your baby chickens. Just listening to them chirp all day long will make any child smile and will bring joy in your household.

What to use as a brooder: One of the easiest ways to keep your baby chickens is in a 10 to 20 pound empty fish tank or aquarium. You could fit about a dozen baby chickens in an empty fish tank which makes a perfect little draft free home for your baby chicks. You could observe them through the glass of the aquarium and easily feed them by removing the top chamber.

One of the benefits of keeping your baby chickens in a small fish tank is that usually fish tanks come with a built in light in the top chamber which will serve as a heat generating source for your baby chicks. This light will give your baby chickens just enough heat to keep them warm and also will illuminate them so that the kids can enjoy watching them chirp and peck their little hearts out.

When handling baby chickens: While baby chickens can be cuddly fun little critters, it is important to take proper care of them especially when in reach of children. When handling baby chickens, you must be careful not to squeeze them too hard or choke them.

I know they're small and you would think that handling an innocent baby chick would be easy but they can get rather difficult to handle at times. You see, when a baby chick is removed from his baby chick flock, it will desperately try to escape from your hands in search for his companions. It is during these struggles that young children may accidentally squeeze them too hard in hopes to keep them tight in their hands.