Caring for Your Baby Chicks
Tips and information from The Chicken Whisperer™
New chicks are so exciting!
From choosing your breeds to hand-picking those peeping, fluffy
babies, there’s nothing quite like taking new chicks home. But along
with all that fun and excitement, baby chicks are also a big
responsibility. From choosing a starter feed to setting up your
brooder to knowing when to move your birds outside, it can all get
overwhelming. While we recommend doing plenty of reading and
research as you prepare for your new arrivals, we hope this guide
from The Chicken Whisperer™ will help get you started!
Congratulations on your new chicks and never hesitate to use the
“Contact Us” or “Ask the Chicken Whisperer” feature on
MannaPro.com if you have any behavioral or nutrition related
Your friends at
Bringing your chicks home...
Before you can bring your chicks home, you’ll need to set up a “brooder”
which is the baby chicks’ home for the first 6 weeks. Below are 5 simple steps
to setting up a brooder, but see the next page for more in depth information.
• Bin/Box: Place a bin or box in a secure, draft-free area of your house.
• Heat Lamp: Screw a 125 Watt bulb in the lamp and clamp it to one end of
the bin. Make sure it won’t fall!
• Bedding: For easy clean up, insert poster board cut to fit the brooder. Add
bedding. Cedar shavings should not be used!
• Feeder/Waterer: Fill the feeder with a starter feed such as Manna Pro’s
Medicated Chick Starter or Non-Medicated formula. Fill waterer and place
• Chicks: Gently place your chicks in their new home!
Other Tips and Important Information:
• Keep an eye on the chicks’ bottoms, especially for the first 2 weeks. Chicks can get
a condition called “pasty butt,” which can lead to constipation and death. If you
notice the buildup of waste on a chick’s bottom, take a warm, wet paper towel and
wipe it away. If you need to do this, be extra sure to keep the chick warm.
• The more you hold your chicks a they age, the friendlier they will be as adults.
• Always wash your hands before & after holding, touching or handling chicks in
any way. Chicks can carry Salmonella that can be transferred to you or your child
if proper hygiene is not practiced (as is the case with any household pet).
• Keep feeders and waterers full at all times! Keeping the food and water separate
helps keep food dry and water clean. You may need to rinse out the waterer a
couple times a day to keep the water clean.
• Chicks may need help finding the food and water initially. Dip their beaks once in
their water and then the feed when you first put them in the brooder.
• Never use cedar shavings as bedding as this can cause respiratory problems.
• Change out bedding regularly to keep chicks clean and healthy.
• As your chicks get older, you might need to put netting over the top of the
brooder to keep them from flying out.
• Baby chicks should not by fed scratch grains until old enough to digest them.
A brooder box does not have to be fancy. Many choose to make homemade brooders
even though there are several different styles available for purchase. You first need to
determine how big your brooder needs to be based on how many chicks you are ex-
pecting. Remember, baby chicks don’t stay small for very long and they will need
more space as they grow.
Really anything can be used as a brooder box including a cardboard box, wooden
box, plastic “kiddie” pool, or my favorite, a large rubber/plastic bin.
There are several things to think about when choosing your brooder. Some questions
you may want to ask yourself are listed below.
How many chicks will it hold from 0 – 6 weeks?
• While chicks start out egg size, they quickly grow to about softball size around 6 –
8 weeks old if they are standard breeds. Needless to say, what seems like plenty of
room for a week old chick would be quite tight for a six-week-old chick. It is also
important to take into account the additional items that will be taking up space in
the brooder including the feeder and the waterer. These items can be big and
bulky, so prepare ahead of time for the space they will require. While the heat
source will not be located inside the brooder, it affects the size and/or shape of the
brooder. Chicks need to be offered plenty of space to move toward or away from
the heat source so they can find a space within the brooder that is comfortable to
How easy will it be to clean? How often will I need to clean it?
• My wife and I find that this is one of the most important factors in choosing our
brooder. Cleaning takes time and time is precious. We look for brooders that are
easy to maintain and clean. Plastic surfaces can easily be rubbed down with a cloth
or hosed out. How often a brooder will need to be cleaned will be determined by
the amount of space and number of birds kept in the brooder. Brooders that pro-
vide a generous amount of space will need to be cleaned less frequently than one
with less space. Your nose and eyes will easily let you know when it is time to
clean out the brooder.
Do I need to protect my chicks from a household pet?
• If you have inside cats, dogs, snakes, other household pets or even young children,
you may want to keep this in mind as you choose a brooder and its placement.
Some items that have been used include wire lids that can be clamped or locked
on, formed chicken wire, or even netting.
Will the chicks be able to fly out of it after a few weeks? How will I prohibit them
from flying out of the brooder?
• If you choose a brooder with low sides like the kiddie pool, after the first week,
chicks will begin fluttering right over the edges. While they may be able to get out,
they cannot always get back in to get food, water and warmth. They will also
make a mess where they aren’t supposed to and they may be in danger from
household pets. While the rubber/plastic bin we often use has high sides, we still
have experienced chicks getting out. We have found that they will flutter to the
top of their feeder or waterer, which puts them at a height where they can then
flutter out of the bin. Sometimes we solve this problem by attaching cones to the
tops of the feeders and waterers, so the chicks can’t fly on top of them, but the
same options of protection from household pets will also solve this problem.
Will this brooder provide me easy access to my chicks, feeders, and waterers?
• The easier it is to access the items you need regularly in the brooder, the more en-
joyable your brooding experience will be. If you have to bend down, stretch, or
climb into a brooder, the six weeks it takes for your chicks to feather out will seem
to last much longer!
How expensive is this brooder?
• Brooders can be as cheap or expensive as you choose. There are those who choose
to use their bathtub or a large cardboard box at little to no cost. Others choose to
build a brooder using recycled materials, new materials, or a mixture of both.
O thers choose to purchase commercial brooders. There are options for everyone.
Will I be able to store it easily for reuse?
• If there is one thing my wife and I have learned throughout our chicken experi-
ences, it is that chickens are addicting. Even if you think you will not add to your
flock, you may change your mind! Think about where and how the brooder and
brooder items can be safely stored for future use.
While a 60 Watt light bulb can be lowered down into the brooder to provide heat, it is
important to hang it in such a way that it is kept away from chicks. It has the potential
to burn a chick or even the owner if not properly handled. I recommend using a
brooder lamp or shop lamp with a heat lamp bulb. I have found two types of lamps in
my purchasing experience. One lamp has a direct wire from the outlet to a ceramic
base where the bulb screws in. This lamp is turned on and off by the connection of
the plug to electricity alone. The second lamp has a wire that connects from the outlet
to a plastic base, which also has an on/off switch. I discourage using the cheaper plas-
tic based lamps for safety issues since I have seen them melt due to the constant high
heat of the bulb use in the brooder.
The wattage you choose for the heat bulb will consist of several factors. Usually, a 125
Watt bulb is sufficient for chicks that are in a brooder housed in a controlled tempera-
ture environment. A 250 Watt bulb may be considered if the environment outside the
brooder is cool such as a garage during the winter. Technically, chicks will need a spot
within the brooder that is 95 degrees for the first week and decreased 5 degrees each
week thereafter. You can attach a thermometer to this section on the brooder to con-
firm the brooder is at the temperature it needs to be. Make sure you attach the ther-
mometer at the bottom of the brooder where the baby chicks are to get an accurate
reading. If it is hanging on the side of the brooder, so you can easily see it, it may be
closer to the heat lamp and therefore not providing an accurate temperature reading.
That said, I have never had a thermometer in any of my brooders. The chicks will let
you know whether you need to add or reduce heat through their actions and/or
peeps. When adding the heat and occasionally thereafter, watch how the chicks react.
If all the chicks are loud, huddled close to the heat source, and/or lethargic, they are
too cold and you will need to up the temperature. This could be as simple as lowering
the lamp, while keeping it at a safe distance from the chicks or purchasing a higher
wattage bulb. If all the chicks are at the far end away from the light, they are most
likely too hot. Again, you can simply fix this problem by raising the heat source fur-
ther away from the chicks or purchasing a lower wattage bulb. The chicks do not
need to have the entire brooder at one temperature. It is best to have one area of the
brooder at a warmer temperature, but not too hot, while other areas are cooler so the
chicks can regulate their own comfort level. I have personally seen more chicks die
from overheating than being too cold because owners put the chicks in a small box
with the heat source right on top of them. This is why it is important for the brooder
to have an oblong shape or wide base that will allow the chicks to get away from the
heat source. Happy chicks will be spread out, moving around the brooder, scratching,
eating and drinking, and/or cuddled under the light to sleep. They will quietly be
chirping happy chirps.
There are two widely used types of bulbs. The red bulb and the white bulb both emit
the same wattage of heat. The only difference is that one shines red and one shines
white. In my own research, I have read that a red bulb discourages chicks from peck-
ing on each other. While that may be a researched truth, in my experience, if you pro-
vide your chicks with ample space, there will be little (if any) pecking issues where the
chicks pick on each other. However, if chicks are crammed into a small space, just like
people, they are going to get irritated with each other and peck others around them.
Whether you choose to clamp, hang, or set the heat lamp on the brooder, it is impor-
tant to make sure the heat lamp is secure with no chance of falling from its placement.
Always remember, all heat sources are fire hazards and should be treated with cau-
Feeders and Waterers:
Feeders and waterers come in all different sizes. Choices will be made based on the
number of chicks you need to feed and water. Most commercial brooders come with
their own feeding and watering systems like the G QF model that includes trays on
the outside of the brooder. There are also plastic or metal feeders and waterers that
come in quart and gallon-size choices for your homemade brooder that you can pur-
chase from your local Feed and Seed store. Many people choose to make homemade
feeders out of bowls or even egg cartons. Waterers can be made out of plastic bowls,
with the bottoms of plastic bottles cut at the appropriate height for the chicks, or a
mason jar lid. The problem with homemade feeders and waterers is that chicks will
climb into the feed and water, poop in it, sleep in it, and ultimately knock it over and
spill it out. Since chicks are attracted to shiny things, filling the homemade or store
bought waterer tray with marbles helps to keep the chicks dry while still allowing
them to drink the water they need. In addition, the marbles placed in the waterer tray
will encourage the chicks to peck at the water and stay hydrated. While you can hot
glue the homemade feeder or waterer to some cardboard so it can’t be turned over, it
is best to use the feeders and waterers found at a Feed & Seed store or online specifi-
cally designed for chicks.
The size of your feeder and waterer should be based on the number of chicks you
have and the size of your brooder box. Feeders and waterers that are too large for the
brooder will take away space from the chicks or make it difficult to move around
these items. Fresh feed and water should be supplied for chicks at all times.
When placing the feeder and waterer into the brooder box, it is good to separate them.
The chicks will scratch through their food and toss it on the floor with their beaks as
they eat. If the waterer is next to the feeder, some of this scattered food may end up in
the water. Spoilage from the feed in the water creates a fowl smell! With young
chicks, the feeder and waterer may need to be placed directly on the floor of the
brooder, but at the chicks grow, the feeders and waterers can be raised to the chick’s
chest level. This will reduce the amount of feed wasted by the chicks, but please note
there will always be feed spread about the brooder floor. Hanging feeders and water-
ers is a great way to raise them as the chicks grow, but you can also place small bricks/
blocks under the feeders and waterers. Always be careful not to lift them higher than
the chicks’ chest.
Depending on the brooder, you may need to add a bedding material to the bottom of
the box to help with cleaning. There are several types of bedding choices, some of
which work better than others.
Many people choose a wire floor for the bottom of their brooder. I recommend using
quarter inch hardware cloth. This allows you to put a pan or cardboard under the
wire to catch any wasted food, spilled water, and feces. The only disadvantage of us-
ing wire is that it does not allow the chicks to effectively use their natural instinct of
scratching for their food.
There are several types of shavings to choose from. As mentioned before, I discourage
the use of cedar shavings. Studies on the use of cedar shavings for mice and small ro-
dents, have shown ill effects. Pine shavings are usually readily found and aren’t very
expensive. While there is still some debate over the safety of pine shavings, I have used
it many times over and never had a problem. Aspen shavings are said to be the safest
shavings to use as they are the least toxic, but they are also more expensive.
The purpose of using bedding is to reduce mess and possible odor as well. Some peo-
ple use shredded paper or newspaper in their brooder. When wet, these items turn to
mush and make it difficult to clean out the brooder. Newspaper can also be too slick
for a chick to stand on correctly and cause a deformity known as Spraddle Leg.
Spraddle Leg is a condition where the chick’s legs spread out due to walking on a slick
surface and not being able to get traction. Many claim that using newspaper as bed-
ding may contribute to Spraddle Leg, but I have not experienced that in the limited
number of times we have used it. Spraddle Leg must be corrected immediately by ap-
plying small splints to correct the problem. Death can occur if not corrected in a
Introducing your chicks...
The brooder is finally set up and your baby chicks have arrived! What is the next step?
Remove the chicks from the transport box or incubator one at a time and place them in
the brooder. As you transfer them, examine the chicks for any deformities, lethargic
behavior, and feces around their vent area. Place each healthy chick inside the brooder
and gently dip its beak in the water. Allow it to throw its head back to swallow and
then dip its beak in the feed. Repeat this process with all the chicks. I feel this is an im-
portant time with your chicks because not only are you showing them where their feed
and water are, which is what a mother hen would do, you are also looking for any
weakness that may cause future problems for the chick.
Other Considerations / Tips
Some chicks develop what is called “Pasty Butt.” This is a collection of fecal matter
around the chick’s vent area. Mother hens would clean the chick’s vent if this occurred
in nature, so now it’s your job. To prepare, fill a cup with warm water. Tear strips of
paper towels into 3” X 4” sections. Put on gloves and begin picking up the chicks and
looking at their vent area. If you find a chick that has pasty butt, dip a paper towel
strip in the warm water and gently rub the area clean. The fecal matter often gets tan-
gled in the chick’s fuzz and may need to be carefully worked on to get it loose. Chicks
should be checked daily for this issue as it can block the vent, constipating the chick,
and may result in death. Usually by the time the chicks are 2 – 3 weeks old, they will
not have this problem any more, but it can last longer. The good news is that not every
chick seems to have this problem. I have found that usually the chicks that I find need
wiping today, are the same ones that will need it tomorrow.
Any time we spot a weak or sick chick, we separate it immediately from the other
chicks. Jen and I use a smaller plastic box we call the ICU Brooder (Intensive Care
Unit). These chicks are separated for several reasons. Once healthy chicks spy a weak
chick, they will peck it, push it over, and run over it. In addition, this chick’s problem
may be contagious to the healthy chicks. Chicks that need to be separated may include
those that are lethargic, have runny eyes, diarrhea, or droopy wings. These chicks may
not be eating or drinking. They will most likely be very quiet and want to sleep all the
time. They may try to get as close to the heat source as they can, if they have enough
energy to do so.
We usually lower the heat source in the ICU Brooder, or use a high wattage bulb, but
be careful not to over heat. Adding sugar to the water or liquid baby vitamins (without
iron) may supply the chick with a little energy. Dip the chick’s beak in the water tray
occasionally throughout the day. It is a good sign if the chick is drinking the water af-
ter dipping its beak, but when they quit drinking completely prepare for the worst.
As mentioned before, the feeders and waterers should always be filled with a fresh and
constant supply. Depending on the size feeder and waterer you have and the number
of chicks you have, you may need to refill every couple of hours (especially if you have
a homemade feeder or waterer), daily, or every couple of days. It is also important to
keep the feed and water clean from feces that may contaminate their food and water
supply. To reduce this problem, keep the feeders and waterers raised to the chicks’
chest level. Attaching a cone to the top of the feeders and waterers will also prohibit
the chicks from roosting and spoiling the feed and water from above.
I’m always thinking about how I can save time, especially when it comes to cleaning. I
have found that cutting poster board to fit down into the rubber/plastic box, helps me
to quickly remove the bedding so I can easily dump it into my compost bin! I have
also used a plastic liner at the bottom of my brooder, but this was not a good choice as
the chicks scratched through the bedding, tore up the plastic, and ate it. This was an
unfortunate learning experience.
The brooder will need regular cleaning that will again depend on the size of the
brooder, the number of chicks you have, and the size of the chicks. You will have to
clean out the brooder more and more frequently as the chicks grow. This may consist
of replacing the bedding with fresh bedding, rubbing down the sides with soapy water,
cleaning the feeders and waterers with water and a sponge, and/or spraying the
brooder down with a hose. Make sure to remove the chicks when cleaning out the
brooder. They can be placed in a box and kept in a warm area during this time.
When the chicks are ready to move outside to their new home, the chicken coop, the
brooder will need one final cleaning. I recommend using a bleach and water mixture to
scrub down the brooder, feeders, and waterers. Rinse these items thoroughly with wa-
ter and let dry. Then, store them safely for their next use.
N u trition timeline...
• Hatch to 8 Weeks: Feed quality starter feed such as Manna
Pro’s Medicated or Non-Medicated formulas. Do not feed
• 8 Weeks to 16 Weeks: Either continue feeding starter feed or
switch to a grower/developer formula such as Manna Pro’s
• 16 Weeks: Feed a grower/developer formula with the addition
of a calcium supplement such as Manna Pro’s Oyster Shell OR
at 16 weeks you can begin feeding layer feed such as Manna
Pro’s Egg Maker®.
• 18-30 Weeks: Depending on chicken breed or time of year,
hens can begin laying eggs anywhere from 18 to 30 weeks. If
you haven’t already switched to a layer feed, the first eggs are
a good indication it is time to start.
• Free-Ranging: If you let your chickens free-range or if you
like to feed scratch grains, be sure to supplement their diet
with Manna Pro’s Grit and Oyster Shell.
Need more info?
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perer” feature on MannaPro.com!
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by Manna Pro’s experienced animal nutrition staff!
Just go to the “Contact Us” feature on Manna Pro’s
website to ask your question!
And don’t forget—there is a lot of great information
available on our poultry product pages, from ingredi-
ent listings to directions for use, it’s all there!
Thank you for reading our guide to caring
for your chicks! We hope you
found the information valuable!