two chicks in the grass | Tips to Prepare for Baby Chicks

Bringing baby chicks onto the homestead is always exciting whether you are a chicken newbie or a seasoned chicken keeper. Don’t let the excitement get you too far ahead of yourself, though. Before you bring your first (or next) batch of birds home, be sure to take a few steps to prepare for baby chicks so you can make the most out of your time, effort, and energy and take the best care of your animals possible. 

What to Do to Prepare for Baby Chicks

1. Choose the Right Breed

Before you bring chicks onto your homestead, take some time to research and choose the chicken breed that suits your homestead the best. 

  • Are you looking for high-production egg layers? 
  • Do you need meat for the freezer? 
  • Do you want a breed that can give you both meat & eggs?
  • Do you want to be able to hatch your own chicks year after year?
  • Does egg color matter to you?

Consider these questions to narrow down the decision to one of these categories:

Meat Breeds

Meat birds are exactly what they sound like- breeds that are known for heavy meat production. If you only want meat, this is the breed category for you. 

The most popular meat chicken breed is the Cornish Cross with a butcher age of 8 weeks and an average carcass weight of 5-6 pounds. The issue with this breed is that it is almost impossible to hatch your own Cornish Cross chicks so they are not totally sustainable.

Red rangers are another common meat specific breed that yields a large carcass, but their growout time is a little longer (12+ weeks as opposed to 8).

If you want a sustainable breed that you can breed and hatch each year, you should look into heritage meat chickens.

Egg Breeds

If you only need eggs, then you should look at high-production egg layers. Some of the most prolific heritage chicken breeds for eggs are White Leghorns, Black Australorps, Barred Rocks, Wyandottes, and Orpingtons. 

A chicken and a basket of brown eggs
Dual-Purpose Breeds

Dual-Purpose breeds are a great sustainable option if you want a breed that offers both meat and eggs. You can purchase or hatch straight run chicks, keep the females for eggs, and process the roos for meat. The caveat of using dual-purpose chickens is that they don’t produce as much meat as chickens that are bred specifically for meat and they take a lot longer to reach butcher age (usually 16-22 weeks).

2. Decide if You Will Purchase or Hatch Chicks

After you have chosen your chicken breed, you need to decide if you will be hatching your own chicks or purchasing them. 

Hatching Chicks

The most sustainable option for replacing or adding to your flock is to hatch your own chicks. 

You can hatch chicks by letting a broody hen sit on a clutch of eggs to hatch them naturally OR you can hatch them in an incubator. In order to do this, you will need to keep a rooster with your flock, borrow a rooster from another farm when you are ready to breed (consider biosecurity measures if this is the route you take), or purchase fertilized eggs from another farmer. 

Purchasing Chicks

If you prefer to purchase chicks, you will need to decide whether you will use a local breeder, a hatchery, or your local feed store. 

Keep in mind that when purchasing breeds like Cornish Cross, it will be necessary to purchase from a hatchery. 

Buying Chicks from a Hatchery

You will typically find that using a hatchery for mail order chicks will give you more breed options and a broader range of hatch dates. However, you will need to carefully plan when chicks are delivered to you. If they are delivered when it is too hot, they can overheat and die in transit. If they are delivered when it is too cold, they can also die before or shortly after you receive them. 

Buying Chicks from Local Breeders

Before placing a hatchery order, check to see if there are any breeders in your area who raise the chicken breed that you are looking for. Utilizing a local breeder is a great way to support the local economy and build relationships with other people who have similar goals in your community. 

Buying Chicks from Local Feed Stores

Many feed stores like Tractor Supply and Rural King sell chicks each Spring. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with obtaining chicks this way, however, you should be aware that sometimes chicks are in mislabelled bins so you may end up with a breed that you didn’t intend to purchase. 

3. Prepare the Brooder for Baby Chicks

I cannot stress this enough- set up the chick brooder BEFORE you bring chicks home. On so many occasions, new (and seasoned) chicken owners get excited and buy chicks without having a proper setup for them. While they don’t need anything fancy, they do need a safe, warm, safe space to live for the first 6-10 weeks of their lives. 

What to Use as a Brooder Container

A brooder container can be made out of many different materials. As long as the container has enough space for the chicks (½ square foot of space per chick), air is able to flow through freely, and the sides are high enough that they can’t fly out, then it should work just fine. 

A simple large cardboard box with high sides can serve as a budget-friendly single-season brooder. Be cautious that you do not use a heat lamp with cardboard or other flammable materials. See the ‘heat source’ section below for other safe brooder heating options

Other ideas for DIY chicken brooders include large plastic storage bins, playpen, and even a tent. I opted to make my brooder box out of 4 sheets of wood fitted into each other. I am able to take it apart for storage and easily put it back together each spring. 

a brooder box made of wood

You can also purchase a plastic brooder like this for a quick and easy setup.

Brooder Bedding

The bottom of the brooder will need to be lined with a soft & safe bedding. This bedding will need to be changed and/or cleaned frequently so choose wisely.  

Wood Shavings

Wood shavings are a common material used for brooder bedding. Opt for Aspen shavings or kiln-dried pine shavings. Avoid using cedar or treated wood as these can be toxic to chickens. 

Wood Pellets

This is my brooder bedding of choice. These pellets are made of compacted kiln-dried pine that break down into an extremely absorbent sawdust when wet. This helps to reduce smell and excess moisture that can cause respiratory issues in chicks. 


Construction grade sand is also used as a brooder bedding. The sand coats the chick waste in a similar way that cat litter would. Be sure that you are choosing construction-grade course sand and not a fine play sand as this can cause respiratory issues. 

Do not use cedar shavings, treated wood, fine sand, cat litter, or newspapers as brooder bedding. 

Heat Source

Chicks need a temperature of 95° F during the first week of life. This can be decreased 5° F each week. There are several different ways that you can add supplement heat to your brooder.

Heat Lamps

This is a controversial one. Many people love their heat lamps, but I have been through 2 house fires in my life and I do not want to risk a third by using a heat lamp when I have other safe brooder heating options available. 

If you do opt for a heat lamp in your brooder, please be certain that it is secured very well (with more than just the built-in clamp), that it is nowhere near a flammable material, that the chicks cannot reach it, and that water cannot be splashed on it. I also suggest keeping a camera or baby monitor on it so you can keep a check on it no matter where you are.

Radiant Heat Plates

Brooder heat plates produce a radiant heat that poses a significantly lower fire risk than heat lamps and they use much less electricity. Heat plates mimic the mother hen by providing heat directly above the chick as the chick needs it. 

chicks under a heat plate

The chicks can come and go in and out of the heat plate as they wish so they are less likely to go cold or to overheat. 

Other Brooder Equipment & Supplies

You will also need chick-sized feeders & waterers for your new baby birds. 


A chick feeder can be purchased from your local feed store. You can choose from a jar/bottle feeder with a saucer base, a trough feeder, or an open shallow pan. 

baby chicks eating from a trough feeder

Chick waterers come in a few different types:

1) A saucer base with a jar or bottle top 

2) A nipple water system 

3) Chick cups

All of these chick waterer options work well. If you want your chicks to use nipple waterers when they are grown, definitely start with the nipple waterers. Otherwise the choice can be left up to personal preference. 

4. What to Feed Baby Chicks

Proper nutrition is vital for growing a healthy flock of chickens. Research feed options before you bring the first chick home. You can always make adjustments to their diet as you go, but make sure that you aren’t running into chicken ownership with no knowledge of their nutritional needs. 

If you are hatching your own chicks, be aware that they do not have to eat until about 24 hours after they hatch. They will still be absorbing the yolk on their first day out of the shell so you don’t have to offer feed immediately.

Chick Starter Feed

Choose a high-quality 20% protein chick starter crumble. You can choose whether to offer a medicated or non-medicated feed based on your own preference. It is recommended to not use a medicated feed if your birds have received a Coccidiosis vaccination. 

Chick Grit

Chick grit can help chicks digest the feed that they are consuming. 


Adding electrolytes to chick waterers can help to keep them properly hydrated especially during hot weather or when they have been stressed (like when they are first moved into the brooder).

5. Prepare to Keep Baby Chicks Healthy

Research the basics of raising chickens before buying your first batch of chicks (you are clearly already doing this so good job!). Reading about raising chickens won’t teach you everything that you need to know, but it will set you off on a good start. 

Familiarize Yourself with Common Chicken Health Issues

Make sure that you know about common chicken illnesses, especially those that affect young chicks. This way you will know what symptoms to look for in case your birds get sick and you will be prepared to bring them back to health. 

baby chicks in a box

Learn Proper Chick Hygeine & Health Practices

When you have your chicks in the brooder, observe them and perform health checks daily. Keep an eye on their behavior, their appetite, and the consistency of their waste. Make sure that they are clean & dry and that they don’t seem lethargic or distressed. 

Keep the brooder clean by changing out bedding regularly. You can remove the soiled pieces of bedding and add fresh on top instead of dumping the entirety of the bedding if it is only messy in spots. Wipe down the feeders, waterers, and the heat plate to keep bacterial growth to a minimum. 

5 Tips for Adding Baby Chicks to the Homestead