Chick Raising FAQ

A list of Frequently Asked Questions about raising chicks, and the best answers I can provide.

  • Should I use medicated chick starter?
    I only use medicated. Not worth the risk of losing even 1 chick to coccidosis. Yes, it is still possible for a chick to die of coccidosis on medicated feed, but I would imagine the brooder conditions must be horrible to have that happen. It provides a buffer in case your cleaning / care is “less than impecable”. That said, if you change bedding often and watch for the telltale signs, you can treat chicks in time and save them. Do keep Corid (Amprollium) on hand if you choose to go unmedicated.
  • Should I buy vaccinated chicks?
    To get protection from Marek’s Disease, chicks must be vaccinated within 24 hours of hatching. I highly recommend you get vaccinated chicks as Marek’s is a serious disease that is fatal once symptoms present. The vaccine is primarily to prevent symptoms, not infection.
  • Care of chicks during transport?
    Ideally, you should bring a small box with a soft towel (cloth or paper) for transport. In cold weather, cut a small hole near the top of the box, in warm weather, add holes on all sides. They do not need food or water for the trip, even if it is several hours. Chicks are amazingly hardy when subjected to low temperatures for short times, so you don’t need to fuss over them much. Keep them in the passenger compartment when traveling and they will be fine.
  • What should I use as a brooder?
    I use plastic storage bins, the largest that fit into the space I am using. No top is needed if the chicks are young and your house free of predators like cats and dogs.
  • What kind of bedding is best for the brooder?
    For the first week, I use newspaper covered with paper towels. That gets messy at some point and I replace it with shavings. I prefer the finer grade of shavings until the chicks are older. I have heard people say the chicks will eat the fine shavings. After a week on newspaper/paper towels, they know what food is and will know that shaving are not right, so I have no problems from that.
  • What about feeders and waterers?
    The standard circular waterers and feeders that are sold at all the chicks places work fine. I prefer glass canning jars over the plastic bottles they sell with them. The glass is heavier and less likely to be knocked over by boisterous chicks. The one thing they don’t say much about in the instructions is that you really need to set these on a stand of some sort, not directly on the bedding. I use plastic containers from the local Chinese food place, but blocks of wood work great also. Aim to have the top of the lip at about shoulder height of the smallest chick.
  • What should I use for heat?
    I use incandescent light bulbs, but they are getting harder to source. The heating plates made for brooding are probably ok and many people swear by them. I often have 12 to 20 brooders running and like to be able to tell at a glance that the chicks are happy. Lifting up the plat to check them adds a lot of my work.
  • Could my chicks be sick?
    The most common disease is coccidosis. Much has been written about this, but the main symptom to be on the lookout for is lethergy, when a few are sitting off by themselves.
  • Help, my chicks have poop dried on their butts! What should I do?
    This is commonly called “pasty butt”. You need to clear this or the chick could die. Some people soak their butt in warm soapy water to soften the poop and let you remove it gently. I just grab it and pull it off quickly, like a band aid. This also removes the down that held the poop in place, preventing a recurrance
  • How long can I keep the chicks inside? When can the go outside?
    This is partly a judgement call. I tell people, “your nose knows when it is time”. They can go outside earlier in the summer when it is hot day and night.
  • Can I add a new chick in with my older ones?
    No, this is a bad idea. The chance of the new chick getting harassed is high, often this results in the death of the new chick.