So you’ve got some new little chicks-congrats! Now you have to keep them alive. First job, warmth. Check. Second job, water. Check. Third job, food.
How To Feed Your Chicks
Ok, chick food. Here’s where it get’s interesting. Layer, starter, grower? Organic, or not? Medicated, or not? What the heck? Do you just buy the first bag with a hen on it you see at the feed store and cross your fingers?
As it turns out, this chick feed decision isn’t that tough, if you know a few basics about chick feed.
Chick Feed: What It Is
If your little peepers are still in the “awwwe, cute!” stage, you’ll want a dedicated chick starter feed. This is a high protein, low calcium, nutritionally balanced feed manufactured in a small size chicks can eat.
Why You Use It
Chicks have different dietary needs from laying hens, growing meat birds, or older, but not yet laying, birds. A dedicated chick feed provides enough protein (typically about 20%) to promote strong, healthy growth without supplementation and all the vitamins and minerals a little chickey needs to get off to a good start.
How Long To Use It
Go with chick feed from hatching until 2 months of age, or as directed by the feed manufacturer. At this point, transition your birds to a lower protein grower feed (16-18% protein) until the onset of egg laying (for laying hens), or slaughter (for meat birds).
Do not transition 2 month old birds directly to layer feed – it has too much calcium for birds that aren’t yet laying eggs. From 4 to 5 months old, or at expected age of lay, pullets can move to a layer feed, which maintains a moderate 16-18% protein, but greatly increases calcium levels to provide sufficient mineral support for strong shell formation.
Organic vs. Conventional Chick Feed
Let me be really, really blunt. I grow organic, buy organic, and feed my chickens organic (I’ve fed my hens Scratch and Peck feed since I started keeping them). For me, the organic vs. conventional feed decision is a no brainer.
However, I like to play fair(ish), so this is the reality: organic feed is more expensive. That’s the primary and, as far as I can see, only drawback. Organic feed promotes organic grain industries, funnels money to organic farmers, provides for your hens without supporting GMO corn and soy industries, and probably decreases the level of pesticide and herbicide residue in the backyard eggs your family eats.
But, yeah, like most organic options, organic chicken feed is more expensive. For me the few bucks a bag more is a moderately small price increase for a big values payoff, but this is an assessment every chicken-keeper will need to make for themselves, based on their finances, flock size and their comfort level with conventionally raised, GMO-commodity crop based feeds.
Medicated vs. Unmedicated Chick Feed
Medicated chick feed is offered by many feed manufacturers. The addition of a medication – typically Amprollium – in the feed offers chicks some protection against the development of a disease called coccidiosis. Coccidiosis is caused by a common intestinal parasite, cocci. You should assume that all chickens carry cocci and shed them in their feces.
Healthy chickens encounter the cocci parasite naturally, build up a natural resistance to it, and are typically unhurt by it. However, poor conditions including overcrowding, damp bedding, unclean coop and run areas, and warm, humid environments can lead to high levels of cocci. When this happens, chickens and chicks can develop coccidiosis, an overgrowth of the cocci parasite in the intestinal track. Coccidiosis leads to bloody feces and can be fatal to birds. As you might expect, chicks who have not yet developed their natural resistance are more at risk from coccidiosis.
Medicated chick feed is one of those areas where reasonable people can disagree. I believe preventative chick medication is typically unnecessary for the average backyard chicken keeper. In fact, unless you have had prior outbreaks of coccidiosis in your flock, I think it makes sense to let chicks build up their natural immunity right from the start. After all, they will eventually encounter cocci. The best thing you can do to prevent an outbreak of coccidiosis is to keep your coop clean, and small flock holders have little excuse for under-maintaining their chicken’s environment.
However, if you raise a lot of chicks at once, or if you live in an area or have a chicken yard with a known history of coccidiosis outbreaks, medicated chick feed may make sense for you. So do your research and know why you are making the decision you are.
Natural-method chicken-keepers who prefer not to preventively administer meds can encourage healthy, balanced digestion in their flock and discourage parasitic buildup in the gut by adding 1-2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar to each gallon of chicken water and feeding probiotic-rich “treats” like yogurt. And of course, ensure your hens have lots of room and access to yummy green and growing things.
What Else Do Chicks Need?
This is so important it got three exclamation marks. Water – I mean it! Never allow chicks (or older chickens) to run short on fresh, clean water. They need constant access to a fresh water source.
Chick-sized grit (basically broken up bits of rock) allows your babies to maximize the nutrition in their feed and develop their gizzard. If you are using a processed, pelletized or crumbled feed, grit is less necessary right off the bat, but since I feed my chicks Scratch and Peck’s whole grain mash-type chick starter, I offer grit from Day One. You can feed your chicks grit free-choice by sprinkling it over their bedding or filling an empty (clean, duh!) tuna can with grit, or you can blend the grit right into the chick starter.
Who doesn’t love a salad? Occasional treats of dark leafy greens that you would eat (think lettuce, parsley, kale, carrot tops, etc.) are great for chicks. Fresh lawn or grass untreated with herbicides or fertilizers is great too. If your chicks have free access to pasture, they will build their own salad bar as they like. If they don’t, make sure to supplement with a little bit of the good green stuff. I don’t give baby chicks big starch-bomb treats like pasta or leftover oatmeal. I know they need a high-protein diet and I don’t want them filling up on the proverbial breadbasket.
“All vegetarian feed” – what a stupid way to advertise “pure” eggs, huh? This egg carton slogan, designed to fool people who’ve never seen a chicken devour a worm or a frog or a plate of…well…chicken, conveniently side-steps the fact that chickens are omnivores. I watched one of my hens jump 3 feet into the air to catch a moth yesterday. So don’t let the adverts fool ya, chickens are just tiny T-Rexs with wings.
As soon as it is safe to do so, start introducing your chicks to the wonder of small worms, little buggies, and other critters small enough to be a chick meal. Don’t worry, they will figure out what to do. If your chicks have a mama hen, she will delight in teaching her babies the scratch-scratch-hop-back-and-peck dance and they’ll be catching their own bugs in no time.32
We have 6 month -old chicks and we are in the process of reinforcing the coop to full fortress status (lost 3 chickens last year to raccoons). My favorite part about the chickens is that they don’t bark!
We currently have 3 chickens but I think with our next round we’ll get 4 (the max allowed in our city), with 3, there are often 2 playing favorites with each other against the other 1. I’m hoping that having an even number will balance it out a little better even with the pecking order.
Glad to read this, and I think you are quite right. Your Blog last April “You should absolutely not…”was what got me thinking about the chicks this year. I thought that I could handle the farm aspects, and make that careful balance between farm animal and pet. I learned from some friends that there is a farm auction in Enumclaw and that is a place to sell chickens if you cannot slaughter yourself. Even the Farm families say they choose carefully when to slaughter and how to discuss. I am already charmed by the personalities and the politics. I want my coop to be high enough that I can look in from my kitchen window…and I hope to have a red lamp in there into perpetuity so the noise is kept to a minimum. My Doc told me that the reason they get noisy before we perceive the dawn is that they see ultra red light as wake then. All in all, I hope we continue our journey with chicks…What a fabulous lesson in being gentle with fragile creatures. I loved your tip about sand in the laying area. It fueled my imagination about the chickens, and so one of them got a dinosaur name (“Ridgeback”), and I began to think of them as lizards. My coop will be quite a novelty because of this research and all this thinking. I got a little scared, and my husband was not ready for a new pet (s), so we re-housed our babies with a local farm woman who is teaching all of these to us. Our chicks are still alive despite our innocence, and because of her hard learning over 20 years. I love your blog and when we do get chicks at our home, (or reclaim these that went to the farm,) I will use you as a resource for fun, especially in feeding them yoghurt! Funny. Still, my kids had better develop more respect! Tiny bones, tiny necks, not to be toyed with. Cold blooded, no oil from Momma to protect against wet and cold, no bacteria in gut, poor babies. I am so in love with them, though. I am heartsick that they are not under my roof. I am so tempted to get another little group…so feed would be a wonderful lynchpin. I really wish that I could use a broody hen like you did…maybe a savvy reader will remember that I wrote this and send over a broody hen to me. Because although I loved the cheeping sounds at night, the little ones kept all of us awake, especially my husband, who has set work hours. And so now we focus on the challenge of/ skills to build a better coop, and try to make visits each day to “our” chicks. Bittersweet. They will become a functional part of a Cougar Mountain farm next Autumn if I cannot get this all put back to together before the end of May when the grange stops carrying the chicks. Wish us luck. 🙂
I have 6 chickens, and we LOVE having the fresh eggs!
Thanks for the chance to win! 🙂
kelly s says
I have 8 hens (two are banties: an Americana and a d’uckle, two LF RIR, one old red star, one old Barred rock, one welsummer, one austrlolop) and two muscovy ducks. They are all free ranging around my yard and go into a secure coop at night. I love these guys but I would love to add more color to the flock with new baby chicks! Maybe a BCM Maran and a polish, or a Swedish flower, or speckled sussex, or GLW, or a lavender orpington or a barnvelder, or a ??? HELP ME!!! …Yay chick-starter is something to help out with my chicken math!
My flock fluctuates quite a bit over time. I have 8 layers (2 years old) and got several adult ducks this winter (3 cross-bred hens, a cross-bred drake who will be freezer trained soon), and 3 muscovies (1 female, 2 drakes). I’m hoping to convince 1 of the muscovy males to breed with the cross-bred females for meat birds, and they all seem to be inclined to cooperate. Last fall I raised 40 meat chicks for the freezer/to can (I shared with a friend), and the year before I raised turkeys. I really enjoy having the birds around; they are all very different. The eggs are wonderful! I think my least favorite is dealing with unexpected losses. I had a juvenile red-tail hawk practice hunting on my chickens until I set up a visual barrier.
Ummm…a bird addiction has swept our farm. We had 16 chickens until this spring. Since the beginning of March, we have added 17 more chicks, 14 turkey poults, and 3 more Muscovy ducks. This brings the total to 33 chickens, 7 ducks and 14 turkeys plus two wild Mallards that have taken to living at the pond too!
I love the diversity of birds and entertainment. No TV? No problem! It has been fun over the past two weeks to learn about turkeys and see how their personalities differ from the chickens’. Don’t love how we try to feed the different aged and kinds of birds different foods and they all steal from each other. Also dislike all the poo on the porch…but love them free-ranging all day!
Thank You for all the awesome giveaways!! GOOD LUCK TO EVERYBODY
I am expecting four chicks (Buff Orpington) at the end of May. Yay! I’m so excited to care for my first little clutch. We just finished the hen house today and will start on the run tomorrow. Thanks for the opportunity for a great start.
mary Hall says
I have three chicks. Not a lot, but it’s working for me. I love everything about them! They have much more personality as I ever could have imagined.
Cheri Dickerson says
We just started raising chickens– 10, so far. We have 2 buffs and 4 Ameracuanas (the pullets). We also bought 4 Cochins from our 4-H leader. I love watching the littles learn from the bigs– I do not like the idea of the rooster fertilizing all of my eggs :/
I have 7 chicks and am loving it so far!
Chickens are, in my opinion, the funniest little things to watch! Our goats and cats think so too and enjoy chasing the hens just to see them run away. Jerry, our rooster, provides excellent protection over his clan of 20 ladies all of which make up six or seven different kinds of chickens. They produce beautiful multicolored eggs.
I’m currently learning more about natural care of all our animals, but chickens and turkeys are my current venture being chick season and all. We feed our adult ladies organic grains from our farm but it is the little guys I’m concerned about. We would like to start them on a nutritional feed minus the unnecessary additives. It is difficult to find such feed local to us and I’m interested in learning to make our own.
Thank you for providing useful and interesting information about all the best things in life!
Ceely King says
So. I started out with 12, what I believe to be New Hampshire Reds. Got a beautiful rooster out that batch. *wink* One expired, got a replacement, which turned out to be a white silkie rooster, raised with the other one became best friends. Then my flock got decimated by a dog who got into the pen. Replaced with 12 more leghorns (I think, they are white, LOL) Since we lost both roosters and I had an interest in meat birds, I bought six unknown white chicks and six meat chicks. Made a decision to buy 12 more…. Then my hubby just walked around the pens and said: Give me six of those. And give me six of those.” It is his effort to get another rooster. LOL So to answer the question: I love my girls, but HATE to clean… And love the eggs that they give. So I guess it balances out.
Heather P says
New farm, new coop, 24 new laying hen chicks! I feel like the biggest mother hen of them all and am probably hovering a bit much but so far so good.
Emily Delaney says
My flock of 8 will arrive in about 3 weeks. I’m extremely excited to have my first chickens. I am hoping 8 will be enough to keep my egg-hungry family of 6 fed most of the year. In January, I took care of a friends flock of about 25 – 30 chickens for 2 weeks. While it was fun, that was too many chickens for me. I was collecting at least a dozen eggs a day!
We have 6 ladies from last year and 4 new babies this year. Seems just about right!
James W says
so many chicks so little space 🙁
We have 5 layers (RIP Cinnamon – sour crop) and 2 Cornish crosses (man are they fat and a little gross!). The flock is the perfect size to provide us with enough eggs for our 3-person family and to share with friends and family. Some people bring a bottle of wine as a hostess gift – we bring a dozen eggs.
I have 9 bantam chicks and one yellow baby duck. The bantams stay small and so will be cute babies always. The duck will wander the yard and rid me of slugs! What could be better. Kathie
We have 8 new chicks between 3 and 6 weeks old. We bought them from a local backyard hatchery which is why they are different ages. I would love to win some quality food for them. I wish I had a local source for non-GMO chicken food here in NC.
I currently have a flock of 3 hens but am looking to, at least, double that this year. There’s not much to complain about with such a tiny flock. So, I guess my complaint would be that I don’t have enough chickens! What I love about having such a tiny flock is that I know exactly which egg comes from which of my girls.
We have 3 chicks as a 4-H project. We have one Polish and 2 Ameraucanas. We just love them. They are so entertaining!
We just got our first chicks yesterday! Three speckled Sussex chicks.
Phil McDonnell says
I am brand new to the whole chicken experience, but my cute little 1 week old babies have stolen my heart! I have 5 baby chicks that seem to be growing bigger by the minute. So far I love just watching them jump around and then suddenly plop down and sleep…
5 chickens since 2012. It’s a nice-sized flock for a small Seattle yard except that there’s one mean chicken who bullies 2 lower on the totem pole. If they had a proper farm, she might not do that…
Lisa C says
Last week we received 75 mixed flock layers…. Love them!! I started my journey researching chickens a year an a half ago, not its finally a reality.
Tracy S. says
This is our first year with chicks . We have 5, but I suspect one may be a rooster. Growing up in NY , but now living in rural WA state, I feel a little like I am in over my head but wanting so desperately to live a better lifestyle. I want my children to grow up understanding more about how we can actually impact what we eat by raising chickens that lay eggs and by planting a vegetable garden. It is going to be a great experience. We all got to make the coop and decide how to keep them safe and happy. I can’t wait until they start laying eggs!
Laura Bramwell says
This is my first time owning chickens and I decided to start with four chicks. I am raising them in the garage until they are old enough to go into a coop. This last weekend with the nice weather I let them outside in a run for a few hours while I was gardening. They had a blast! I even raided my worm composting bin and sacrificed several tasty wigglers which they went nuts over! It was like an old Tom and Jerry cartoon with one chick picking up the worm, then running to the other side of the run while the others chased her, then another chick would steal the worm and they ran to the other side, and so on until the worms were gone.
Chicks are such “cheep” entertainment!
Deanna vincecruz says
I love your info on everything thank you so much, now I got that out, we are getting 40 broilers and 2 turkey’s like last year, what I like is know that our organic fresh chicken meat was genuinely and lovingly cared for and had a good life, and my children ( who all have different allergies and conditions) are better for it. What I don’t like is if they die when they are little (that was the only time we lost any) and the mess of the backyard, but my kids love them to and are growing up with better skills then I ever had at that age and beyond.
Kathy Yaconis says
My daughter and I are building a chicken coop this weekend. Next will come the baby chicks!!
Could really use the starter kit to get us started on the right track! Thank You!! Kathy
I’m about to start my first flock. I’ve got the plans and the supplies to start framing my Garden Coop this weekend. Chicks will soon follow! I was thrilled to find your old posts on your experience with the same coop. I plan to start my flock with 4-6 girls, and slowly build up.
Laurie in Arkansas says
My 8 chicks arrived Tuesday! 2 each of Black Australorp, Rhode Island Red, Blue Laced Red Wyandotte, and Speckled Sussex!
We haven’t started our flock yet, but are planning on bringing home 6-8 chicks soon. We just bought our first home, and are so excited about growing our little homestead! I already know my favorite part about chickens will be watching our 1 and a half year old daughter interact with them (and eggs, duh!), but I am a little worried about socializing them with our two dogs.
Jennifer Knoetgen says
We have six hens that will be culled this fall.
Ten layer pullets to replace them.
Twenty-five Red Ranger Broiler chicks that are thriving. After 10 years of growing a few Cornish-crosses for meat each year, we are excited to try raising a foraging, “real” chicken.
Our biggest trouble is the wild birds that come in to our coopr via the chicken yard and eat the food, poop in the water, poop everywhere and generally gross me out…. Help?
Jenny Loeb says
We had 5 chickens that we were sitting for a local camp for the winter. We just gave them back and plan to get chicks so we can totally use the Chick Starter Kit! I liked having 5 – easy to manage and almost enough eggs to feed my family. 🙂 But I think this time we are going to get 10 – it feels like just a little bit more work for twice as many eggs.
Elizabeth Donohoe says
Erica…John at the Garden Coop pointed me in your direction about the sand in the coop, and I’m wondering how that’s worked out two years on? I’m starting a flock as soon as I assemble the Garden Coop this month (would love the Starter Kit!), and am at a place to decide how to build it right now: For sand or litter? Did you need to reinforce the floor for the heavier-than-bedding sand, by the way? Thank you in advance.
Our layer flock is 11 hens and 1 rooster, but we get a couple hundred meat birds a year and sell most of them. Would love to win the starter kit! My favorite part about chickens is being able to feed them bugs, grasshoppers and slugs from the garden. I hate killing those pests myself, but don’t mind providing them as a tasty treat to my girls!!
Becky Jacobs says
We just received 26 Barred Rock pullets. It is our first time to raise chicks. How fun they are. We are all getting used to one another. They each have their own personality. We like the way they wear out so quick and need a nap. Just like real babies.
I don’t have chickens–yet!
Eight hens and a rooster that have grown out of a batch of juvenile delinquent chicks who refused to come out from underneath an old picnic table at their former home. A few are part Araucana, so we get green, blue, brown, and ivory eggs. Next venture is French Guineas; 30 to arrive in June!
Jenn Rodgers says
I’m a brand new mama to my chickies which will arrive on May 29th. I’ve been reading and preparing and just about burst anytime I think about getting them. My two boys, 2 and 4 don’t really grasp that we are going to have our own chickens, for now they visit the neighbors chickens with such regularity I just know they will be great little chicken’ers.
Kathy Karch says
Great blog post. We have a flock of 18 hens (8 of which are just 5 weeks old). We just moved the little girls out into their “grow out” coop, which used to be a grazing pen/hutch for our meat rabbits. Our ten older gals (as well call them) reside in their “castle,” a home build coop. They have an 80 sqft fully enclosed “inner bailey” that we can keep them in when we have to leave for a day to protect them from predators while we’re gone, but they spend most of their time in the “outer bailey” a 400 sqft area fenced off with 3ft high chicken wire. Our elevated rabbit hutches reside within the outer bailey as well. What do I love about our chickens? SO MUCH! They are beautiful and funny and when I’m stressed I’ll sit in the outer bailey with them and sip tea and watch them just be themselves. They rake out the poop/pee/hay mixture that collects under our rabbits and transform it into fabulous, fertilizing mulch for our garden as they search for worms and bugs. They give us incredible eggs that we can feel good about eating on multiple levels. Our hens are a talking point and a curiosity in our neighborhood. People ask about them and they bring their children over to see them (sometimes the grown-up’s just show up w/o any children in tow). My hens are educators. They’re teaching my children (and others in our neighborhood) about food and farming, and they’re getting people to rethink their stress-filled, break-necked paced, consumer driven lives. My hens are community builders. Okay, enough with this, I need to go brew some tea and go spend some quality time with my flock! :))
Kate Andres says
I currently have 15, 3 of them are roosters as i have an incubator. I just got a set of California Leghorns that I would love to hatch in my incubator, but they are still adjusting. My flock is separated into three groups as I want pure Leghorns, and the “babies” from last year were getting picked for the 30 minutes they were in with the big girls. I had a set hatched with a broody hen last year, that was awesome but instead of the 9 she collected only 3 hatched. I feed them the Layena layer pellets, when I have chicks they get a few scraps and chick feed. I love my girls, they are so fun to watch. Love your website and follow you. I’m in Oregon so I found you by needing NW gardening advice.
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