What do you feed baby chicks when they hatch

Baby Chick Care | Purina Animal Nutrition

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Backyard Poultry

Backyard Poultry

Starting a Flock : Caring for Chicks

Purina Animal Nutrition

Bringing home your baby chicks is an exciting milestone in raising backyard chickens. The three key essentials for raising strong baby chicks: Warm, water and feed. Start chicks strong by providing a complete chick starter feed from day 1 through week 18.

For those of us welcoming new chicks, how can we give them a solid start?

To best transition chicks into a flock, provide comfort, care and complete nutrition from day one. A chick never gets over a bad start. The actions we take before chicks arrive and the care we provide in the first few days can help set-up our chicks to be happy and healthy long-term.

Before baby chicks arrive: Set up the brooder

Set up your brooder about 48 hours before your chicks arrive. This allows time for bedding and equipment to dry and the temperature to set.

Equipment for day one includes:

  • Brooder: The brooder is the first home of new chicks. Be sure it is comfortable, warm and draft-free with at least 3 to 4 square feet per chick. The area should be circular and expandable.
  • Heat lamp: Assemble a heat lamp in the center of the brooder for bird warmth. Hang the heat lamp about 20 inches above the litter, with 2.5 to 3 feet between the lamp and the guard walls. The temperature under the heat lamp, or comfort zone, should be 95 degrees Fahrenheit and adequate room in the brooder should be available for the chicks to get out from under the heater if they get too hot. After week one, gradually reduce heat by 5 degrees Fahrenheit each week until reaching a minimum of 55 degrees.
  • Bedding: Add an absorbant wood shavings bedding to the floor of the brooder. Place bedding 3 to 4 inches deep to keep the area dry and odor free. Remove wet bedding daily, especially around waterers. Do not use cedar shavings or other types of shavings that have a strong odor because the odor could affect the long term health of the bird.
  • Lights: Provide 18 – 22 hours of light for the first week. Then reduce light to 16 hours through the growing period or to the amount of light they will receive when they are 20 weeks of age.  The amount of light intensity required would be provided by a 40 watt bulb for each 100 square feet (10’ x 10’) of floor space.
  • Feeders: Offer 4 linear inches of feeder space for each bird. Clean egg cartons filled with feed make excellent and easily accessible feeders for young chicks. Provide low-lying feeders, or trough feeders, for after the transition.
  • Waterers: For every 25 chicks, fill two 1-quart waterers with room temperature water and place them in the brooder. To help water stay at room temperature, place the waterers in the brooder, outside the comfort zone (do not position underneath the heat lamp), 24 hours prior to the chicks’ arrival.

Introduce baby chicks to water

Once chicks arrive, introduce them to the brooding area. Water, at room temperature, should be available, but wait a couple hours to introduce feed.

This gives chicks a couple hours to drink and rehydrate before they start eating, fresh, quality water is essential for healthy chicks. Dip the beaks of several chicks into the water to help them locate it. These chicks will then teach the rest of the group to drink. Monitor the group to ensure all chicks are drinking within the first couple hours. 

Teach baby chicks to eat

After chicks have had a chance to rehydrate, provide the nutrients they need through a complete chick starter feed.

Provide a chick starter feed with at least 18 percent protein to help support the extra energy needed for early growth. The feed should also include amino acids for chick development; prebiotics, probiotics and yeast for immune health; and vitamins and minerals to support bone health.

To provide all the nutrients chicks need for a strong start, choose a starter-grower feed from the Flock Strong® Feeding Program. Complete starter feed options include: Purina® Start & Grow®, Purina® Start & Grow® Medicated, Purina® Organic starter-grower and Purina®  Flock Raiser.

First, teach the chicks to eat by placing feed on clean egg flats, shallow pans or simple squares of paper. On day 2, add proper feeders to the pens. Once chicks have learned to eat from the feeders, remove the papers, pans or egg flats. 

Adjust feed as baby chicks develop

To keep feed fresh: Empty, clean and refill waterers and feeders daily. Also, raise the height of feeders and waterers so they are level with the birds’ backs as chicks grow.

As chicks mature, their nutritional needs change. At age 18 weeks, adjust the feed provided to meet the birds’ evolving nutrition needs.

Transition layer chicks onto a higher-calcium complete feed, like Purina® Layena® Crumbles or Pellets, when they begin laying eggs at age 18 to 20 weeks. For meat birds and mixed flocks, choose a complete feed with 20 percent protein, like Purina® Flock Raiser® Crumbles and feed this diet from day one through adulthood.
Thinking about getting your first chicks? Visit our Baby Chick Resource Center for everything you need to start chicks strong.


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6- to 8-Week-Old Chicks: Moving to the Chicken Coop


A Guide to Backyard Self-Sufficiency


Adjust Nutrients in Chicken Feed as Birds Grow


Backyard Chickens Are a Kids’ Best Friend


Benefits of Raising Chickens

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What do baby chicks eat?

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So you're about to have baby chicks but you're not sure what feed they should eat? No problem!

In this article we'll cover everything you need to know, from what they should eat immediately after hatching, to exactly what kind of food is best for them, to when they can have treats - and what kind of treats will help their development.

Immediately post hatch, feed nothing!

Technically, baby chicks don't need anything to eat or drink for about 48 hours after they've hatched. That's because they are sustained by the yolk of the egg, which they absorb into their body just before they break through the shell.

It's how chicks can be sent by post from hatcheries with nothing to eat or drink in their container. 

So don't worry that your chick's still in the incubator without food or drink while she dries out and fluffs up. She'll be fine for now.

I generally leave my chicks to dry out in the incubator for between 6 and 12 hours after they've hatched. Once they're dry, fluffed up and reasonably active, into the brooder they go.

It's at that point you'll need to introduce food and drink. For more about drink, see this link.

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What kind of feed should chicks eat?

Chicks grow at an amazing rate in the first few weeks of life, and it's critical for their healthy development that they're fed a properly balanced chick food, known as "starter feed" or "chick crumb".

It's very important that you buy the right kind of feed for baby chicks. Don't try to give them the same food as your adult flock: it's too high in calcium which can cause irreversible kidney damage, and too low in protein which chicks, growing at an explosive rate, need.

One of my hatches tucking into their chick crumbs at Day 2 in the brooder.

Commercially produced starter feed is balanced to contain exactly what a chick needs. Look for a good brand, preferably organic and non-GMO, which contains between 15% and 20% protein.

And check whether it's bulked out with soy and corn. If you can, buy a feed that's unprocessed whole grains. It's more natural and healthier.

The best and least expensive place to buy it is your local feed store, but if you can't get there for any reason, you can buy online.

The brand I recommend if you're in the US is this one, which is both organic and guaranteed GMO free, has exactly the right amount of protein and is soy and corn free.

You'll find the UK equivalent (Fancy Feeds Chick Crumb) at this link.

Can you make your own?

Some people do. I don't recommend it for the reason I've stated above: it's really very important for the chick's development that she has a properly balanced feed with exactly the required amount of protein and very low calcium.

To try to provide that yourself is a big ask. In my view, it's better to pay for a high quality feed that you and your chicks can rely on.

Medicated or non-medicated?

I've never fed my chicks a medicated feed, and if you keep your hatchlings in a clean brooder, regularly clear away their droppings, and make sure they have sufficient space, there is really no need.

If you've bought chicks from a hatchery you need to check whether they have been given a vaccination against coccidiosis. If they have, you should definitely not offer any form of medicated feed.

It won't necessarily harm them, but it will nullify the vaccine.


is medicated food necessary?

Commercially hatched chicks have medicated feed to prevent the spread of disease. Backyard flocks should not need it.

Chicks who are hatched and raised in very cramped conditions, as often happens in commercial farms, are generally given medicated feed to prevent the spread of disease.

If you're hatching more than 50 chicks at a time, you may need to consider a medicated food.

But backyard flocks really should not need it, particularly if you're aiming to raise your flock naturally. Don't be tempted to give your chicks medication "just in case".

Instead, make sure you practice good husbandry and effective biosecurity measures. Your flock will be healthy and happy without having chemicals in their system.

In the brooder: when and how to introduce feed.

As soon as you transfer your chicks from the incubator to the brooder you should introduce them to water.

Food isn't so critical. They're not going to starve to death if you allow them to settle into their new surroundings before offering grain. In any event, chicks need to spend a good part of the couple of days after hatch sleeping.

Chicks are naturally very inquisitive, and the way they explore the world is with their beak. So a good way to introduce food to them is by using kitchen paper on the brooder floor (on top of a non-slip cover) and sprinkling a few grains of starter feed on it.

One of my day-old Speckled Sussex chicks ventures out from the heat lamp to investigate what those strange bits are.

The noise of the feed dropping will attract their attention, and they will automatically investigate. In doing so, they learn what food looks, smells and tastes like.

I generally sprinkle some feed into the brooder at the end of day 1 or early in day 2. I've never yet had a chick who didn't want to know what it was!

Once they're used to it, it's time to introduce a feeder. I have a detailed article about which type of chick feeder is best, here. 

When can a baby chick start having treats?

This is probably the question I'm asked most often about chicks!

The answer is that baby chicks raised by a mother hen have "treats" from day 1. They're not inside, they're out there in the yard with her, eating everything she tells them is good to eat!

Hens are good teachers of their baby chicks!

In our brooder, we have to take the place of the mother hen.

But unlike a mother hen, we can't be there all the time to make sure our chicks eat what they're supposed to eat first. And, like children, if chicks have the choice between a yummy treat and proper food, they'll go for treats every time!

But the chick starter feed is their main diet and it's important they have balance in those first few days after hatch. So don't give chicks treats for several days, until they are very familiar with what their grain looks, smells and tastes like. 

I normally start to give my chicks some treats in week 2, or at the earliest at the end of week 1 in the brooder.

And even then, feed sparingly. Think of treats as a yummy dessert!

Which treats are good for chicks?

The chick's digestive system is still very undeveloped, so be careful what you feed. It's all too easy to upset their digestion and cause problems.

I generally start with some hard boiled egg, chopped into small pieces, or some sweetcorn, again chopped small. At first they look on it as a killer monster, but once they get the taste you'll find they devour it in seconds.

And no, it doesn't turn them into egg-eaters later! Think about it: a hard boiled egg looks, smells and tastes nothing like fresh, uncooked egg.

The other treat I give chicks, as a boredom-buster as well as a treat, is a lettuce which I hang from the sides of the brooder box. Hours of endless fun pecking at it!

That lettuce didn't last long!

As the chicks get older their developing digestive systems will be able to deal with goodies like watermelon, pumpkin, mealworms and fish – but only ever in moderation.


As soon as your chicks begin eating anything but starter feed, they must be given grit.

Chicks with their mother hen will pick up grit naturally from the yard. Again, we need to play mother hen with chicks in the brooder.

If you're not sure why chicks needs grit at such a young age, this article will explain all. 

Chick grit is made of smaller particles than adult chicken grit. Ask at your local feed store, or buy online if it's more convenient.

Leave it in a dish, separate to their food. Chicks know instinctively when to take it.

Bear in mind we are talking about grit only here - never feed your young chicks oyster shell. The calcium will damage their kidneys. Oyster shell is only for adult laying hens.

Food for weak or sick chicks.

If you have a chick who's struggling, feed some finely chopped hard boiled egg. It's full of protein and helps nourish those who can't eat properly yet.

Offer it on a small saucer and encourage the chick, if it's able, to peck at it. If not, try smudging some on the end of your finger. 

Keep struggling chicks hydrated, too - water is much more important than food for a baby chick. An electrolyte drink is always a good stand-by, fed from a spoon or by dropper.

When is it time to move onto a different kind of feed?

Keep your chicks on a starter feed until around 8 weeks, at which point they need to have a "grower" feed which keeps pace with the change in their development.

If you have starter feed left over, mix it - 50% starter, 50% grower - for a couple of weeks. The chicks will be fine and it gets them used to a slightly new taste gradually.

Don't be tempted to keep your starter feed for next time you have baby chicks. It tends to go mouldy and the bacteria it produces would be a killer for any new chicks.

Do you have a question you'd like to ask me?

Whatever it's about, ask your question and I'll answer you – on video.

To find out exactly how you can, take a look at my article about my backyard "Chicken Chat" Q&A sessions. 

More information about caring for baby chicks.

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Care for daily chickens and useful recommendations of experienced poultry farms


  • 1 Feeding chickens at home
    • 1.1 How to feed chickens that have just hatched
  • 2 2.2 What to feed monthly chicks

When caring for and breeding laying chicks, many poultry farmers make mistakes in the feeding process, which often leads to the death of babies. Proper feeding and care are the main factors influencing the further development and growth of chickens. Using only feed grains or food waste as feed should not be expected in the future for a good result. Therefore, the question often arises: what to feed the chickens in the first days, so that later they grow up strong and healthy?

Feeding chickens at home

Chickens that have just hatched from an egg are not yet able to eat on their own. The yolk sac retains a small supply of vital elements, which should last them for several hours.

After that, a feeder is placed in front of them, and the chicks learn to peck the food themselves. The main rule when feeding chickens at home is to follow the regimen and menu , focusing on their age.

Babies are mainly fed the following foods:

  • Feed.
  • Grain.
  • Dairy products.
  • Greens.
  • Vitamins.

General recommendations for the correct feeding of chickens:

  1. Feeders should only be filled one third to prevent the feed from being trampled down.
  2. All chicks should be well fed. If suddenly several babies begin to rarely approach their feeder, they should be planted and fed with a mixture of milk and pounded egg yolk with a pipette. After they get stronger, they are planted back to their brethren.
  3. The room should always have fresh water, which is regularly updated.
  4. For the prevention of disease, chicks should be given a saturated solution of potassium permanganate three times a week.
  5. The feeder should be cleaned and disinfected regularly using hot soapy water or a 5% formalin solution. Feed residues should always be removed to prevent rotting.

How to feed newly hatched chicks

It has been scientifically proven that the sooner a chick learns to peck on its own, the better and faster its digestive system will develop. As soon as the baby eats a grain in the very first hours of his life, immediately his brain will fix the feeding reflex. If several hours have passed since hatching and the baby has not touched the food, nutritional deficiencies occur, organs begin to develop poorly, and serious disorders can subsequently occur.

Therefore, chicks should be fed as soon as they are born. Having dried and strengthened, they begin to stand on their legs and should already be trying to peck something. A little corn grits is poured into a flat feeder or just at the bottom of the box. It is small in itself, so it is well suited for newborn chicks.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the egg yolk as to whether it should be given to newly hatched chicks. Some poultry farmers are sure that a hard boiled and chopped yolk brings only benefits. Others claim that he is too fat for such babies.

Veterinarians have the latter view. According to their observations, such food does not exert a load on the muscles of the stomach of a newborn chicken. Because of this, the formation and structure of its walls does not occur properly. If, after such soft food, the chicks are given the roughage they need, stomach upset often occurs.

Also, because of the yolk, pathogenic microflora multiplies in the intestinal system of the chicks. In addition, along with the yolk, the growing body receives too much fat.

What to feed day old chicks

The diet of day old chicks is already a bit more varied. In addition to corn grits, they can already be given:

  • semolina;
  • barley grits;
  • millet;
  • ground oatmeal;
  • wheat groats.

Day-old chicks are fed every two hours in small portions so that they do not scatter it. If you give a mixture of different cereals, some chicks may begin to choose the food they like. Therefore, it is better not to mix cereals, but to give separately. At the same time, porridge is not steamed, but given dry.

For babies to grow and develop normally, cereals alone are not enough for them. You should gradually introduce other foods into the diet. Cottage cheese is considered very useful , thanks to which the chicken's body is saturated with nitrogenous substances and calcium. You can give it to two-three-day-old chickens, preferably in the morning and mixing with cereals.

All dairy products benefit babies. You can pour liquid kefir or fresh whey into the drinker instead of water. Yogurt will provide the chicken with probiotics, and besides, they eat it with pleasure.

On the third day, the chicks already can be fed greens . It can be plantain, dandelion, nettle, midge, clover. Green onions are very useful - they protect the body from intestinal diseases. It is administered only on the fifth day.

If the chickens are broilers, then for 4-5 days they are recommended to be given special compound feed. It contains essential vitamins and minerals for rapid growth and weight gain.

What to feed week-old chicks

9 week old chicks0027 give a mixture of from corn, barley, oatmeal and wheat groats in a ratio of 1:1. Supplement food with greens and dairy products. During this period, the chicks need to be fed less often, but in large portions. Thus, 4-5 feedings are obtained per day.

Feeding for one month old chicks

One month old chicks should already be let out, so their diet is mainly greens. By consuming grass and other greens, they will get the vitamins they need for their growing bodies. At this age, laying hens are introduced to the diet of coarse grain. At a month and a half, they should already be eating whole grains. You can give bone meal and food waste.

It is worth taking care of a separate feeder with fine gravel, sand or ground shells. They well support the body of chickens in a normal balance. If the chicks are properly fed at home, they grow quickly and do not get sick .

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Raising chicks after the hatchery

In the first hours of life, after the chicks have hatched, it is important to know everything about raising chicks after the hatchery. After the babies see the light, they must be immediately removed from the incubator and dried quickly. Chickens in the first hours of life are very weak and insecure. Therefore, you will need to create all the conditions for their comfortable existence, because you will have to replace them with a mother hen, which takes on all the duties and responsibility for adapting the “children” to the environment.

So, first put the chicks in a box, the walls of which should be about 50-60 cm high. Paper or a soft, lint-free cloth should be laid on the bottom so that small paws do not get stuck in the threads.

Optimal heating for raising chicks

After hatching chicks in the incubator, it is important to create the right and optimal temperature and light conditions for them. Heating and lighting must be provided around the clock. For heating, you can use heating pads, an incandescent lamp, or put a box near the battery. It is very important in the first days of the life of the chicks to control the temperature in their box. It must not exceed 29-30 degrees, but you don’t need to adjust even lower. To provide babies with the right light, poultry farmers recommend using infrared lamps. Their light is soft and even.

Watch the chicks: if they are constantly crowded and squeezed in groups in the corner, then they are definitely cold. If they are active, run around the box a lot, then the temperature suits them perfectly.

After the chicks get stronger and grow up, you can slowly reduce the temperature to 26-27 degrees, this should be done about five days after hatching. Then you can lower it by three degrees every seven days. When the chicks are one month old, the optimum temperature for them will be 18 degrees.

When do you start feeding hatched chicks?

Do not rush to feed chickens from the incubator in the first minutes of life. This moment was provided by nature. The chicken still has a residual yolk, which means that it will have enough energy for the first time. Chickens need to be fed 10-16 hours after you take them out of the incubator. There is reliable evidence that the chicks that received food in this time period show good productivity. Day-old chicks, when they first peck at something, digestion starts in their body. A few years ago, poultry farmers believed that egg yolk was considered the best food option for babies. But now it has been proven that day-old chicks should be fed less fatty foods. Judge for yourself, because the yolks are made of fat, which can adversely affect the delicate ventricle, and thereby overload the digestive system. Therefore, it is believed that corn grits will be the best food for chicks.

You can also find out what to feed hatchery chicks on the popular farming forums for poultry farmers, where farmers share their experiences and observations.

During the first hours of life, chicks should be fed with plain, purified water. Often farmers give them potassium permanganate, but in fact it is pointless. Because a small chick, after hatching, still has a sterile intestinal microflora. You can, if possible, pour decoctions of chamomile and yarrow into the drinker. What can really be useful for babies is a glucose solution. It can be a good prevention of anemia in chicks. As for the drinker, it should be small so that your wards cannot get wet there. It is undesirable to pour cold liquid into the drinker, it should be at room temperature.

Day-old chick feeding

The feeding of day-old chicks varies slightly during the first days of life. When the chicks are 24 hours old, they can begin to give semolina, wheat, barley groats and millet. You can also start feeding your chicks starter feed, which is enriched with all the necessary substances at this stage of life for proper development.

The diet is also changing, now it is worth giving food to chickens every 2 hours. Even at night, it is worth taking care of the chicks.

It is already possible to start pouring yogurt into the drinker for day old babies.

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