So you have baby chicks at home for the first time; they’re very cute, aren’t they? And you can’t wait to see them grow to be adults, right? But how can you be sure that they will all survive? And more importantly, what will you feed them to make sure they will grow healthy and strong? Well, this complete guide will teach you everything you need about feeding baby chicks, the nutrients they need, and what you should not feed them. So stop taking photos with them and put your phone away for a while. Continue reading, and take down notes, especially the most important parts.
Table of Contents
- 1 What are the Factors That Affect the Nutritional Needs of Your Chicks?
- 2 What Kinds of Nutrients do Your Chicks Need?
- 3 What are the Different Types of Chicken Feeds?
- 4 Kinds of Feeds According to Sizes
- 5 Medicated Starter Feed vs Non-Medicated Starter Feed
- 6 What Do Baby Chickens Eat While They are in the Wild?
- 7 Which Food Should Your Baby Chicken Eat?
- 8 How to Feed Your Newborn Chicks
- 8.1 Prepare the Waterer
- 8.2 Never Give Water on Saucers
- 8.3 Let Your Chicks Drink First Before Eating
- 8.4 Prepare a Clean, Flat Surface for the Food
- 8.5 Teach Them How to Eat
- 8.6 Use a Feeder That Suits Their Space
- 8.7 Replenish the Feed As Soon As Possible
- 8.8 Maintain Cleanliness Inside the Brooder
- 8.9 Never Feed Your Newborn Chicks With Layer Feed
- 9 How to Make DIY Feeders and Waterers for Your Newborn Chicks
- 10 How Much Should You Feed a Baby Chick?
- 11 Safety Tips While Feeding Your Newborn Chicks
- 12 Conclusion
What are the Factors That Affect the Nutritional Needs of Your Chicks?
And just like your babies, baby chicks also need nutrients to keep them strong and healthy. However, chickens have different requirements which depend on the following:
Not all chicken breeds are equal. Some of them are bigger than others, in growth rate, and productivity level. Therefore, they can greatly affect their nutritional needs.
In general, the gender of the chicks is not a huge factor when it comes to their food consumption and eating habits. But once they reach their sexual maturity, there is a significant difference between roosters and hens.
Baby chicks need more nutrients than adult ones, but they will need more food while they are growing up. On the other hand, older hens that have stopped laying eggs no longer need that much.
The temperature of the Environment
Ambient temperature is probably the most important factor, especially once the chicks are already adults. This includes humidity, day length, lighting, air quality, and population density.
Type of Housing
Free-range chickens have different nutrient requirements from confined ones. This is because they tend to burn more calories. Therefore, consider the space of their housing when it comes to their feed intake.
Noise (Internal and External)
Noise causes stress to baby chicks and adult chickens as well. These noises can be external such as aircraft take off or landing, while internal noises include ventilation systems and power equipment.
Healthier chicks may not need as many as nutrients than the weaker ones. Aside from vitamins and minerals, the latter may also need some medicine. Baby chicks will need them because they are susceptible to various diseases.
What Kinds of Nutrients do Your Chicks Need?
Your baby chicks need different kinds of nutrients so they will grow strong and healthy. Their nutritional requirements change as they go through the different stages of their lives. Nonetheless, you should also know the health benefits of each kind.
Clean Drinking Water
Chickens don’t love to swim or take a bath using water. But just like us and other animals, they need clean drinking water. Aside from preventing them from dehydration, water has full of nutrients. This includes calcium, Vitamin D, and phosphorus to help improve bone metabolism. After hatching, baby chicks can still survive the next 48 hours without food and water. This is because their yolk has enough nutrients for them. But once you have moved them to the brooder, they will need lots of water especially since the heat lamp will make them thirsty. However, chicks are not yet familiar with water so you should help them by dipping their beaks onto the waterer.
Adult chickens, especially hens need a lot of calcium when they start laying eggs. On the other hand, baby chicks don’t need too much calcium yet. In fact, it can be bad for their health.
Ideally, chickens below 18 weeks of age only need up to 1% calcium in their bodies. This will increase as they grow older.
Adult chickens need whole grains such as oats, corn, and wheat. On the other hand, chickens less than 18 weeks old need more ground food than grains. But if you will feed them grains, give them the unprocessed ones. You may also give them commercially-produced starter feeds, but only a very little amount.
Your growing baby chicks need a lot of protein in their bodies. This is very important to help them grow faster and strong feathers. Chicks up to 6 weeks old need 20% – 22% protein. Once they are 7 weeks old, they will only need about 15 percent of protein.
Vitamins and Mineral Supplements
Vitamins and minerals are very important to growing chicks. This includes vitamins A, D3, B12, and folic acid, which can help them strengthen their legs, boost their appetite and increase their energy levels. You can find them in chick starter feeds and in natural foods.
Grits are tiny stones and granites, and baby chicks as well as adult chickens need them for food digestion. This is because chickens don’t have teeth to grind their food, and they eat almost anything they find. Free-range chickens tend to eat more grits than caged ones.
Baby chicks need fat, too. Fatty acids are great sources of calories in their diet and help reduce grain dust. There are different kinds of fatty acids but the specific requirement for chickens is linoleic acid, which can be found in sesame oil, sunflower oil, and grapeseed oil. But as we all know, too much fat can result in obesity and diseases.
What are the Different Types of Chicken Feeds?
Generally speaking, all chicken feeds have the nutrients that a chicken needs from being a cute baby chick to a full-grown adult. If you are only a beginner in raising chickens, you may even get confused about how many types of chicken feeds there are. The truth is, they only differ in how their grains are milled. To help you distinguish which is which, here are some of their important characteristics:
Starter feed is the type of feed that your baby chicks need. It has 20-24% protein content and is ideal for chicks from their birth until they reach 6-8 weeks of age. It helps them grow faster while establishing their immune system and strengthening their bones. Typically, meat birds (broilers) need 22-24 percent protein while egg-laying chickens only need 20 percent. However, you should start changing to grower feed once they are 8 weeks old. Otherwise, too much protein inside their bodies may lead to liver damage of liver. Starter feed may either be medicated or non-medicated. The medicated starter has Amprolium, which can help prevent chickens from getting coccidiosis. On the other hand, a non-medicated starter is ideal if your chickens have already received a vaccination.
If your chickens are between 8 and 14 weeks of age, you should switch to grower feed. They are slowly becoming pullets and will start laying eggs sooner or later. Therefore, they should be fed with lower protein only to keep their bones stronger bones and to increase the body weight they need for egg production. Grower feed usually has 16-18 percent protein. Feeds with very high protein can cause early development and your pullets may lay eggs even if they are not ready. Once they are close to laying eggs, it’s a sign that you should switch them to layer feed.
As the name suggests, layer feed is ideal if you want your hens to lay more eggs. It contains 16-17 percent protein just like grower feed, but with extra calcium that hens need in producing stronger eggshells. Therefore, chickens at around 18 weeks old should be fed with layer feed. However, pullets and developing chicks eating layer fees are likely to suffer from kidney problems, huge loss in egg production, and reduction of life expectancy. Hens with calcium deficiency also tend to use the calcium in their bones, thus weakening them. Nevertheless, you should introduce layer feed gradually to avoid upset during digestion.
Kinds of Feeds According to Sizes
Its texture is almost the same as that of potting soil. It is very easy to digest which makes it ideal for baby chicks. You can mix them with warm water so the chicks can eat them better. However, make sure they eat them right away to avoid spoilage.
Crumbles are small fragments of feed and are easier to manage as compared to mash. They also have more substance than mash. They are simply pellets that were cracked to make them softer and easier to eat. However, make sure they are crumbled enough.
Pellets are probably the most common among the three and are the best choice for chicken farmers and poultry owners. They are cylindrical and have the same ingredients as mash. They are compressed when heated using a pelletizing machine, thus resulting in their unique shape. This makes them not go to waste once your chickens spill their food.
Medicated Starter Feed vs Non-Medicated Starter Feed
As mentioned earlier, medicated starter feed has Amprolium while a non-medicated starter has none. The latter is applicable if your chickens have already been vaccinated against Coccidiosis. Now, let’s elaborate on this topic further. Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease that infects the intestinal tracts of mammals and birds, including chickens. This can lead to muscle pain, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and even death. Among the symptoms seen in chicks include blood in droppings, bacterial infections, and diarrhea. Nevertheless, this disease is not contagious. Baby chicks are very susceptible to this disease because their immune system is not yet fully developed. So far, vaccination is seen as the best preventive measure. On the other hand, Amprolium is a pharmaceutical ingredient formulated to reduce the growth of bacteria. This helps in improving your baby chick’s immune system against this disease. In short, chicks that have received vaccination no longer need medicated starter feed. And if you still give it to them, the added protection is not necessary.
What Do Baby Chickens Eat While They are in the Wild?
Will baby chicks die of hunger if they are in the wild without humans to feed them? Absolutely, not. Their basic instincts help them seek food. Thanks to their caring mother that guides them every now and then. Just like their mothers, baby chicks are omnivores which means they eat almost anything. These cute, feathered creatures eat fruits, vegetables, and small worms such as earthworms. They also eat bugs, grasshoppers, ants, and termites. Small insects don’t only taste good; they are also rich in protein. As days pass by, they start to explore tasting animals such as mice and small frogs. But why should you know about this? This is for you to know how to replicate their diet once you move them out of their natural environment. If you don’t have a broody hen in your flock, you can somehow call yourself lucky. Broody hens love to sit on eggs all day instead of laying them. However, they tend to be irresponsible mothers when it comes to guiding chicks to eat. Therefore, this is your chance to introduce them to the starter feed.
Which Food Should Your Baby Chicken Eat?
As mentioned earlier, baby chickens eat anything that touches their beaks. However, it doesn’t mean they should eat all of them.
First of all, their bodies need the right nutrients to help them grow faster and a balanced diet so they won’t get sick.
Fertilized eggs go into an incubation period for 21 days. A few days after they are hatched, baby chicks can already eat. But aside from starter feed, should they also be given other foods?
Well, starter feed is already a complete food for them. It has all the nutrients they need while they are growing. However, you may also give them some natural food as an alternative. Here are some of them:
- A pinch of hard-boiled egg (ideal for weak chicks)
- Apple cider vinegar
- Milled oats
- Yogurt (Large amount can cause diarrhea)
But while all of them have the same nutrients that starter feed has, don’t give them too much, especially those high in calcium. You should have a deep understanding of poultry nutrition so you can balance their diet. Some foods may also cause stomach upset or diarrhea.
Should You Feed Your Chicks with Grits?
Giving grits to baby chickens should also be done with extra caution. Although these small stones can help them grind their food inside their stomach, pebbles and rocks may be too big for them to swallow. To avoid getting choked, try adding some sand, gravel, or canary.
Can Your Baby Chicks Eat Table Scraps and Leftover Foods?
Yes, they can! Your baby chicks can safely eat table scraps and leftover food just like their mother hen. However, most of them are very low in protein so don’t treat them as the main course. Instead, feed them in moderation or use them only as a supplemental treat. As you may already know, your baby chicks need lots of protein to help them grow faster and stronger. Therefore, it’s better if you wait for them to reach 3-4 months old before introducing such foods to them. Also, don’t just give it to them. To make sure they are safe for them, do the following first:
- Check the foods and throw away those that are harmful to them
- Cut them into very small pieces that are enough for them to swallow.
- Immediately remove their leftovers from the brooder to avoid contamination.
What Foods Should You NEVER Give to your Chicks?
Giving your chicks the food they need is not enough. You should also know which foods are not safe for them. Therefore, you should avoid or better yet not give them.
Here they are and be sure to remember them.
- Avocado skin, leaves, and bark. They contain a fungicidal toxin called persin. Avocado flesh is fine, though.
- Coffee and grind coffee beans
- Foods with very strong taste such as garlic and onion. They are not harmful but will leave an undesirable taste to their eggs.
- Liquor or any form of alcoholic drinks.
- Processed foods, including leftover pizza.
- Raw meat. This can lead them to cannibalism.
- Soft drinks or soda.
- Spoiled foods.
- Too much salt. A little amount will do.
- Very greasy or oily foods.
How to Feed Your Newborn Chicks
You can get newborn chicks from two different sources – from your hens or a supplier. Regardless of where they came from, you should have already prepared a brooder for them. A brooder will be the first home for your newborn chicks. And because baby chickens are not yet capable of controlling their body temperature, your brooder should have a source of heat to warm them. The ideal temperature is 90- 95 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week. Your brooder should be running for about 24 hours before your chicks arrive. This is to make sure that the temperature is already stable. As mentioned above, a newborn chick can survive for 48 hours without eating and drinking. Nevertheless, they can start to eat once they can. And now that you already what baby chicks eat and what they should not, the challenge for you is how to feed them. Although they are not totally helpless, there are some important rules on how to feed them properly. Here they are:
Prepare the Waterer
Use a waterer that has a basin high enough so that your chicks can reach the water level but cannot step on it. This is to avoid spillage that can cause slippery floors, and your chicks can drink more. The size of the waterer should allow your chicks can move freely. Add stones to avoid drowning. But more importantly, use fresh, clean water.
Never Give Water on Saucers
Never use saucers or shallow dishes for their water. Spillage will only cause your chicks will also feel cold. They will also be prone to diseases since the water will likely be filled with their droppings. In the worst cases, your chicks may drown by accident. Drinkers should also be placed near the source of the heat so that your chicks will not have to walk far.
Let Your Chicks Drink First Before Eating
If you allow your newborn chicks to eat first before drinking, they are very likely to experience sticky bottoms or patsy butts. Once this happens, they will have a hard time pooping and this is dangerous for them. But if you let them drink first before eating, the food will be digested properly and their vent will not be clogged.
Prepare a Clean, Flat Surface for the Food
You can buy a flat feeder. But to help save you money, you can use repurposed items such as shallow pans, egg flats, a piece of cardboard, a paper towel, or a shoebox lid. Just make sure the space is enough for them. When ready, sprinkle some starter feed on it. Once they learn how to scratch it, they can easily find the location of the feeder.
Teach Them How to Eat
Baby chicks will eventually learn how to eat and you don’t need to teach them. However, they are likely not yet capable of finding their food even if they are already in front of them. Therefore, give them a slight push downward until their beaks will touch the feed. You may also notice that some of them will stumble so help them get up.
Use a Feeder That Suits Their Space
Just like the waterer, your feeder should also be high enough to prevent your chicks from stepping on their food. If your brooder space is small, use a feeder with a small footprint. On the other hand, use a hanging feeder if you have a bigger brooder. It will not only reduce the possibility of wasted feed, but it can also hold lots of feeds.
Replenish the Feed As Soon As Possible
Replenish the feed supply immediately and don’t let your feeder go empty. Once the feeder is left empty for a long time, your chicks are likely to pick up dirty feed on the floor. Also, let your chicks empty the feeder before filling it up again. The accumulated uneaten feed should not be mixed with the new ones. Otherwise, they might get spoiled.
Maintain Cleanliness Inside the Brooder
Aside from making sure that all your chicks have easy access to feed and water, you should also maintain cleanliness inside the brooder. To remove the chicken poop, wipe them away using a moist paper towel. Change the bedding at least once a day and clean the entire brooder every other day. Also, don’t forget to clean the feeder and water.
Never Feed Your Newborn Chicks With Layer Feed
In some cases, you may run out of starter feed and forgot to buy. And since you have stock of layer feed, you might get tempted to give it to your baby chicks. Don’t even think about it. Remember that layer feed is only for chickens at around 18 weeks old and it has a high level of calcium. Once your newborn chicks eat it, they are likely to suffer from liver damage.
How to Make DIY Feeders and Waterers for Your Newborn Chicks
You can easily buy chicken feeders and waterers online. But if you are on a tight budget or you want to save money, why not make them by yourself? After all, it’s not as hard as you think it is. Here are some DIY (Do-It-Yourself) tips:
- For your feeder, get an empty bucket, bottle, or container big and tall enough for your brooder.
- Punch some small holes around it. Make sure they are big enough for a few amounts of the feed to come out very slowly.
- Turn the container upside down and use a shallow cover as its bottom. You can also use the container as it is, as long as the base has bigger space to catch falling feeds and not on the floor. Also, make sure that your chicks cannot step on it. Otherwise, the feed may be contaminated with unwanted dirt.
You may also want the feeder to be hung. This is a better option because there will be less chance of feed waste and the feed will not get dirty. Just make sure to hang it high enough for your baby chicks to get food. As the days go by, adjust the height to follow the height of your chicks. In some cases, you may use a PVC long enough so that all your chicks can eat at the same hole. Just like for the container, punch some holes in it. Make sure that the spacings between the holes are far enough and do not cause your chicks to bump into each other. For the waterer, the process is somehow similar to making a feeder except that you should avoid hanging it. At some point, it may drop and your brooder will be flooded with water. Also, if your chicks could not get enough water, they will scratch the floor and might be able to drink contaminated water. You may also want to put some small rocks at the bottom of your waterer. This is to prevent your chicks from drowning. Just make the rock big enough so that your chicks will not eat them. If you are using tap water, make sure it is clean. Tap water may also be cold for your chicks. Therefore, store them first at room temperature before giving them to them.
How Much Should You Feed a Baby Chick?
Your baby chicks need lots of nutritious food but it doesn’t mean you’ll feed them as much as you can. Once they overeat, they will tend to become too fat and too heavy and you don’t want that to happen. Obesity in chickens is dangerous and can be fatal. To avoid obese chickens, you should control their food while they are still young. Ideally, here’s the amount of food your baby chicks should eat. This will depend if they are layers (for egg production) or brooders (for meat production).
As mentioned earlier, for chicks aged from 0 to 8 weeks, you should feed them with organic starter feed. Each chick should eat about 1 ounce of feed a day. So for 42 weeks, which is the number of weeks before they switch to grower feed, your chicks may consume about 2.63 pounds. Starter feed has a protein level of 20-24 percent, which your baby chicks need at this stage.
Once your chicks reached 8 weeks of age, they should be eating organic grower feed. Each chick should eat about 3 ounces of feed a day. And because you have to feed them until they reach 15 weeks of age, each chick may consume a total of about 8 pounds of feed. Nevertheless, you should switch to layer feed once they start to lay eggs.
Each egg-laying hen may consume about 1.5-1.75 pounds of feed every week. This is about 0.21-0.25 pounds (or 4 ounces) a day. Typically, layer feed has a protein level of 16% to 17%, just like the grower feed. If you still have grower feed left, you can mix it with the layer feed as long as it is not more than 50 percent of the entire feed.
For the first 2 weeks, feed them with organic starter feed. Each chick may consume about 1 ounce per day or approximately one pound of feed a day. Therefore, you will need about 14 pounds of feed during this stage. As a rule of thumb, they should eat 5 ounces of feed during their first week and 11 ounces of feed on their second week.
Broiler chickens should be fed with grower feed once they reach 3 weeks of age. This feed has about 18 percent protein. If you decide to slaughter them when they reach 8-9 weeks of age, you may need a total of about 14 pounds of feed for every chicken. Ideally, they should eat 1 pound of feed during Week 3 and should increase as weeks go by. Note, however, that the measurements mentioned above are only recommendations, and are not necessarily applicable to all chicken breeds. This is because some breeds such as the Cornish Cross Rock than others.
Safety Tips While Feeding Your Newborn Chicks
Aside from the safety warnings mentioned above, here are additional safety tips while you are feeding your newborn chicks.
- Never feed your baby chicks (as well as adult chickens) with chickens. Aside from the fact that it is illegal in many areas, this may lead to chicken-to-chicken disease.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with water and soap before touching them. It’s better if you always have hand sanitizer with you. This will also protect you from possible diseases. If you have visitors who would want to see them, require them to do the same.
- Avoid your small children from touching your baby chicks. If you will allow them, make sure they touch them gently and will not kiss them or put them inside their mouths. Also, allow them to hold one chick at a time only.
- Change your clothes, gloves, and shoes if you have been to your coop or where your flock is. This is to make sure that you’ll not be transmitting diseases to your baby chicks.
- Avoid touching them until they are 1 week old.
- Baby chicks are very sensitive to movements. So if you touch them, do it carefully and very slowly.
- Don’t hold baby chicks if they are stressed. Instead, let them rest for a while.
- Don’t lift them too high, unless you have to transfer them to another place. If you will have to lift them and move them closer to the source of heat, lift them about 1 inch high only.
- If one or some of them die (knock on wood!), bury them at once and away from the brooder and coop. Bury them deep enough so chickens won’t be able to dig them. You can also burn them.
- Always keep the environment clean.
Now that you know how to feed your baby chicks properly, you should also know what can happen if you fail to follow the tips above. If their diet is not right, chances are they will get weak and stressed, or will lose some feathers. It may also affect their egg productivity or will produce abnormal eggs. in the worst cases, they might die before they reach adulthood. Therefore, you must monitor them very closely, especially their eating habits. Once you have noticed unusual changes, check them immediately or consult a vet.