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Tips offered for early chick care

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As spring approaches, chicks begin to appear at local farm stores, and there are several things to keep in mind when purchasing chicks.

A North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension article published in March 2023 suggests individuals should get involved in raising backyard poultry, which offers families the opportunity to raise their own meat and eggs, while serving as an avenue to get involved in 4-H.

Purchasing chicks locally allows individuals to see birds prior to purchase. However, stores usually offer only a few relatively common breeds, although some feed stores will special order chicks of a particular breed.

If an individual is looking for a particular or an exotic breed, they can consider ordering directly from a hatchery, as shipping chicks is very successful as long as there are no weather extremes at either end of the chicks’ journey.

NDSU suggests buying chicks from National Poultry Improvement Plan certified hatcheries or independent flocks and dealers and advises individuals to purchase chicks which have been vaccinated against Marek’s disease.

“Marek’s disease is very common in young chicks because they are still developing their immune system, but it can affect up to 40 percent of an unvaccinated flock and there is no treatment,” NDSU states.

Raising day-old chicks requires frequent monitoring and adjustment. A less labor-intensive option is to purchase pullets near egg-production age. 

Pullets are typically 15 to 22 weeks old female chickens which will start to lay around 24 weeks old and can continue producing up to 10 years.


Iowa State University Outreach Youth Animal Science Education Specialist Amy Powell explains the first step to introducing poultry into a backyard farm is selecting a breed. 

Most backyard breeds are considered “dual purpose,” which means they are raised for both meat and eggs, she notes. 

“Most chicks available at local farm stores are pretty hardy,” Powell adds. “They’re usually Rhode Island Reds (Reds) or a crossbreed like Black Star or Red Star.”

Breed selection depends on how the chick will be used, but the most common breeds for backyard flocks are Sex-links or Americanas.

Sex-links lay brown-shelled eggs and are good for both eggs and meat typically laying 150 to 200 eggs per year.

But, if a greater egg production is desired, Reds or White Leghorns are the breed of choice, as each of these breeds can produce about 250 eggs per year. Reds lay brown-red shelled eggs and Leghorns lay eggs with white shells.

However, NDSU states, Americanas are hardy chickens and will lay beautiful blue eggs at a rate of around four per week, and they will become a valued member of the flock for around eight years.

All chickens can be used for meat, but if chickens will be grown primarily for meat, Cornish Cross or slower-growing Red Broilers are the best choice.

Cornish Cross chickens grow fast and need less feed to gain weight compared to other breeds. They should be ready for processing around six to seven weeks of age. 

Attractive breeds, such as bantam chickens are pretty to look at but generally make poor production birds. 


“Housing is also an important consideration when building a flock. Chicks younger than six weeks require a brooding period, where they will need to be kept inside and warm,” Powell says.

Chicks should be confined to the brooder area by using a 24-inch-high chick guard, which keeps chicks from straying away from heat and prevents floor drafts. 

Keeping the brooding area big enough allows chicks to escape one another, but it also allows them to choose a comfort zone around the light.

According to NDSU, newly hatched chicks are sensitive to temperature because they cannot regulate their body heat without feathers. 

“For the first week, the heating source temperature should be 95 degrees Fahrenheit for chicks seven days old or younger, then reduce the temperature by five degrees each week until they are one month old,” NDSU states.

Keeping a thermometer in the brooder area to monitor temperature regularly, especially during the first 48 hours of placement is highly suggested.

Chicks are fully feathered around six weeks of age, and if outside temperatures are over 65 degrees Fahrenheit, they are ready to be moved to the coop. However, if the temperature is below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, supplemental heating may be required for a while longer, either in the coop or the brooder.


It is important to acclimate chicks to their new water and feed source and assist them in drinking water by dipping their beaks in the water dish.

Local feed stores provide a variety of water sources. Purchasing one with a base which keeps it from tipping over and spilling is recommended, and providing an inch or less water depth works best for new chicks. 

NDSU recommends purchasing a base bright in color to help attract the birds to the water, but to be cautious of waterers that are too deep because they pose a risk of drowning. 

There are many feed companies which provide chicken feed for every stage of life – from chicks to productive hens or market-ready meat birds. 

Chicks under six weeks should be given starter feed, which has a higher level of protein to promote healthy growth.

Chick starter can be medicated or non-medicated, but medicated chick starter should be fed immediately after hatching to reduce the risk for coccidiosis in chicks which have not been vaccinated for the disease at the hatchery prior to shipment, according to NDSU.

Non-medicated feed may be used for vaccinated chicks, but it is suggested to provide medicated feed for extra protection against the disease.

Safety tips

While chicks generally tend to be healthy, in order to keep both people and poultry safe, it is important to maintain proper biosecurity practices. 

“One thing to keep in mind is promoting good biosecurity, since chickens can carry salmonella,” says Powell. “It is also important to be aware of highly pathogenic avian influenza, since there has been an increase in detections lately.”

Anyone handling chicks or other poultry should wash their hands thoroughly immediately after touching the birds, collecting eggs or touching food or other equipment used for poultry.

“Make sure chicks are confined to areas which will not allow access for predators including cats, dogs racoons or skunks. Anything will eat a chicken, so predator awareness is essential,” warns Powell.

Raising chickens is a fun and educational way to engage with agriculture and food production, especially for children, and Powell recommends children interested in raising poultry get involved with 4-H, where they can learn more about livestock and enter competitions.

Melissa Anderson is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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