Looking to add some chickens to your homestead? Here’s what you’ll need to raise your own chicks – without spending an arm and a leg!
If you’re starting a new flock of chickens – or adding on to an existing flock, you may want to brood some chicks. While a broody hen is your best (and easiest) option, sometimes you either don’t have one to start with or can’t get one to go broody.
You’ll obviously have to spend some money preparing for a flock (you’ll eventually need a coop and run, waterers, feeders, etc.), but raising baby chicks up to adulthood can be extremely affordable – and quite easy.
Here are the items you’ll need to raise your new chicks and keep them healthy while they’re young. You don’t need to spend a lot, although there are lots of more expensive options out there. But these ideas work great if you’re on a budget.
Baby chicks need a nursery. It’s called a “brooder” and can be as simple as a cardboard box. Done!
The brooder needs something soft and grippy and absorbent on the bottom to keep water messes and poop under control. The easiest (and cleanest) thing I’ve found is a few layers of newspapers with a piece of rubber shelf liner on top. When the brooder needs cleaning, the newspaper simply gets tossed and the shelf liner can be rinsed or hosed off, allowed to dry, and reused… Look around and see if you’ve got a few scrap pieces or a bit let on the roll from when you last used your shelf liner… If not, you can pick up a small roll for just a few dollars.
Cost for newspaper: Free
Cost for shelf liner: Free or minimal
You can buy a commercial chick feeder (there are several styles available) or you can simply cut the top off an egg carton and fill it with chick feed. Toss it when it gets dirty. (Cost: Free)
Baby chicks, like adult hens, need grit to help them digest their food since they don’t have teeth. There is special chick grit available commercially. But a dish of coarse dirt or sand from outside will suffice…
Chicks need a special chick waterer, small dish or container for their water. A shallow plastic lid is perfect for their first few days, then you can replace it with slightly larger containers as your chicks grow… You can also use an old ice-cube tray.
It doesn’t hurt to offer baby chicks some electrolytes for the first few days – especially if they were shipped – to give them energy and replace any nutrients lost. A sprinkle of sugar in their water, or a few drops of honey, is a good substitute…
Cost: Practically Free
The one thing you really can’t get around buying is a heat lamp. The brooder should be 95 degrees the first week, and then you can lower the temperature 5 degrees a week after that (although watch your chicks for guidance on the temperature. Happy chicks scamper around peeping quietly. Cold chicks huddle and peep loudly.)
If you keep your house pretty warm or can situate the brooder next to a radiator or wood stove, you might be able to get away with using a regular light bulb suspended over the brooder. Light bulbs are incredibly inefficient – meaning that 90% of the energy goes out as heat not light, which is good news if you’re using it for heat!)…
You might also consider draping a wool blanket or heavy towel over the top of the box, leaving a bit open for air flow, to help retain the heat a bit better…
Just remember that cardboard boxes are flammable, so…if you are planning on using a woodstove, radiator or fireplace as a heat source, you might be better off using a large galvanized wash tub as your brooder ‘box’…
Cost for light bulb: Practically Free
Cost for galvanized tub: Free if you’ve got one – otherwise fairly cheap, especially if you can find a used one.