How to Feed Your New Chicks


Winter is finally over here in the Midwest, and it’s that time of year when our thoughts naturally turn to those little balls of yellow fuzz arriving at feed stores everywhere. For those of you raising chicks, here are some tips for choosing the right chick feed to sustain the new additions to your flock.

Chick Feeds

Chicks require their own special feed, different from the layer feed typically eaten by mature laying hens. However, not all chick feeds are the same. Some companies provide separate starter feeds and grower feeds, designed for chicks at various stages of development. But others offer a combined starter-grower feed.

As with any feed, follow the instructions on the label. If you feed starter, eventually you will switch your chicks to grower feed. But if you are using a combined starter-grower feed, you can keep feeding them the same feed until they are ready to switch to a layer ration.

NOTE: Any feed that is labeled as chick starter or grower (or starter-grower) will contain the correct amount of calcium, protein, and other nutrients to meet your growing chick’s needs. For instance, chick starter-grower feed is 20% protein, compared to 16% to 18% in layer feeds. It is important to provide this specially formulated feed. It will support healthy growth, and layer feed can kill chicks.

Other Added Ingredients in Chick Feed

  • Probiotics and Yeast Cultures: Chicks are born without gut microflora (gut bacteria and other important micro-organisms necessary for digestive system health). If your chicks are hand raised (rather than hen raised), they will benefit from supplemental microflora in their feed. See my recent post on this subject: Gut Health: It’s Not Just for Humans Anymore.
  • Medicated Feed: Some chick feed is labeled Medicated Chick Feed. For more information, see my post Medicated vs. Non-Medicated Chick Feed.

Feeding and Watering Tips

If your chicks come through the mail from a hatchery, you may have to dip their beaks in the water dish so they know how to drink. Gently put their beak in a teaspoon of water or in a shallow dish of water. Then watch to make sure their throats move, indicating they’ve swallowed the water.

Once your chicks have learned to drink, it is time for solid food:

Chicks may not catch on right away that the crumbles you are spreading in the brooder are food. Simply tap your finger on the feed, showing the chicks where the food is. You are imitating a mother hen, who uses her beak to guide her chicks to the tasty morsels.

Make sure your chicks always have ready access to their feed. Chicks need constant access to food to support their growth!

Use chick feeders designed especially for them: a shallow dish with a lid, with circular holes cut in the top. The lid helps keep droppings and bedding out of the feed. It also prevents the chicks from attempting to dust themselves or walk through the feed. Keep feeding dishes and water dishes clean.

Feeder with holes in the lid, designed for chicks. Note the shallow water dish (left).

Your chicks should always have access to fresh, clean water in a shallow dish. This prevents them from getting wet, which can lead to health problems. Be prepared to clean the water dishes several times a day to ensure clean water for your flock.

Chicks and Treats

I’m pretty conservative on feeding treats, especially to chicks. If you absolutely want to give them treats, wait until they are around 6 weeks old and introduce live mealworms or crickets, grapes, tomatoes, or fresh kitchen scraps. Make sure the foods are small enough to prevent them from choking. Offer them these foods for only 15 minutes per day, and be sure to clear out what they don’t eat. About 90% of their diet should be formulated feed, to ensure they get the nutrients they need. Remember what your mother said about too many treats! It applies to chicks as well. If you feed your chicks treats, such as scratch grains, you should also provide them with some fine grit (usually made from finely ground granite) in a separate feeder. This will help them digest their food.

Remember, chicks grow up fast: By the time your new birds are 16 weeks old, they can graduate to a layer diet.

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