How to Raise Orphaned Baby Chickens

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Chickens are frequently preyed upon by other animals and may leave orphaned chicks behind. Chicks are precocial, meaning they are born covered in down feathers and are able to walk and feed almost immediately after hatching. This makes them fairly independent from birth and easy for humans to rear.

Things You'll Need

  • Brooding box or cardboard boxes
  • Shavings or paper towels
  • Grain formulated specifically for chicks
  • Chick feeder
  • Water dish
  • Heat lamp
  • Red heat lamp bulb
  • Thermometer

Purchase a brooding box from a local feed store, or make one using a cardboard box that is at least 1.5 to 2 feet high with a bottom area of at least 2 feet by 2 feet.

Place the box in a room where the temperature stays constant and it is shielded from drafts.

Fill the bottom of the box with 4 to 6 inches of shavings or 2 to 4 inches of paper towels. Newspaper is slippery and should not be used.

Purchase a chick feeder and water dish from your local feed store. Make sure the chicks have fresh water and feed available at all times. Throw out any leftover feed and clean the dishes at least once a day.

Secure a red heat lamp over the center of the box. Make sure the bulb cannot be reached by the chicks and cannot touch the box or bedding.

Place a thermometer 3 to 6 inches over the bedding near the center of the box to check the temperature inside the box. The temperature should be between 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit until the chicks are a week old. If it is not, raise or lower the lamp to obtain the correct temperature in the box. Make sure there is a temperature gradient in the box. If there is not, you will need a lower wattage lamp or a larger box.

Raise the heat lamp to lower the temperature in the box 5 degrees Fahrenheit every week until the box reaches room temperature. For 2-week-old chicks, for example, the temperature should be 85 to 90 degrees. When the chicks are 3-weeks-old, the temperature should be 80 to 85 degrees.

Observe the chicks. If you notice them bunched up together directly underneath the heat lamp, the cage is too cold; if they are spread out along the outskirts of the cage, then the cage is too warm. If the temperature is just right, the chicks will sleep in a circular formation in the middle of the cage with a hole in the middle of their formation directly under the lamp.

Keep the chicks inside for the first four to six weeks. If you are using a cardboard box brooder, you will need to gradually increase the size of the box. Replace the box every four to seven days as they grow. Once they are fully feathered after four to six weeks, you can transfer them to a safe enclosure out of doors.

Tips & Warnings

  • Ask your local grocery store if they have any extra cardboard boxes in the sizes you need.
  • Watermelon boxes work great as large indoor enclosures during weeks three to six of the chick's life.

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