What do baby chicks eat?

Are you going to have baby chicks, but you’re not sure what kind of food they should eat? Oh, no problem!

We will cover everything you need to know in this post, from what they should eat immediately after hatching, to exactly what kind of food is best for them, to when they can have treats, and what kind of treats are going to support their development.

Post hatch immediately, do not feed anything!

Technically, for about 48 hours after they have hatched, baby chicks do not need something to eat or drink. This is because the yolk of the egg, which they consume through their bodies only before they burst through the shell, sustains them.

It’s how chicks with little to eat or drink in their tanks can be sent by post from hatcheries.

So don’t worry that while she dries out and fluffs up, your chick’s still in the incubator without food or water. Right now, she’ll be perfect.

In general, I leave my chicks in the incubator to dry out for 6 to 12 hours after they have hatched. They go into the brooder once they’re dry, fluffed up and relatively active.

You’re going to need to add food and drink at that point.

What kind of feed should be eaten by chicks?
In the first few weeks of life, chicks grow at an impressive pace, and it is important for their healthy growth that they are fed a properly balanced chick food, known as “starter feed” or “chick crumb”

It’s really necessary that you purchase the right kind of baby chick feed. Don’t try to give them the same food as your adult flock: it’s too high in calcium that can cause permanent harm to the kidneys, and too low in protein required by chicks that develop at an exponential pace.

In order to contain exactly what a chick needs, commercially manufactured starter feed is balanced. Look for a fine, ideally organic and non-GMO, brand that contains between 15 and 20% protein.

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And see if it’s bulked out with soy and maize. If you can, buy the unprocessed whole grain feed. It’s more safe and normal.

Your local feed store is the safest and least costly place to purchase it, but you can buy online if you can’t get there for some reason.

If you’re in the US, the brand I prefer is this one, which is both organic and guaranteed GMO-free, has exactly the correct amount of protein and is free of soy and maize.

Is it possible to make your own? 

Some people are. For the reason I’ve mentioned above, I don’t suggest it: it is really very important for the growth of the chick that she has a properly balanced feed with exactly the right amount of protein and very low calcium. 

It’s a huge question to try to provide that for yourself. It’s easier to pay for a high-quality feed that you and your chicks can count on, in my opinion. 

Medicated or drug-free? 

I’ve never fed medicated feed to my chicks, and if you keep your hatchlings in a clean brooder, clear their droppings regularly, and make sure they’ve got enough room, there’s really no need. 

You need to check whether they have been vaccinated against coccidiosis if you have purchased chicks from a hatchery. You should certainly not provide any form of medicated feed if they have it. 

It will not actually damage them, but the vaccine will be nullified. 

When is it appropriate for medicated food? 

In general, medicated feed is given to chicks who are hatched and raised in very cramped conditions, as often happens in commercial farms, to avoid the spread of disease. 

You may need to recommend a medicated meal if you’re hatching more than 50 chicks at a time. 

But backyard flocks really shouldn’t need it, particularly if you naturally plan to increase your flock. “Don’t be tempted to give medicine “just in case” to your chicks. 

Alternatively, make sure that you practise good husbandry and effective steps of biosecurity. Without having toxins in their system, the flock will be safe and happy. 

In the brooder: when and how the feed should be added. 
You can put them in the water as soon as you move your chicks from the incubator to the brooder. 

Food isn’t really important. If you allow them to settle into their new surroundings before offering grain, they won’t starve to death. Chicks need to spend a large part of the few days after sleeping from the hatch, in any case. 

Chicks are inherently very inquisitive, and their beak is the way they discover the world. So, using kitchen paper on the brooder floor (on top of a non-slip cover) and sprinkling a few grains of starter feed on it is a good way to introduce food to them. 

The noise of lowering the feed will draw their attention and will be examined automatically. They learn what food looks, feels and tastes like by doing so. 

At the end of day 1, or early on day 2, I normally sprinkle some feed into the brooder. I’ve never had a chick before who didn’t want to know what she was! 

It is time to add a feeder once they’re used to it. I have a lengthy article here about which type of chick feeder is best.

When do you start getting treats for a baby chick?

This is probably the question that I am most often asked about chicks!

The reason is that there are “treats” from day 1 for baby chicks raised by a mother hen. They’re not home, they’re outside with her in the yard, enjoying whatever she tells them is nice to eat!
We got to take the role of the mother hen in our brooder.

But we can’t be there all the time, unlike a mother hen, to make sure our chicks eat what they are supposed to eat first. And, like kids, if chicks have the choice between a tasty treat and proper food, they’ll still go for treats!

But their main diet is the chick starter feed, and in those first few days after hatch, it’s essential that they have balance. So, for some days, don’t give chicks treats until they are really familiar with what their grain looks, smells and tastes like.

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I usually start offering some treats to my chicks in week 2, or in the brooder at the earliest at the end of week 1.

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And eat sparingly, even then. Think of the treats as delicious sweets!

What delicacies are good for chicks?

The digestive system of the chick is still very undeveloped, so beware of what you’re feeding. It’s all too easy to interrupt their digestion and cause problems.

I typically begin with some hard boiled egg, chopped into small pieces, or some sweetcorn, chopped into small pieces again. They look at it as a killer monster at first, but once they get the taste, in seconds, you’ll find they’re going to devour it.

And no, later, it won’t turn them into egg-eaters! Think about it: there is nothing like a fresh, uncooked egg that looks, smells and tastes like a hard boiled egg.

As a boredom-buster as well as a treat, the other treat I give chicks is a lettuce that I hang from the brooder box’s sides. Hours of never-ending pleasure pecking at it!

Uh, Grit.

They must be given grit as soon as your chicks begin eating something but starter feed.

Chicks can pick up grit naturally from the yard with their mother hen. Once again, we need to play the mother hen in the brooder with the chicks.

This article will clarify everything if you’re not sure why chicks need grit at such a young age.

Smaller particles than adult chicken grit are made of chick grit. Ask at your local feed store or if it’s more convenient, shop online.
Leave it in a tub, alone with their food. Chicks know when to take it, instinctively.

Bear in mind that we’re just talking about grit here—never feed your young oyster shell chicks. The calcium will damage their kidneys. The Oyster shell is only for laying hens for adults.

Poor or sick chicks’ food.

If you have a struggling chick, feed her some fine chopped hard-boiled egg. It is full of protein and helps to nourish those who are still not able to feed properly.

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Give it on a small saucer and allow the chick to peck at it if it’s able. Try to smudge it on the end of your finger if not.

Keep struggling chicks hydrated, too – for a baby chick, water is even more important than food. An electrolyte drink, fed from a spoon or dropper, is still a good standby.

When is it time to turn to a different feed type?
Up until about 8 weeks, keep your chicks on a starter feed, at which point they need to have a ‘grower’ feed that keeps pace with the shift in their development.

If you have left-over starter feed, mix it for a few weeks – 50 percent starter, 50 percent grower. The chicks are going to be great and it will eventually get them used to a slightly new taste.

Don’t be tempted to keep your starter feed for your baby chicks next time. It appears to go mouldy and for any new chicks, the bacteria it creates will be a murderer.

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