If you have found yourself dreaming of baby chicks this spring and fresh eggs this fall, we are definitely on the same page. We have officially been chicken owners for 1 month now and it has be one of the most interesting adventures we've had in a while, (thanks, COVID.)
Now there is a lot of disdain in the backyard chicken world for people who bring home baby chicks without being fully prepared. Maybe you find yourself at Tractor Supply one Saturday picking up fertilizer and you see a delightful bin of fluffy baby chicks. On top of that, they are dirt cheap!
It can seem simple to just bring one or two home but it is anything but that simple.
Because I'm a little bit coo coo, I researched keeping backyard chickens for (no-joke) A FULL YEAR. I've known people with chickens and have heard about some of the challenges and I wanted to be fully prepared to handle all of those things before I brought these sweet living creatures into our home.
The first thing you should know is that individual chicks may be cheap, but it is not cheap to raise them and keep them healthy. You will hear lots of jokes in the chicken community about how that first egg is a "million dollar egg" because of the time and finances that went into getting it.
Thankfully, it isn't really necessary to do a year's research before bringing home chickens, and I am going to share what I purchased and found to be necessary during the first month of raising chicks.
It is my (unprofessional) opinion to try and have everything you MIGHT need before you bring home your chicks because when something happens in the middle of the day or night and you can't get to the store (or the store may be far from your house) it can be extremely stressful and emotional.
Here are the things that I have used AND needed during the first month of chicken ownership.
Backyard Chicken Checklist
1. You will need something to keep your baby chicks contained. There are about a million options of how you can do this, but the simplest would be either:
an XL dog crate OR
a large plastic storage tub.
Both of these items are easy to find, you may already have one, but they do both need a little bit of prep.
If you choose to use a dog crate, you will need to fasten panels of cardboard around the cage or else the food and bedding will be EVERYWHERE. The chicks love to scratch and kick and this stuff will go flying.
If you go with a storage bin or tote, you obviously can't just put the manufactured lid on top. You will need to modify the lid, or build your own that has chicken wire or hardware cloth to keep the top of their house contained.
2. Medicated Chick Feed This type of feed will help ward off any unwanted illnesses or ailments in your mini chicken flock.
3. Small Feeder and Waterer This individual item is actually both a feeder and a waterer depending on how you put it together so you'll need to buy two of them.
These are pretty small. My 4-5 week old chicks need the feeder to be filled twice daily and the water has needed to be refreshed twice daily or more since we brought them home. However, I don't mind refilling them often to ensure that my chicks have plenty of room to run around.
Side Note: If you didn't know already, chickens are super wasteful... Half of their feed ends up on the floor of the cage and their water has to be dumped multiple times a day because they poop in it. I know, disgusting.
I quickly learned that by elevating the waterer on a 2x4, it lasted a little longer before it would be filled with bedding. However, my mature chicks now like to perch on top of it and guess where their poop falls when they do that.
4. Bedding There are many options for bedding but I went with pine shavings because they are super affordable and the package I got seems to be infinitely full. They pack it so tightly that when you pull some out, the package doesn't seem any less full.
Pine shavings can be quite messy. They release dust and are easily scratched out of the cage through the bars. Recycled paper, straw, and sand are other options if they're available to you.
5. I always line the bottom of my chick's pin with newspaper and then pine shavings to make clean up a little easier.
Heat lamps are notoriously dangerous, especially when suspended from something that gets moved around a lot. Heat lamps are hot enough to burn you and can start a fire if they fall and break.
Because of this information, I chose to purchase a heating brooder plate. It looks like a mini table that is heated underneath, that way the chicks can go under it when they're cold, like they would go under their mother hen, and come out when they are warm.
The weekend we brought our chicks home it was COLD. And I knew our chicks would be living in the garage until they move out to the coop full time so I was very concerned about the brooder not being warm enough.
I ended up picking up a heat lamp the same day I picked up the chicks just in case. I had the brooder set up inside the cage on one side, and the food and water on the other. I placed my heat lamp ON TOP OF the cage so it is not suspended in any way.
This is a safe option for us because our kids and pets do not go into the garage and nothing will bother the heat lamp except for us when we are cleaning.
I kept both the brooder and the heat lamp until I noticed the chicks were all sleeping outside of the brooder, and then I removed it, keeping the lamp on top. The chicks were happy with the extra room to run freely and I was no longer worried about keeping them warm enough. They still use the heat lamp except on particularly warm days, we turn it off.
The other thing I like about having the heat lamp on top is I can easily move it to be on top of a smaller dog cage when I am cleaning out the big one. That way they chicks are not getting too cold while waiting on my to clean up their messes.
7. Electrolytes and Probiotics This is one of those items that I was so glad I purchased in advance. It is such a small thing (and TSC is so far from my house) that I may have had a hard time getting it if I needed it in a pinch.
I went ahead and gave my chicks both supplements when they first got home because I didn't know much about what they had been through in the previous few days. Some were a week old, some a few days, some already had pasty butt, and just the fact that I put them in a box and drove them to a new place was very stressful on it's own.
I ended up alternating between fresh water and supplement water every time I refilled their water for the first week and then tapered off during week two.
8. Pre-Fabricated Chicken Coop This is the exact chicken coop that we got and I swear to you this is the easiest thing I have ever put together. I was able to assemble this coop with only a power drill, ON MY OWN, in about 30 minutes. If you have ever put together anything with drawers from IKEA, this will seem like a piece of cake.
I also bought this additional run because I wanted to make sure my chickens had plenty of space. It fits very nicely with the coop and simply had to be screwed together.
You might be wondering why you need a chicken coop before getting baby chicks if they can't live outside until at least six-weeks-old. I guess, in short, you don't need it but I did not want to find myself trying to build a chicken coop at the last minute when my chicks have outgrown their little dog cage.
In addition, we love to put the chickens out in their yard when we are working outside in the garden. If the weather is nice and warm, they get to spend some time in their future home and stretch their wings and legs.
Goodness, I don't think I ever thought that I would have so much to say about chickens.... but I hope that my minimal experience can give you some sort of guidance on your chicken journey.
Make sure you follow along on IG @carlyrhill so that you can keep up with me and the ladies. If you have any questions about chickens or coops or feed stores or anything, don't hesitate to send me a DM and ask me!
I look forward to keeping you updated as our chickens grow and we get our first "million dollar egg!"