Setting Up a Chick Nursery...

We got new chicks about two and half weeks ago, 25 peeping baby Speckled Sussex, and one unknown rare breed.  Murray McMurray adds a rare breed mystery chick to your order.  I think this is so fun, and a great way to get people interested in breeds other than the standard Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds.  There are many endangered and breeds that could use a little "advertising", most are great layers and can be used for meat.  Ours is likely a Blue Andalusian, the boys have named her "Miss Blue", and of course she is the favorite chick because she is different and easy to recognize.  We went with Speckled Sussex this year because my oldest farm hand is smitten with the breed.  He draws them non-stop.  You should have seen his face when he came home from school to hear his Sussex chicks peeping as he walked through the door.  He was elated and is still smitten.  He loves their "spots" on their wings.  The breed is out of Britain and is very hardy and heavy, they should do well in the cold.  These chicks are huge and growing fast.  Their size reminds me of Australorps (which are my favorite layers), but they are not quite as calm.

After 12 years of raising chicks, I have got the whole process down pat.  I could raise babies in my sleep!  I realize that there are many out there who are new at the whole chicken thing and could use a little direction.

To start with, our chicks stay in a small tub with a heat lamp in the house for the first two or three weeks.  The length of time is dependent on how fast the chicks start to feather.  This is usually a pretty quick process.  In warmer climates, you can keep the chicks outside with a warming lamp at night.  I often do this when I raise chicks in the fall.  There are a lot of advantages to fall chicks.  First, they don't have to be in the house.  If you keep chicks in the house, you will notice a thin layer of dust settles on everything and you are constantly dusting trying to keep up with it.  Second, they are ready to lay when spring comes.  If you have an egg business, this is a great advantage.  All winter the girls grow and they start laying in February or March.  Spring chicks start laying in the middle of summer.  There are a few disadvantages, mainly for cold climates.  Fall chicks sometimes struggle to stay warm in the winter.  They simply do not have the body weight to stay warm.  You have to make sure they are given lots of grain and that they have a warm place to sleep at night.

Once the chicks have begun to feather, you can move them to a garage or a barn that is a little bit cooler.  They still need a heat lamp, or two, or three.  I have three lamps set up in our nursery.  I keep two on all the time until they are fully feathered out; the third light is for cold nights when the temperature drops.  We also keep an electric heater in the garage running at night.  The temperature in the garage is about 50ºF, and in the nursery, under the heat lamps, it is about 65-70ºF.  Make sure you watch your chicks.  If they huddle together, they are too cold.  If they are crowded up against the walls of the nursery to avoid the lights, they are too hot.  You can raise and lower the height of the lamps to adjust the temperature, or you can turn one off or on to help adjust the temperature.

Our nursery is made out of a simple sheet of plywood, it lasts about five years and then we make a new one.  The walls are tall to accommodate leggy teenage chickens.  The hubby made a lid that lifts and has panels made out of horse fencing.  The wire allows for good air circulation and a nice view for the kids and cats too.  I find our cat LouLa perched next to the nursery getting warm and watching what she thinks should be her dinner.  Which brings up another point, make sure the top is secure if you have predators in the house (cats want a meal and dogs want to play)!

Line the bottom with newspaper and fill with a thick layer of animal bedding, you can use straw or shredded paper.  I like wood chips, mostly because we have them in abundance with the hubby's workshop.  If you use your own wood chips, make sure they are from untreated wood, treated wood has chemicals that will quickly kill your tender chicks.

As the chickens grow, move the lights up, gradually decreasing the heat in the nursery.  Eventually you will only need the lights on at night, and then not at all.  At this point, we usually move the chickens out to the nursery side of Cluckingham until they are tough enough to deal with the big girls.  This is usually at around 4-5 months.  Chickens usually start to lay around 5-6 months of age.  Another thing to think about.  If you are rotating your chickens from layers to meat birds, you may want to consider banding their legs with a plastic band before mingling the flocks.  This helps you keep track of how old your girls are.  We rotate ours between 2-3 years, when their laying begins to decrease, and to avoid any onset of disease.

Enjoy your chickens.  They are only soft and fluffy for a short time before they turn into those laying beauties clucking around the yard.  The more you handle them when they are younger, the more gentle they will be when they are grown.  Easy to handle chickens make life a little easier and you will love having them follow you around the yard clucking at your heels.


  1. Thank you for this great information. We are getting chicks this year and this makes me more excited!

  2. This is so amazingly impressive to me.


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